Hi Lucy, it goes without saying, that you are the Queen of quilting. I love the bold colours and modern shapes you’ve been creating, but before we get into that, please tell me a little bit about yourself.
Thank you so much! I shall happily take that title.
So a little bit about my background. I am a thirty something mum of two who lives in Edinburgh. I studied Fine Art Printmaking at university and had grand plans to go on to be a full time artist. Financially this was difficult to support myself and I made less and less art as time went on. For a few years I worked a series of jobs from waitressing to working in a gallery. Eventually I got fed up having so little income and reassessed my career path and went back to university to study Social Work. I had been volunteering at an art group for vulnerable adults in the evening and enjoyed this immensely.
I recognised transferable skills from my art education such as questioning, non judgmental attitude and thinking outside of the box that could be useful in a social work setting. I completed my Masters in Social Work and had planned to work part time to allow myself to have the finances and time to make art again. However I got caught up in the career path becoming a Practice Teacher and working almost full time. It was an all consuming career choice that tested emotions and was mentally draining. A house move back to Edinburgh prompted a massive change in my life. I remembered that art and making had been my goal. An idea that had got lost along the way.
I’ve have been stalking you on Instagram for some time now, and I’ve always wanted to ask; who taught you quilting and when did you decide to turn it into a business?
I began quilting in 2013 after deciding to make my nephew a quilt. I was still working at the time and it became a fun creative outlet to combat a stressful job. I am pretty much self taught. Picking up tip and tricks from youtube videos, trying out patterns in magazines and chatting to people on Instagram. The quilting community is one of the most generous I have come across. Always willing to lend a hand and give advice.
I quickly realised I was able to design and create my own quilts and was quite confident trying out new techniques. Friends and family started asking me to make quilts and I received amazing feedback from them. In the couple of years that followed I had the idea of a business in the back of my head. Even opening my Etsy shop in 2014. But I had neither the time or the energy to pursue it properly. I’m an all or nothing person. If I'm going to do something I will commit and do it properly. It really wasn't until the end of 2015 when I knew I was leaving my job that I considered starting my business in earnest.
How do you think you have separated yourself from your competitors?
This always a difficult question for me to answer. I try just to be me! Over the past year more of me is coming across in my work I think. I am drawing on my printmaking background to create one off textile pieces, use hand drawn designs in my work rather than digital and work in short run limited editions. I feel the whole point of buying from an individual maker is that you are getting something unique. By creating products that are one offs or there are only five in each colour way ensures my customers are getting something special. With my fabric I only print each collection for a limited time. If I reprint the design it will be in a different colour way. That means people who buy my fabric and make their own quilts or gifts know they are giving something unique too.
What question do you think every entrepreneur should be asking themselves?
It would have to be, do you love what you do? If you don't, how can you expect to other people to be invested and love it? Life is too short to be spending a large majority of you day working on something that brings you no joy. Yes there are off days, everyone has those. But if you are waking up dreading or having no motivation for your business its time for change.
In terms of time and the changes we’ve experienced over the last 10 years, how do you think you’ve managed to make quilting so fresh and modern?
I suppose because I don't come from a traditional quilting background I have been able to create work that has a modern aesthetic. There is a large modern quilting and possibly post modern quilting community creating pieces that blur the lines between functional and purely aesthetic. I have never had someone tell me that quilting was supposed to be done in a certain way or that quilts have to be a certain size or use a certain material. This freedom to experiment and create without imposed restrictions has meant I'm not limited in my approach.
What are your thoughts on networking to build your business?
Networking is always important. Although I am never keen on that term. I like to think of it as just getting to know people who are in your industry, who have the same interests as you, who get what you are trying to do. Support through these networks you build professionally, particularly when you work on your own, can be invaluable. Making these connections can also lead to interesting collaborations or recommendations being made to others of your service.
How do you fend off or deal with those moments of doubt, that every entrepreneur struggles with?
You just have to get over it. After years working in social work you realise what matters and what doesn’t. If things are not going the way you planned stop and take some time to think or do something different. Things can change and surprise you over time.
An example I could give is with, what is now, my best selling fabric, The Bees. It was the first fabric I designed and released at the beginning of 2016. I think I sold maybe six panels. I thought, thats it, no one likes them, I’m never printing them again! Dramatic, I know! However six months passed and I had an idea for them in a different colour way and thought I would give them another chance. I couldn't print them fast enough! And again this year when I released the organic range.
How did you build such an amazing consumer culture around Skinny MalinkyQuilts?
On a basic level I think by having limited edition items means that if people want them they need to get them now or they risk missing out. It does mean I am continually creating new designs and considering different colour combinations which is not for everyone. But I enjoy it. Also running my projects, of which there are many, on Instagram has allowed me to connect with my customers in a different way. They experience the making and development process along with me. Such as my textile art Quilt Print series. I received messages from people that recognise where the photo has been taken and it has reminded them of when they lived in Edinburgh. Others message to say I have inspired a new colour combination for their latest quilt. So I suppose I have built a community around my brand in some way.
Of course, I must ask this, what inspired the name SkinnyMalinkyQuilts?
As I mentioned before I was a social worker and as such I had to remain hidden on social media. So I needed a name to hide behind. I am originally from Glasgow and there is a Glasgow poem ‘Skinny malinky long legs’. The name popped into my head when I was trying to think of a name for my Instagram account before I started my business purely to share photographs of my quilts. I added Quilts on the end so people would know what I did. It then became my shop name and my blog, which I am terrible at keeping up to date.
What would be your top marketing tip, to grow a business that is so niche, yet incredibly timeless?
Be yourself! People buy from independent makers because they have got to know them, want to support them and enjoy what they do. It can be that they like your sense of humour, enjoy the stories you tell, share the values you hold as well as liking your product. I know I am very loyal to several small businesses that I have connected with whom I like as well as their business ethos. Don't be scared to put yourself into your business. Not in an overshare way but enough so your customers feel they know you and what you are about and more importantly trust you! That means showing up, being consistent and talking like a real person.
The way you have utilised Instagram to grow your brand is amazing. What would be your top 3 tips for any small business owner, on how to build an engaged audience on Instagram?
This would be a very similar answer to the last one. Be you! I love Instagram and I think you can tell those that are there just to sell and those that want to be part of a community. I have found my people on Instagram who are in some way my virtual work mates. As I said before the quilting community is tight knit and supportive, full of wonderful and talented creators and artists. With me I have to find a balance between posting just about the work I am making and remembering to tell people, oh by the way, you can buy this! I do need to pay the bills after all.
So my top three tips would be:
Post good content. By this I mean good photographs that are interesting with
captions that give value in some way.
Use hashtags to get discovered. This involves a bit of research to find out what
people who might buy your products would be looking for.
And lastly get involved. Have conversations with people, comment on other
peoples posts. Are there any Instagram challenges you can take part in to reach a wider audience? Be a real person.
What plans do you have for SkinnyMalinkyQuilts over the next 12 months?
I always have grand plans of what I could do with my business and have to reign myself in every now and then. Over the next twelve months however I will be continuing to produce limited edition fabric designs, quilts, home accessories and textile art. I would like to expand to offering patterns. Which is something I have been meaning to do all year but not got round to yet. And I would also like to start producing fine art screen prints again. But maybe thats a whole other business?