How I Got This Business: Stephanie Carswell of Hawthorn Handmade
From running her own shop to supplying three hundred.
Stephanie Carswell is the founder of Hawthorn Handmade. She creates craft kits with an emphasis on weaving, needle felt and embroidery. Around 6 years ago she made the leap from retailer to supplier, having previously owned a own shop in Dorset, and now supplies over 300 shops across the globe. Here’s how she got her business.
On her perfect way to start the day:
Not having to do anything would be my perfect start to the day! If it’s a slow, easy start and if I don’t have to be anywhere for any specific time, then I’m more likely to have a really productive day. Of course it never goes that way and I actually have a very set routine where I get up at 6.45am most mornings, get dressed, have the same breakfast every day. My other half and I do a kind of ‘Morecambe and Wise’ routine of moving around each other, knowing exactly what the other one’s going to do, until it’s time to leave the house.
On being creative:
I have always made things. I’ve always had kits. I still have a lot of the kits I had as a kid, some of them from when I was 3 or 4 years old. I tried lots of different crafts like finger-knitting, or modelling. It was always changing, but throughout all of that I always drew. My dad drew, so I would sit and draw with him. He would draw Disney characters and I would try to copy them. My mum attempted to teach me to knit but failed!
On starting Hawthorn Handmade:
Needle-felting kits was the first thing we did. When I had my shop, I was looking for a craft that I could do on quiet days at the counter. I saw some needle-felting online but couldn’t find any UK-based supplies, so I bought a very basic kit from America, and it was just perfect to sit and do in the shop. Eventually I started selling the pieces I made, then I started teaching and then came the kits.
The embroidery side came later and is more my personal interest and passion. I did it as a kid and it really ties in with the drawing. I could sit and doodle for hours, and that informs the style of my embroidery kits.
On growing her business:
We celebrated the 5th birthday of launching the kits in May. They were in development for about 6 months before that. Our growth has been pretty organic, without outside investment or anything like that. It was just me for the first couple of years, it’s only been in the last 18 months where I’ve put a proper team together. Now there are five of us – or more accurately four of us, plus my mum who is very involved, but isn’t here physically on a day-to-day basis.
On switching from “retailer” to “maker and supplier”:
I really love shops – particularly ‘Aladdin’s cave’ type shops and owning one was something I’d always wanted to do. My shop was called Hawthorn and did it reasonably well for a few years, but it was bloomin’ hard work and it wasn’t necessarily the right location and unfortunately in the end it wasn’t doing well enough to sustain itself. I actually ran the two businesses – the kits and the shop – alongside each other for about 18 months, but the kits were doing really well and the shop was not. When the shop’s lease came up for renewal, I decided to call it a day. By that point I think my passion for it had gone.
On being a supplier with insider knowledge:
My experience as a retailer absolutely helped me as a supplier, right from the off. I knew what a good wholesale catalogue looked like. I knew all the terminology, I knew what I looked for as a buyer and I think that was absolutely invaluable. We did our first trade show pretty quickly, but it was a trade show I’d been to for the last three years as a buyer. We were in the industry already so it wasn’t all alien to me.
On finding (and being found by) stockists:
We currently have about 300 stockists. They’re what I would class as ‘active’ stockists, which means they’ve ordered in the last 12 months. When we first started out, we got stockists by approaching shops and what we were pitching was quite a unique, new product at the time, which really stood out. We managed to get 6 wholesale accounts in the first month, just by me emailing shops.
Now we’re at the point where retailers do get in touch with us. One of our US stockists recently put out an Instagram post featuring one of our products and almost immediately we had 2 or 3 enquiries from other stores in America. I’ve had it said to me “Oh gosh, that’s so nice that they just get in touch with you – how easy!” and of course it isn’t, it’s because we’ve worked really hard for the past 6 years putting our brand out there, so it all ties together.
On facing obstacles:
I honestly think that if anybody running their own business says they haven’t had moments where they just want to throw in the towel, they’re lying. For me, the biggest thing I have to watch out for is my mental and personal wellbeing amidst the ongoing stress of running a business, especially at the point we’ve now got to – I’ve got people whose livelihoods are my responsibility. The success of the business directly correlates to people being able to put food on the table.
That pressure is always present. There have been moments where I’ve thought “No, I don’t want to do this anymore.” But they have been very much individual events or problems and you always get through them and come out the other side.
On advising her younger self:
It’s a bit of a cliché, but I would say ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. There have been things over the years that I’ve got really worked up about and upset over that really just didn’t matter. Sometimes you need to be the bigger person and, in the past, there were times when I wasn’t. I’d also say that you need to cut your own path. Lots of people will give you advice about aspects of your business, and that’s fine, but you need to know what’s right for you and trust your own instincts.
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