Hi Emma, tell us about your work…
I have two ranges – my main range of homewares and Little Em, my children’s range. My main range is made up of cushions, wall hangings, wash bags and art prints which all start out with hand painted artwork. The products have an emphasis on simplicity, natural materials and beautiful colour combinations. Little Em has art prints, wall banners and cards designed in carefully chosen colour palettes to be loved by kids and adults alike.
What inspired the idea of setting up your business?
My whole family is self-employed, so I think it’s always been in my genes! When moving back up to Manchester after leaving my first job, I took a maternity cover position and told myself I’d start a business when it finished. I ended up staying there for four years, but the idea of setting up my own business was something I constantly thought about. I couldn’t quite bring myself to take the leap, even after preparing for it financially and mentally, but my brother said to me “roll the dice, Em”, and something about that made it seem so simple, so I did!
What did you do before setting up your business?
After studying textiles at university I was a wallpaper designer for seven years. I learnt so much in that time, which has been so useful in my business (although I still don’t have any wallpaper in my house!).
Where do you find creative inspiration?
My inspiration for my main range comes from life’s joyful moments, from things I see on local walks, gorgeous scenery on trips abroad, and my love of ceramics and the creative process itself. The designs for Little Em are inspired by nature, but also childhood memories of collecting leaves in the forest or shells on the beach – the little things!
How would you describe your style?
Simple, expressive and playful, with an emphasis on colour and natural materials. It’s still evolving after years of working in various styles on in-house briefs, so I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out next.
Describe a typical working day…
One of the things I love most about working for myself is how varied my days can be. I do freelance work as well as designing and selling my own products, so each day can look quite different. I normally start with a bit of admin and planning, which helps clear my head of all the little ‘to-dos’, and then I can be doing anything from packing orders, organising production of new stock, styling and photographing products, working on my website, contacting new stockists to designing new ranges – the list goes on! I really do need to work on getting outside in the fresh air more day-to-day though, as it’s easy to forget when you work from home.
What is the ethos behind your business?
I aim to produce homewares inspired by life’s joyful moments and hope that they can bring joyful moments to my customers’ homes. My collections are designed to be mixed and matched to enable my customers to create their own unique spaces. I’m environmentally conscious and will continue to improve on this aspect of business. All my products are made in the UK in small batches (some of my manufacturers are just down the road), using natural materials, and I try to minimise waste as much as possible. I hope I encourage my customers to consume my products in a considered way.
Describe your work process…
I keep constant lists and ideas in sketchbooks (not the pretty kind, I’m sure I’m the only one they make any sense to!). I try lots of these ideas out, starting with a painting or another hands-on method, and do several variations of the same thing to get just the right look. These are then scanned in and played around with digitally before selecting what I want to take forward. I then put them into a repeat pattern for my main range or a placement print for my children’s designs, and experiment with different colourways before sampling them with the UK-based digital printers.
How do you source your materials?
I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to research! I really do trawl through information to find the best solutions possible and select what’s right for the particular products I’m developing. Location has a huge influence, as all of my products are produced in the UK and I try to minimise the carbon footprint. It’s also lovely to be able to meet my suppliers when they’re local.
What sort of space do you work in?
I work from home in a tiny studio. We redecorated it last year and made bespoke plywood shelves and a large desk, so now it’s a lovely light and airy room to work in, which is so key to me feeling productive and motivated. Space is very limited, but my fiancé and I have come up with some great space saving solutions, like making my printer its own roll out cupboard to save desktop space, and our spare bed completely lifts up so I can keep all of my packaging in there.
Describe your neighbourhood…
My home studio is in Heaton Chapel, Greater Manchester, on a quiet cul-de-sac. There’s a couple of nice cafes and bars not far away but I also love not being far from the Peak District, as I was brought up in the countryside. It’s one of my favourite places and it can feel like another world sometimes!
How valuable is the online community to your work?
It’s hugely valuable as I don’t have a physical shop and went self-employed just before the pandemic! I’ve met some great people through Instagram and love supporting other independent designers and makers.
Do you enjoy working as an independent maker – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
I love being my own boss and having control over how my day pans out. When you’re deciding what to design and make and put your own name to it, there’s such a huge satisfaction when you see the final product and someone loves it enough to buy it! Of course, this brings its own challenges as you’re the only person who can make the decisions and you really have to trust your gut. The other big challenge is juggling everything – different ranges, freelance work, marketing – it always feels like there’s so much more I should be doing, but I have to face the fact I can’t do it all!
What has been the greatest hurdle in starting your own business?
Becoming self-employed just before the pandemic meant I had huge delays when producing my first collection of textiles for my main range. I’ve also been quite restricted in terms of in-person events and meeting other creatives, so I hope to get out and about more in the coming months.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
It’s an area I’m working on improving, as I’m becoming more aware of relying too heavily on social media and in particular, Instagram. I’ve been learning how to improve the SEO for my website, doing some advertising, and will be setting up a blog and mailing list in the hopes that I can get my work in front of people more consistently.
What have been your business highlights so far?
Definitely gaining some beautiful stockists and seeing photos of my work in their stores. It’s so nice to see something you’ve worked hard creating in a lovely space next to other makers’ products you admire. I also love seeing pictures of my products in people’s homes, it’s the best feeling!
Where do you show and sell your work?
I sell my work on my own website www.emmaalviti.co.uk as well as through some really beautiful UK-based stockists.
Which pieces do you most enjoy making?
I love designing for my Little Em range and particularly enjoyed designing the Forest Finds print, with its playful and naive shapes. I always try to make sure I’m including techniques and materials I enjoy using in the design process, from loose ink drawings to printmaking techniques. Sewing the wall hangings is also really satisfying when I’m in the flow with some music or a podcast on.
Do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?
Too many! I’ve always loved anything creative and love going to workshops. I’ve been doing an evening course in hand built ceramics for a few years and would love to learn how to throw on the wheel properly. I also enjoy dressmaking, I used to make some of my own clothes as a teenager and picked it up again during lockdown. The most recent make I’ve completed is a burnt orange linen jumpsuit. When I’m not making something I love being outdoors, often by water, where I fully relax.
Any good advice for makers who are just starting out?
I’m still fairly new to this too, but I think so much of it is perseverance, so just keep going. Make sure you know your numbers too!
What does the next year hold for you?
I’d love to grow my audience and get my work in front of more people. I’ll be launching some new art prints, ‘waste not’ products and Little Em cards before Christmas, which I’m really excited about. Next year, I’d love to do a special edition hands-on project where I can connect with the materials and process a bit more. I miss the dyeing and screen-printing processes I loved so much all those years ago at Uni!
Describe your work in three words? Simple, playful, varied.
What are your making rituals? Upbeat music, apron on, quick and loose drawing to start.
Night owl or early bird? Probably a night owl, but I’m working on the early bird.
I wish someone had told me… how long things take! Be patient and allow a lot more time than you think you need.