MEET THE SUPERFLY CREATIVES : 001

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Oh My Superfly recently caught up with the lovely duo Hayley & Lucas from Alphabet Bags to find out how they’ve turned their creative ideas into a successful brand and business! And working together as a successful husband and wife team. Plus we take an exclusive look behind the scenes to where all the magic happens.

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Tell us about your business.  What is is that you do/make and how did you come up with the idea for it?

Hello there! We are Hayley and Lucas Lepola, a husband and wife team, and we run two online brands, The Calm Gallery and Alphabet Bags. At The Calm Gallery we design and sell mainly typographic prints, tea towels and postcards. We also work with more than a dozen other artists and designers to show and sell their work at The Calm Gallery. Alphabet Bags is our accessories brand, where we design and sell all sorts of accessories, from tote bags and purses to makeup bags and phone cases. Everything we design has an emphasis on the simple, bold and cheerful!

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How long have you been trading and have you always been in this profession?

We launched The Calm Gallery from our student halls whilst at university in early 2007. Alphabet Bags followed in September 2008. Neither of us have worked in any other roles since leaving university, aside from a little freelance work in the early days. We always joke that we have never had a proper job but we often think starting our business right out of university was a really good thing for us. We have developed a great working relationship and haven’t experienced the shock of going from a conventional work place to working full-time together.

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What does our job entail on a daily basis?
No two days are exactly the same, although there are many daily tasks that take up a lot of our time. Typically our day involves catching up with emails and customer enquiries, packing wholesale orders and wrapping and dispatching all orders that come through our websites. We process orders as soon as they come in and make sure that our customer service is the highest priority. Then when we have more time later on in the day we get round to working on new designs and projects. Keeping on top of our stock levels for our various collections and reordering stock is also a really important aspect of our day, especially with the growing number of collections we have, none of which we like to run out of. Then there are all of the other mundane, but all-important jobs that every small business will be more than familiar with, such as book-keeping and accounts, chasing and paying invoices and ordering supplies.

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What is it like working together as a husband and wife team?
Working together is pretty great! We do have the odd business disagreement here and there, but we feel very lucky to be able to work together and see each other every day. We tend to be on the same wavelength and are quite lucky that we have similar opinions about ideas. If this weren’t the case there could be potential for a lot of conflict! Working together does make it hard to switch off sometimes though, as we can end up talking about work wherever we are. We work together on pretty much everything we create and love sharing our ideas and growing our brands together.

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What is your favourite part of running your business?
Our favourite thing about running our business is seeing the little ideas that pop into our heads transform into actual products. Our most exciting days are those when we see samples of new collections in person and know that all of our efforts have been worthwhile. We then can’t wait to share them with everyone. It is also very exciting for us when we are out and about and see people carrying our bags. It’s so nice seeing our products being used and enjoyed, it really does make our day!

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What is the least favourite part of running your business?
Our least favourite part of what we do is those situations when things just don’t work out how we hoped. When developing new products there can often be hiccups along the way and problems that affect entire deliveries in some cases. It’s always a big challenge to overcome such huge problems and it can be disheartening when we’ve put a lot of time and effort into something. We do feel though that everything that happens contributes to us learning how to make improvements in the future. We always try to remind ourselves that if things were really easy they wouldn’t be worth doing!

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Where do you find your inspiration to develop your creative ideas?

Inspiration comes to us in all sorts of places. Often a great idea pops into our heads whilst driving (can’t explain why, I guess there’s just not much else to do when you’re stuck in traffic!). Lovely old objects often give us some source of inspiration and there’s nothing like wandering around an antiques shop or flea market to inspire us. No matter where we are we always find it impossible to come up with an idea when we’re really trying to think of something. This never works and most of the time ideas come along whenever they feel like it, not at a time that suits us! This is why we always carry a notebook of some sort to jot ideas down when they hit us.

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Can you offer any ‘best practice’ advice on working with suppliers and stockists?
Learning to work effectively and build good relationships with suppliers has been one of the biggest tests for us in business, but also one of the most important aspects of what we do. It’s something we’re still very much developing all the time. We have found that it’s important to have realistic expectations of your supplier’s capabilities and to establish whether they are able to deliver the specification that you require. If you are unrealistic with your supplier and piling on the pressure this will only lead to a poor working relationship and your own development is likely to grind to a halt. We have always found that if you can find the right suppliers for the right products this will really allow you to grow with your suppliers.

After products have been developed maintaining the relationship with your supplier is as important as ever. Managing stock levels is another challenge for brands with busy seasonal periods, such as Christmas. It’s essential to have a good dialogue with your supplier, so there is a good understanding about the increase in demand during these busy periods, and whether they can meet this demand for you. Although it’s a working relationship and it can be very challenging at times you’re always dealing with people, it’s so important to be friendly, polite and always understanding.

When working with stockists we have always tried to deliver the best possible service, simply to deliver to our stockists the sort of service we would like to receive from our suppliers. Responding to stockist enquiries and dispatching orders quickly is the best way to begin building great relationships with retailers. It’s important to be clear with suppliers from the opening of their account about your policies and estimated turnaround times. If these are clear and can be stuck to that’s great, but it’s also good to go above and beyond where possible when asked, excellent service doesn’t go unnoticed.

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What are your top 5 must-do/must-have tips for others who want to setup their own creative business?

Start off slowly so you’re not putting a huge amount of pressure on yourself to make money immediately. If you can test your ideas before quitting the day job that’s great.

As you grow do your best to delegate, it’s valuable to know how each aspect of your business works but don’t get snowed under trying to juggle all of your book keeping, accounts, PR and packing if you don’t need to or have time to do all of these things. Focus on what you do best!

If you’re a brand or online retailer we can’t emphasise enough how important excellent customer service is to your business. In our experience we’d say it was the most important thing. Not only is it nice to be nice, having excellent customer service and attention to detail will make the ordering experience delightful for your customers and hopefully make them want to come back again and to tell their friends and family about what a great experience they have had. Word of mouth is probably the best advertising you can get, and it’s free!

Have a fantastic website! Work with an excellent web developer who has a track record of building user-friendly, clean and simple websites and who has a real understanding of your needs. Your website is your storefront and it should represent your brand perfectly, be really easy to navigate and a joy for your customers to use. Great photographs are also hugely important. Having a really great website without beautiful and clear images of the brand’s products/services happens all too often and is a real let down.

We’ve found it has been important to pick and choose the projects which fit with our long term goals, rather than just saying yes to every opportunity that comes our way. Focus on what’s important to you and give it you all!
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If you could bea ‘colour’, what colour would you be and why?
Yellow – because it’s bright and cheery!

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I would like to say a big big thank you to Hayley and Lucas for sharing their valuable advice and amazing creative space in which they work. I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting these superfly creatives!

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Do you run a creative business or have an inspirational space where you create, make or draw and would like to be interviewed for the ‘Superfly Creative’ series and have some great photos taken of your workspace (based in London) then please do get in touch. I would love to hear from you.

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If you liked this post, please check out similar posts below and thanks for stopping by.

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Boz - Such a beautiful studio and products. I love having a peek into how/where other creatives work.

Shree Vella - Wow! You have some really great pics here! Beautiful! :)

Monique - Beads & Basics - Love the canvas bag!
Makes me smile :)

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