I’m so pleased to kick off our ‘In the Shop Window’ interviews for the year with a chat with Marion Mitchell of Embroidered Originals, Leven. Huge thanks to Marion for taking the time to do this and especially at such a busy time of year. Read on to discover how Marion and her team have created a true family business, successfully running for almost 30 years and still leaping from strength to strength.
Embroidered Originals, Leven
Our Business: We have a wide range of cards with mainly a Scottish theme going on. They are designed and printed in our cottage studio, and then embellished with hand painted detail. We also produce framed special occasion pictures and a growing collection of Scottish textile and stationery products – teatowels, calendars etc.
Starting Out: There are actually three of us in the business – myself, husband Bob and our daughter Laura. I started the ball rolling in 1989 with a small collection of hand embroidered cards which I took along to craft fairs. Why? Because I had taken a career break from teaching when our kids were small, and I didn’t want to go back once they started school! I had the backing of a supportive husband who continued his teaching job, with the proviso that if I could get the business established enough, he could give up teaching too!
I produced the stock during the week and each weekend we headed off to fairs all over the country, doubling up most weekends with two car loads going off in different directions. It became a way of life for the whole family and the kids had a great time as they were growing up.
With the idea firmly in my head that I wanted to make the business support us all, I also looked around for possible premises to have a studio/shop/gallery close to where we lived as another way of selling. ( This was before the internet and websites of course!) When we couldn’t find anywhere suitable we hit on the idea of building a studio/shop on our own ground beside the cottage. That was in 1994 and it was a great wee shop for years, with visitors from all over the world finding their way up our farm road. We no longer have it open to the public as I was finding it difficult to run the shop and have the time to run the business as well – too much blethering to customers!
By the way, Bob did manage to give up his job (in 1996) and that coincided with our first Trade Fair and a whole new direction selling to shops and galleries. Laura joined the business last year as design manager, so now we have a new generation to take it forward.
Business Name: Well, right at the beginning it was Embroidered Originals because the cards were hand embroidered and each was different, therefore original. I wish I hadn’t chosen such a mouthful though- difficult to say, and spell! But the name stuck, and it’s still Embroidered Originals although the cards are printed and painted now. We have introduced a new name for the main card range – Wee Wishes – and people are beginning to recognise us by that as well.
Previous jobs: Bob and I were both art teachers in secondary schools in Fife, and I also did some embroidery tutoring at the Art College in Dundee as well as adult evening classes in Fife. Laura was a textile designer in London for a number of years before she moved back to Scotland.
My “typical” working day: Bob’s the early bird – I’m a night owl – so he starts about 8.30 and bags up the cards which have been drying overnight. Laura arrives at 9.30 and I should be ready to start then too, but when your studio is just a few feet away from your bedroom….I leave it as long as possible.
We all pack the orders which are due to go out with the carrier first of all. Then we start on the new orders – we print and paint the cards to match the orders, so we don’t hold many stocks as such. When we’re really busy it’s all hands on deck to make up the orders, but at other times Laura and I will be working on new designs. Bob manages to slope off for a walk or a swim at some point and Laura leaves at 3 to collect her little ones from school and nursery.
Our day shift ends at 5pm when we stop for a glass of wine while I’m cooking. But then the evening shift starts and we’re usually back in the studio for an hour or two. We always make time to watch a film or something on TV from 9….but then I’m back in the studio later on – as I said, a night owl – I like the quiet when I’m the only one there and I can play around with new ideas, catch up on social media or do the dreaded accounts, until the wee small hours usually.
Self employment highs: Being your own boss, answerable to no-one else. You stand or fall by your own decisions – sometimes risky but exciting too. And being in control of your own working day. I can take a day off to go to Edinburgh when I like or work all night if I want. It’s also a bonus if you like what you do – no Monday morning blues for us.
Self employment lows: Probably working too many hours. You have to wear so many different hats – designer, maker, business woman, bookkeeper, cleaner…..so keeping on top of things can be a nightmare.
Inspiration: The business has changed so much from the start when the cards were just small versions of the textile pieces I had been doing since Art College. Without really intending it to, it has taken on a very Scottish identity. So we take inspiration from the people, places, weather, food, humour around us. I write the verses which have become part of our identity and I love the dry sense of humour of the Scots.
For the designs and illustrations we combine watercolours, fabric applique, tartans, CAD design and text. I’m always wistful for the days when I had a needle in my hand and some lovely fabrics and threads to work with, but I don’t have the time so much now. One day though…….
Business Achievements : Without a doubt growing the business to support ourselves and our kids through university and beyond, being able to say to Bob that he could give up his job, and having brought the business to the point where Laura can take it forward in the future. It’s always been about the family.
Longterm goals: I want to branch out into other gift products, tap into different markets and develop a range of not so Scottish cards and products to appeal to a UK wide market. We used to sell to shops in England through Trade Fairs down south, but pulled back when our cards became purely Scottish. Now is the time to consider it again. I know that we are working to capacity at the moment, so moving out of the home base to premises where we can employ others is something we’re considering.
Promotion: If I’m being honest that’s the weakest part of my business skills. I’m not too good at promotion and I don’t find it easy to market myself, or ourselves. I’ve let the business speak for itself by showcasing it at large events such as Country Living Fair or the West End Fair in Edinburgh and the cards themselves are a good way of spreading the word. I’d like to say social media, because I waste/spend so much time on Facebook, but I’m not too sure the success rate to time spent ratio is that good! Laura is taking on the bulk of the marketing now, and she’s a natural.
Popular and Favourite Products: Our cards seem to catch people’s attention and they are always popular – especially the ones with the longest poems! We produced a calendar for the first time this year, and it has been really successful.
With Hindsight: Good question. My husband would say – DELEGATE – I’m better now, but for a long time I held all the strings and would run round in circles trying to do everything myself. Not a good idea.
Celebrity Clients: It has been known for Lorraine Kelly to buy all her Christmas cards from us!
In my Private Jet: Antibes in the South of France, – been there a few times and have now found the perfect apartment, but then if the private jet was on standby… Vancouver. Bob took the kids for a holiday there once and they drove all round the Rockies. Meanwhile I was at home minding the shop and doing craft fairs to pay for it.
Favourite Independent Shop: Embrace Life in St Andrews.
Favourite Destination in Scotland: It used be Arran as I spent many childhood holidays there and we had our honeymoon there too. I also love Loch Rannoch and the surrounding area. And my adopted home of Fife takes some beating.
Favourite Scottish Tourist Attraction: Royal Yacht Britannia.
Favourite Scottish Celebrity: Elaine C Smith and the Still Game crew.
Best thing about Scotland: The scenery of course, and the people.
Do you believe in Nessie? Um, no. And yet we have the cheek to have a card with a Nessie design!
Shop Scotland profile page – Embroidered Originals
Website – embroideredoriginals.co.uk
Facebook – facebook.com/embroideredoriginals
Twitter – twitter.com/MarionMitchell
Etsy – etsy.com/uk/shop/EmbroideredOriginals
If you enjoyed this interview you might want to catch up with our other In the Shop Windows here. Look out for the next one coming soon.