Hi Mary-Ann, how would you describe your work?
A colourful collection of handmade objects designed to bring joy to your home. I love to use bright colours and different paint techniques to create interest, whether it’s hand painted stripes, splatter effects or illustrative florals.
How did Hello Marilu come to be?
I was really creative when I was young, forever drawing and making things. I studied textile design at uni, and although I ended up working within creative industries after I graduated, I didn’t necessarily have a creative role. I started to really miss that part of myself and so signed up for a screen printing workshop. It reignited a spark for wanting to make things again. I had never really had the confidence to try and sell my work before, but after going to the Pick Me Up graphic design festival at Somerset House, I felt really inspired, seeing other people doing just that. It made me realise that it is possible. So I started an Etsy shop, and slowly built a small collection.
What did you do before setting up your business?
I’ve had a varied career working for both furniture and fashion brands. Before starting Hello Marilu I was working full time for a fashion brand, managing their store refits. It was interesting working with architects and designers for the store design, and then managing the fit-out with contractors, but I also found it quite stressful. It made me realise I was craving my own creativity again. I took a bit of a leap of faith and decided to quit my job to focus on Hello Marilu. At that time my business was really just starting out so it was a bit of a risk, but I’m so glad I took it! It’s definitely been the most fulfilling career for me so far, and I’m really proud that I took a chance.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
I find inspiration in so many things. Nature, interior design, art, mark making. Inspiration is everywhere! I went on holiday to Mallorca earlier this year and found myself photographing old doors which had paint peeling off, as I just loved the combination of colours and textures. I’ve recently downloaded some online courses to expand my art process and one of them was for developing abstract pieces by using different mark making techniques. It was a really playful course and I can’t wait to use some of those techniques in my work too!
Describe a typical day…
At the moment, I’m fulfilling a lot of wholesale and online orders, so I am usually working with jesmonite; either pouring it into moulds, or hand painting my pieces with colourful stripes. I’m also preparing for Christmas, so I’m painting lots of Christmas baubles! Each day will vary and I will also spend time packing orders, replying to emails, or quoting for workshops. When you run your own business – and especially if you work alone – you tend to multi-task a lot! I always try to take a lunch break, as I think it’s really important to take a proper break from work, and I will try and go for a run a couple of times a week, too.
What’s the ethos behind your business, or the values that are a focus for you?
I’m a small business owner so I like to work small; making things in small batches to avoid waste, and hand making as much as possible. I think the handmade element is really important for me, and all of my pieces (apart from digitally printed art prints) are either totally handmade from jesmonite (an eco-friendly resin), or are hand painted ceramic bisque objects. I also personalise some of my products, so I love that I can offer something truly unique to my customers.
I try to consider the environment as much as possible, by using water based paints, and environmentally conscious packaging, like paper packing tape, or biodegradable print sleeves. I’m not perfect, but I try to do what I can.
Tell us about the space you work in…
My home studio is actually in our lean-to conservatory, which joins the back of our kitchen. We built it ourselves (well, my partner built most of it!), with the purpose of it being my studio. It’s a lovely bright space with lots of natural light and it opens out into our garden – which I absolutely love! I could definitely do with a bit more space, especially as my product range has grown, but I know I am incredibly lucky to have such a beautiful studio space to work in.
What is your making process?
A couple of years ago I started working with jesmonite. I took part in a workshop to learn some of the basics and then taught myself a lot of things too, like how to make my own silicon moulds. A lot of things are trial-and-error, but it’s been fun to work with a new material.
Making jesmonite products can feel a bit like baking – weighing up and mixing the ingredients together, and then pouring it into moulds to allow it to set. Most of my products are also hand-painted, which I love to do whilst listening to a good podcast.
Is there an element of your work that you love the most?
At the moment, I’m hand-painting a lot of Christmas baubles ready for the Christmas season. It hasn’t quite kicked off yet, so it’s nice to be working at a more gentle pace, and I’m enjoying the painting process without the pressure of packing too many orders just yet. I can sit and listen to podcasts and it’s very therapeutic.
