Hi Nia, how would you describe Niaski?
Niaski is a place for cat lovers and art enthusiasts who love a good pun, and a lot of pink.
What’s the story behind the name?
So, it’s an odd one but it’s a nickname that has stuck from school following a love for a 1980s comedy sci-fi show. I got called Niaski for years, and it seemed like the perfect name to carry on into a business.
What did you do before setting up your business?
After finishing my degree in graphic design at Falmouth University I landed a dream role at an arts venue as their in-house design manager. I was in this role for 10 years and built up Niaski from home in the evenings and weekends.
What inspired the idea of setting up your business?
I took a screen-printing course for a bit of fun and was tasked with bringing along an illustration to practice screen printing onto a tote bag. I had recently adopted a new cat, a little black and white kitten with a big white moustache and I called him Salvador. I created an illustration of ‘Salvador Catli’ and ‘Frida Catlo’, everyone wanted to buy one of my bags on the day and the rest is history.
What is the ethos or values behind your business?
I created my work to inspire and engage people in the world of art through humour, and of course cats.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
Some of the greatest artists of all time have inspired me a lot, I love the work of Henri Matisse in particular, the colours and the simplicity definitely draw me in, and they make for great starting points to sneak a cat or two into.
Do you design your whole range?
Niaski is a studio/shop of my own creations, I design, illustrate, and produce all the products available in store. Anything else, I curate to sit alongside my own work – whether that be handwoven cat baskets, dog accessories or illustrations from some of my favourite designers.
Tell us more about the products you make…
I create prints, greetings cards, enamel pins, cat collars and now homeware such as cushions and tea towels. The cat collars have been such a success, each one is unique in design with a matching enamel cat charm, making them truly stand out from other designs out there.
How did you approach the design of your space?
The shop is small, and it had to work as a functioning studio as well as retail space, so the priority was storage and an area to pack and ship online orders. I have incorporated storage solutions into display areas. The space only has three colours that match my branding and even the small details have a feline twist with brass cat handles on all the cupboards.
Tell us about your location and community…
The shop is in Budleigh Salterton, a small seaside town in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Devon, and oh my goodness it’s the most wonderful place to have a home and workspace. I walk along the beach every morning to get to the shop. The community has been amazing – so welcoming to a very random shop full of cats opening on the high street! I think the fact that my own cat went missing for nine weeks following the move to the area helped cement me into the local community and therefore the shop. Salvador became famous, and it felt like everyone was out looking for him.
Has your business evolved since you began?
It has evolved a lot. I started off working evenings and weekends on the business from my spare room. I only had enough to fund one product at the time, which was my Frida Catlo enamel pin. It was from the success of this design and product that my business really started to grow.
Is the online community important to your work?
Absolutely, my business is still 95 per cent online as the storefront is still very new. Instagram has been invaluable to growing the online side of things, I have built up quite the community of cat mad art fans.
As an independent store owner – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
I love meeting people, the local community, and the holiday makers, it’s so lovely to listen to them in the shop giggling away at the art puns and trying to guess all the pieces that cats have found themselves into. The challenges are most definitely not having enough time and running the business solo at the moment – as it’s my studio/space it’s just me – I’m packing, working on the retail side of things, stock checking, putting away stock. It’s a lot but I love every minute.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
I use Instagram a lot, this is my main tool for marketing. I have started to embrace the reels, I have to admit it’s fun and they do get a lot of engagement. I also send out emails when I have a new product to launch.
Favourite makers or products that you sell?
I love the work of – I have always shopped with Louise for prints for my home and when I started the shop, I just knew I wanted to add her wonderfully colourful work to the store.
What have been your business highlights so far?
The reaction from people who have shopped online with me in the past and then randomly stumbled upon my shop when on holiday, they are so blown away – it’s been amazing. Another highlight is the people who have made a special trip out just to meet me and shop direct, that’s such a lovely, amazing feeling and makes all the stock–taking late into the evening totally worthwhile.
What does your ideal day off look like?
I have a three-year-old daughter so at the moment, anytime away from the shop is all about spending the day with her. We particularly like to go to beach and look for sharks and eat ice-cream.
Any good advice for aspiring store owners?
I know now seems like a terrible time to invest in a bricks and mortar store, but I chose to make this work for me. I made sure the shop/retail was my workplace as well as my shop window; the two needed to coincide in order to give it a good chance of surviving on the high street. It’s been the best decision, and all I would say is to make sure you make your assets work for you and just go for it.
What does the next year hold for you?
Hopefully more of the same. I’ve been running Niaski for seven years already, and a few months as bricks and mortar studio/shop. I can’t wait to create more products now I have space to store them, and meet more lovely people looking to brighten up their day with a cat pun and a bit of art history.
Find Niaski at 32 Fore Street, Budleigh Salterton, Devon