Having nosed my way into a number of designer-makers lives now, I thought I was getting a pretty good idea of what starting your own creative business entails. NEWSFLASH *I was wrong* (there’s a first time for everything). James Saunders from Little Moose, a handmade jewellery and online store, has blown everything I thought I knew wide open. Dramatic, much? His insight into the real challenges of running your own business – setting deadlines, taking time off – offer proper behind-the-scenes access, and should be shared. Catch the first part here – part 2 will be coming up tomorrow!
Carrie & James from Little Moose.
To start, could you introduce yourself and Little Moose?
I’m James and along with my wife Carrie, we run a company called Little Moose. We hand-make jewellery out of laser cut perspex. It’s influenced by Japanese culture, nature and character design: these are at the core of everything we do. Little Moose is about trying to create things that are fun and accessible.
Little Moose stocks a number of different brands as well as your own brand Doodllery. Please can you explain a bit more?
We started off reselling other peoples’ pieces. Carrie works for a company designing handbags (most of the handbags on the site she’s designed), and my background’s in web design and digital media. We saw an opportunity to stake a claim in both markets and make a bit of pocket money setting up a site reselling the bags Carrie designed. We’re also both passionate about the handmade scene. This was 4/5 years ago, when the whole handmade thing was on the cusp of becoming something. At the moment it’s at a peak I’d say, but back then it was a lot less. Etsy was just taking off and wasn’t the powerhouse it is now. We were looking to get those sorts of sellers and put them alongside more established people in a marketplace. The main focus was on the character design – those were the things that we liked so those were the things that we sold. Shortly after, Carrie made her Doodllery collection which was made from doodles in her sketchbook. Back then, it was really only Tatty Devine who were doing laser-cut perspex stuff so we started to play about with that. We make Doodllery with lots of layers like a 3D jigsaw puzzle – so you’ve got a front and back piece, and other things slot into that. At the time, this was a bit unusual as people were largely just doing silhouette shapes. That Doodllery collection was the first thing we did ourselves. A year ago, we decided it was now or never so I quit my job to do this full time, and Carrie reduced her hours. Since July last year we’ve been really pushing forward, designing new collections and teeing up trade shows.
Is it possible to have a day off when you’re running an online store and designing your own pieces?
It gives you a freedom that you could take a day off! We work really hard to get these collections up by the launch date (a self-imposed deadline). There‘s no massive reason for it, I think you have to give yourself these deadlines otherwise you’d drift along. Once we’ve got them up, we can have a more relaxed few days, sit back and absorb what’s going on. It gives you freedom so you can take some time away. Whereas obviously if I turned up for work at my old digital agency and said ‘I’m not really feeling it today’, they’d probably have something to say about it! You do get freedom but you don’t really get time off – there’s always something you think you could be doing. There’s conversations you didn’t fit in during the traditional 9 – 5:30, but because it’s your own thing, you don’t really mind. Because it’s a shared passion for Carrie and I, you don’t feel like it’s encroaching on your own time.
Is it just the two of you hand-making these pieces? How long does it take to make a brooch?
Yes, it’s just is. It takes about 20 minutes from start to finish. But it’s the really silly things which seem to take the time. The laser cut perspex acrylic sheets come with a backing on each side, and it takes ages peeling that off. A lot of the things we’ve done for the more recent collections were a little less strenuous than that, just a single layer and then put a jump-ring through a raindrop and attach that to a cloud so it’s more of a straightforward process.
Do you custom make orders as they come through or do you have a collection of ready-made pieces?
We carry stock on most of the things, that might only mean 3 or 4 pieces. We try and have some of it ready-made or 75% made so when an order comes through, we’re not starting from scratch every time.
Do you have a home studio?
Yeah it’s all done in a home studio. We’ve got an area set up for making everything, lots of storage boxes and things! We try to separate the office area so we’ve decorated that in a different way to the rest of the house. You can’t ever close the door on it but we do try to work in a way that you’d work if you were at a full-time job, starting at 9 and then aiming to have lunch around a certain time, winding down at half five. You do have days where it doesn’t work at all though. You’re talking about it (the business) all the time and I think stepping away from the computer and emails is something you’ve got to try and do at a certain time. Not feeling the urge to reply to emails at 8 o’clock or whatever..
Your new collection is awesome! I love that it’s split up into lots of very clear, different styles. I’m particularly taken with the space unicorn, it’s very ‘Adventure Time’! Where do you take your inspiration from?
The foundation for everything is really Carrie’s sketchbooks and doodles, that’s what Doodllery was based on. I guess her doodle style was influenced by Japanese kawaii style stuff, so things like sweet wrappers and that sort of thing from Japanese culture. Have you visited Japan? We’ve never been! We’ve been to South East Asia quite a lot, but never got as far as Japan. 5-10 years ago, things like Adventure Time weren’t the kind of cartoons on British TV. Illustrators like Tado or Peskimo were bringing a lot of that Eastern influence to the UK. Things like Kid Robot, (who make vinyl toys) were just starting out 7-8 years ago, and we really identified with that style. That’s the real core of our influence: that Eastern Kawaii style, quite cutesy, quite kiddy, almost Hello Kitty-ish. But that sort of cutesy style, and leading on from that, just character design, anything with a face we’re drawn to. Everything is very illustrative I guess.
Is there a specific customer you have in mind, an ideal celebrity for example?
When we were putting together mood boards for the current collection, we had Nicki Minaj as someone whose style we could see as quite Harajuku. So that’s quite big, bold, bright, cartoon, quite in your face without being overly aggressive or overly statementy. Also people like Katy Perry, Rita Ora, so quite cool even though some of the stuff is not what you would necessarily call cool. I think it works quite well with bright colours and that sort of vibe Katy Perry and people go for, Gwen Stefani too. We’re not trying to be catwalk style at all, and we’re not even really trying to be high street fashion, we try to be for people who have their own style. It’s design rather than fashion led, though we try to use some fashion influences for wider appeal, like the geometric stuff and the colours.
How much have you learnt from James already?! Sooooo much, right?! See you back here tomorrow – same time, same place – for even more insight into running your own creative business and what’s next for Little Moose (clue: it’s bags o’fun!) In the meantime, you can catch up with all the social media madness you need on Facebook and Twitter.