Hi Fiona, why and when did you decide to start your business?
I started my business after being made redundant from my graphic design job. At this point I felt really deflated and unsure of where to go next job wise or career wise. I was working part time in TOAST in Harrogate, surrounded by a lovely bunch of ladies – I slowly rediscovered my love for illustrating.
I found myself painting everyday, finding joy in being creative again. I was having a cuppa with a friend and we said, wouldn’t it be lovely to set a business up selling my greetings cards? Six greetings cards and an Etsy shop later, Plewsy was launched! Around this time I also enrolled on The Prince’s Trust Enterprise course, learning a lot about the fundamentals of starting a small business.
I officially founded the business in May 2015, growing organically over the last 6 years. In 2017, I became a mum to my first son and welcomed another little boy in 2019. Two small children and a growing business are definitely a juggle, but a rollercoaster that I am very lucky to be riding!
What had you done previously?
When I left college I did an accounting apprenticeship, thinking that the sensible option was to not accumulate a big mound of student debt. I got my accounting technician qualification but quickly realised that this type of working environment was not for me!
I made a U-turn and studied graphic design at Teesside University, graduating with a 1st class degree. I loved my time at uni, Middlesbrough often gets a bad rep but the course I studied was brilliant. I organised placements in the holidays and secured a junior graphic design role after graduating. It was very daunting to be stepping into the wide world of commercial design, but I learnt so much about building brands and creating marketing strategies. Everything feels like it has come full circle as all of these skills are a big part of running Plewsy.
How would you describe the brand’s ethos?
We are a small, independent and female run creative business. We design products to add a little lift to your everyday. Each design is manufactured in the UK and we are mindful of the environment with every decision we make. Our paper products are all FSC accredited and our cotton is ethically produced. We absolutely love supplying fellow indies through wholesale and cheering on small businesses.
Can you tell us a little about the processes used to create your work?
My illustrative approach is a mix of paint on paper and digital illustration. My love will always be with watercolours and a sketchbook but my business head leans towards digital as it speeds up the process, enabling us to sample and launch new designs more often and quickly. We print professionally with a small bunch of lovely British based suppliers.
How does your location inspire you?
I’m a proud Yorkshire girl and we also visit the Lake District a lot, so we are surrounded by fells, forests, rivers and lots of open spaces. I love encouraging our boys to walk, explore the outdoors and find joy in nature. This is my happy place and where much of my inspiration for illustrations stem from. I am a little bit obsessed with trees!
Your designs are proudly eco-friendly and sustainable- why is this so important for Plewsy?
Being eco-friendly and sustainable is central to our brand. With the great outdoors being a genuine love of mine and inspiring my illustrations so heavily, I really want to do the upmost to look after our planet. Every brand whether a small business or a large retailer, have a responsibility to make decisions with the future in mind. It’s not a selling point to be eco-friendly, it is simply an expectation from ourselves and our customers.
Our paper products are printed onto FSC accredited stock which is both recycled and recyclable. We are offering our customers an option to have biodegradable cello bags on their greetings card orders or a simple plastic free card clasp.
Our textiles products are manufactured in small runs which reduces wastage, we print in the UK using eco-friendly inks and in no way are animal products used. The cotton comes from a mill who are BCI members, meaning it holds an ethical trail throughout the supply chain.
We recycle our packaging, any plastic we use in your orders is reused from supplier deliveries so that we try combat any single use. Our deliveries may not arrive in brand new boxes as we strive to reuse as much as possible, but the products inside are as beautiful as ever!
Which is your most popular product? Why do you think that is?
I love snail mail! My passion for printed products was what I think led me to designing a small range of cards, I really don’t want to ever see the back of sending a birthday card in the post.
Throughout the pandemic we saw greetings card sales grow hugely through our website. We all rediscovered our love for the importance of a handwritten note as we strived to stay in touch with our loved ones. Cards are still our hero product today, especially on the wholesale side of the business.
We recently launched our new die cut collection at Top Drawer, a simplistic curved shape which has been really well received by our customers! It was lovely to work closely with our printers on developing this range.
Do you have a favourite product?
My heart is with greetings cards but seeing my illustrations translate onto fabric was a massive moment. Tea towels were the first textiles product we sampled. Our supplier made the colours pop and I could really visualise how our brand could grow, and seeing our designs in homes is always very lovely.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I do the nursery and the school run, dropping the boys off first and then head to the studio to make a big cup of tea. A good chunk of my day is spent doing admin, a little bit of marketing, sales, accounts, ordering stock, order packing and finally designing. I don’t spend as much time being creative as I would like to but I’m working towards a healthier workload so that this becomes more possible. We have recently welcomed Rosie into the team three days a week which has been the first step.
I’m here three days a week while my boys are so young. Making the business work for me – rather than the other way around is really important and I hope that the children grow up inspired by my achievements as a creative female entrepreneur, cheering them on as they navigate their future!
That’s so lovely! How do you approach PR and marketing?
This is an area that we need to put more time into because it seems to be one of the things that just slips through the net. But when I do some simplistic emailing and social communication it does seem to pay off. I was a member of PR Dispatch where I learnt a lot of really useful tips about how to reach out and follow up.
You recently opened a pop-up shop in your studio, have you any further pop-up store plans?
We opened our first pop-up shop last summer, after moving the studio to a premises that has a little retail space at the front. It worked really well and we ran this until Christmas time, when we then needed the space to prepare for our upcoming trade show. We stocked some other British made brands to complement our designs which worked well and also made the shop smell amazing! We are hoping to reopen the pop up in the summer again and hopefully in the next few years open a permanent bricks and mortar shop (if we find the right location!)
If you were to share any words of wisdom with readers looking to start a creative business – what would you say?
Go for it! I will always encourage others to create their own start-up. It’s not easy, but the hard work pays off. The biggest tip I could give, is to do your research and planning. There are so many amazing resources both online and offline packed full of really useful nuggets of information that will steer you towards making great decisions. One other tip that I have learnt the hard way, is that working all of the hours doesn’t mean you are being the most productive. It will just mean you burn out! Don’t be afraid to ask for help and also give yourself a break.
What’s been your highlight so far?
There have been so many highlights over the years so far, but I think I have had the best buzz from our recent trade show. We did so much planning and pre-show marketing and it really paid off, it felt great to have such a warm reaction from visitors at the show and to secure orders from so many new stockists.
Describe your work in three words: Colourful, simple and luxurious.
What are your creating rituals? Podcasts and paints.
Tea or coffee? Yorkshire Tea always!
Mountains or sea? Mountains.
Night owl or early bird? Early bird.