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Seaforth Designs, Shop Talk interview

Shop Talk with Seaforth Designs

by Camilla

Emma Iles from Seaforth Designs makes cushions inspired by the Pembrokeshire coast and the countryside. Before opening her Folksy shop in 2013, Emma worked as a seamstress for high street shops and an Italian bespoke tailor and restored curtains for the William Morris Society. Since then, her cushions have been featured in numerous publications, including Country Living magazine, and her work is now stocked in more than 16 shops across the UK. We spoke to Emma to find out more about how she has grown her creative business and discover her tips for selling handmade homeware online…

When did you start your business and did you have a plan?
I’d been a seamstress for over 20 years which I love doing, but when the fox, hare and bird designs came along I could see they could become a ‘marketable’ range. So in 2013 when a local woollen mill asked to stock the designs I knew this was the ‘thing’ I’d been looking for. I went ahead and worked out a name, brand and collection.

Seaforth Designs, interview

How and where do you sell your work? 
I sell online but I also stock around 16 shops across Britain. I don’t do many fairs, although I love to do a couple of local ones at Christmas time.

How has Folksy helped your business?
Folksy offers an amazing opportunity to take those first steps into selling. With all the tools on hand for you to just add your photos and information to build your our shop with advice on how to do it. I always encourage people pondering whether to make the move to go for it!

Puffin Cushion, Seaforth Designs

How do you calculate your prices?
I list and add up all the components that go into a finished product – there are approximately 18 in a cushion! Then I add my hourly rate to the time it’s taken. Of course, as I stock shops I have to keep my prices in line with their retail price.

How much time do you spend actually making and how much on admin, social media, promotion etc?
I pretty much sew Monday to Friday 9-5pm, with dog-walking breaks in between. I see this as my work time and try to do all the non-sewing jobs at other times. I can, of course, dip in and out of social media during this time, but I try to do admin in the evenings when my husband is around to help. I love to sew – it’s all I’ve known, so once I’m sewing I don’t like to stop!

How do you use social media? 
I use social media to keep my followers up to date with what I’m working on and hopefully to spread awareness of my company and products – it’s so nice to get feedback and interact with customers. Although I think I’m too cautious and don’t post too much as I don’t want to annoy people!

I can’t image how it would work without social media, especially living out in westest Wales. I really don’t think my business would function without it.

Which social media channel is your favourite and why?
I love Instagram – purely because its visual and that’s how I work.

Is there anyone you think does social media really well?
I follow Charlotte Macey on social media. I think she does a good combination of personal and business posts. Her photos are professional and artistic and she has beautiful products to show off.

Do you think it’s possible to be a maker and not use social media today?
I can’t image how it would work without social media, especially living out in westest Wales. I really don’t think my business would function without it.

Shop Talk with Seaforth Designs

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
Vanessa Arbuthnott very kindly took time out to chat to me about online presence. I was being approached by lots of online shops and didn’t know what to do. She said she feels that you lose control slightly if you allow others to sell your products online and that you want your own presence on the net to be the strongest. I also have friends who own small shops, and they were invaluable to turn to when learning the protocol for trading. Always ask for help and advice – I find people are always willing to give you their time to chat things over.

Do you think it’s possible to earn a living from being a maker alone?
It’s definitely possible to make a living, although I’d say everyone has a different standard! I couldn’t run my small business without the support of my husband and my website designer – that allows me to earn the money doing the making!

Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d know when you started?
I wish I’d had better admin skills. I argued at school for the right not to do typing – the boys didn’t learn it, so nor was I! Maybe I wouldn’t have struggled with paperwork and emailing as much if I had learned it, which just adds to pressure when all you want to do is sew!

Dunlin Birds Cushion, Seaforth Designs

Shop Seaforth Designs

Read more about Emma from Seaforth Designs in our interview

Follow @seaforthdesigns on Instagram
Follow SeaforthDesigns on Facebook
Follow @seaforthdesigns on Twitter
Follow Seathforth Designs on Pinterest
Read Emma’s Life at Seaforth blog 


Credits: Fox cushion photographed by Yeshen Venema

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