I also love the excitement of developing new products, although I haven’t had time to do as much of that recently. It’s really fun to play with ideas and experiment with different techniques. I’m hoping to create a few new pieces for my Christmas markets this year if I can squeeze it in!
Is the online community important to your work?
It is so valuable to my work. I don’t think I would have thought it possible to start my own business if we didn’t have access to things like Instagram and online marketplaces like Etsy. It’s an incredible way to get your work out there and build visibility for your brand. I have actually formed friendships with complete strangers through Instagram and they can often be the biggest cheerleaders for your business, which is really encouraging!
Working as an independent – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
I absolutely love working as an independent. I’m quite introverted, so I feel more comfortable working in my own space, and I would even say I prefer working by myself. It can be a little lonely at times, or sometimes hard to motivate yourself, but I think now that I am in a rhythm with the seasons etc, I have a better idea of what to expect throughout the year. There is a real sense of satisfaction if you design a product that is successful and you know that you have created that success all by yourself!
I think it’s really helpful to build a little community of like-minded small business friends so you can chat about the ups and downs, because it can be hard to deal with everything on your own.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
It’s hard to be honest, and something that probably takes a bit of a back seat, especially if I am busy with orders. I mainly promote myself via Instagram, and although I don’t often dedicate enough time to creating reels or posts, I do love to share quick updates on my Stories. I feel that’s the main thing I look at when I check in on other brands, so I guess that’s not a bad thing. I do send out the occasional newsletter too, but it’s definitely an area for improvement! I know that Pinterest can be such a valuable tool also, so I want to focus more time promoting my brand on there too.
What have been your business highlights so far?
I used to work with Fortnum & Mason, personalising my hand-painted baubles in store at Christmas. It was such a buzz when they first got in touch, a real ‘pinch-me’ moment! I’m hoping to run a Christmas workshop with them in December this year too.
What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your job?
I’m not sure if it would necessarily surprise people, but when you run your own business you really have to multi-task. As well as making your products and selling them, you’re packing orders, taking things to the post office, updating your website, promoting yourself on social media, filing your tax return, ordering supplies… the list goes on! There’s so much to do which isn’t actually creative. I think maybe the misconception is that you can spend all your time doing fun creative things, but actually the reality is that there is a lot more admin work than you think!
Do you have any creative hobbies?
I love knitting and have a couple of jumper projects on the go at the moment. I think as a creative person it’s always tempting to try and make every creative project into something you could sell, but with knitting it’s such a slow craft that I know it will always be something I just do for myself. I find it quite meditative. I love gardening too, and can easily spend hours pottering away in the garden. It’s my happy place.
Any good advice for makers who are just starting out?
Be brave, be bold, and be persistent. Make the things you enjoy making, share your work on social media, and get yourself out there. Don’t wait until everything is ‘perfect’, because that can just lead to procrastination. Every action you take will help your business grow, even if it’s something really small. I think it’s also worth taking little risks even if you don’t feel ready; contact the brand you want to work with, or apply to sell your work at a market. You never know where it might lead. And don’t be put off if things don’t happen straight away, just keep going! No business is an instant success – it takes a lot of hard work and carrying on, but you will get there.
What does the next year hold for you?
I really want to explore my art practice more next year. I’d love to paint some original paintings, and perhaps even take part in an exhibition at some point. I want to explore and develop my style more, so I’m trying to sketchbook more frequently and I’ve downloaded some online courses which I am slowly working through. It will be a contrast to focus on creating more thoughtful, individual art pieces rather than making the same products repeatedly. I quite like the idea of creating something slowly over time and seeing where that leads, and I am drawn to the idea of creating abstract art.
Describe your work in three words: Joyful colourful homewares
What are your creating rituals? I like to start the day with a cup of tea, and then find a good podcast to listen to while I’m painting. When I need a break I love to go for a little wander around my garden, and give my cat Pebble some strokes. If I’m working on some new ideas then I love to pull out a messy sketchbook that I can loosely sketch in, without trying to create anything perfect.
Tea or coffee? Tea is my go to, but I love an occasional coffee as a treat!
Mountains or sea? Sea! I’m a complete water baby.
Night owl or early bird? I’m an early bird that still struggles to get out of bed in the morning.