Last week I travelled up to West Yorkshire in order to give a series of lectures to business students at the University of Leeds. I am on the University’s Business School Advisory Board and help to make up a panel of external members who try to ensure that the courses on offer are relevant for students who will become the business leaders and entrepreneurs of the future.
My first lecture was focussed on strategic sales development and product placement in international markets. I spoke about some of the opportunities and challenges that I had encountered over the three decades that I had been running an export-led, creative brand. It all started way back in 1990 when I first established a print-led, business, which gained an international reputation as a directional, British fashion brand. Over 90% of my business was export sales, most of which was to Japan and Europe. My business boomed when the single market came into full force and then ebbed when the euro came into being at the end of the decade.
My second lecture told the story of my journey as a serial, creative entrepreneur and how I progressed my work in fashion, to lingerie, to cotton tote bags and to a stylish souvenir brand. One business led to another as I sensed when opportunities where diminishing and I foresaw what the needs and trends would be in the future. I like working small, moving quickly into new markets and ventures, pioneering the way for others as I go.
My eco-bag business: BIDBI (Bag It Don’t Bin It), grew fast and strong, as it provided an affordable and attractive, environmental solution to plastic bags. I grew an offshoot business and international tote bag brand, which enabled us to develop our international business. My design contribution to this brand (Talented), took over and so I sold my business, focussed on creating the artwork that was printed onto the tote bags and extended the product range to maximise the sales potential of each image.
I moved on from Talented just over a year ago, when one of my key suppliers: British heritage souvenir manufacturer Judge Sampson, took over the sales and manufacturing operations for my brand, leaving me free to create Cityscapes and Statescapes on a daily basis. This means that I am incredibly productive and literally design my way around the world, providing artwork for many licensees across the globe, who then turn it into sustainable and stylish souvenirs for their local markets.
Telling my story hopefully enables people to see how you can create a big business whilst staying small. Thanks to technology and favourable trading agreements between countries, the world is open for business at the click of a mouse. My morning starts with emails from Asia and ends with communication from Canada and America. My brand travels the world more than me but discovering it through my art is the best job that I could ever wish for. Choosing to do something that you are good at, that you enjoy and that is something that people want are the three foundation stones to business success. Lots of hard work, calculated and instinctive risk taking, determination and drive is what comes next.
And of course, it’s always great to see my product range on sale wherever I go, including the University of Leeds’s own shop, which stock my range celebrating the city of Leeds …
The last year has been challenging for many as we adjust to living in a time of heightened insecurity and restricted freedoms...