Creative in the Countryside: Cowparsley at Home
Nicola: Can you start by telling us about Cowparsley at Home and the journey you took to start your own business?
Alison: The countryside, most notably my time spent on Dartmoor, has had a huge and lasting influence on my life; both as a playground through my childhood, and as a comfort and anchor during challenging times in my adult life. When my daughter, now 25, left home I needed something to nurture ... and so Cowparsley was born.
Nicola: You describe your products as being ‘Comfortably English’ in design, as well as subtle and understated. Can you describe the theme of your products and what inspires you in your creative process?
Alison: I had rather a nomadic upbringing, with many home and school changes due to my Father’s occupation in the Royal Air Force. This left me with a strong desire to ‘root’ myself. Due to this home became increasingly important to me.
I am drawn to the comfort of time-worn houses, where the comfortable style and decoration have evolved over time, reflecting the personality and needs of the families living there. I love the wild romance of English gardens. Flowers are essential to my wellbeing.
All these influences appear throughout my designs and inform the themes I choose. I don’t follow trends. I can only work with what I love and has meaning to me.
Nicola: Can you share with us where you live, what your workspace looks like, and how a day in your life unfolds?
Alison: I live in a small village on the edge of the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. We converted an old hay barn into a workshop. This is where I work on my wallpaper designs, often making mood boards to help me tell the story behind the patterns. I have an online shop, so as orders come in I pack and then send them from the post office in a neighbouring village. My product range is small but all made to the highest quality. This is far more important to me than mass sales. I use social media, in particular, Instagram and Pinterest, to promote and market the brand.
Nicola: I know you are currently rethinking the direction of Cowparsley at Home. Decisions like this aren’t easy when you have put so much energy into creating your business. But I also think they are important stories to tell. We’d love to hear yours if you are comfortable talking about it?
Alison: I often wonder if one can be both creative and business-minded equally and successfully? I struggle with the latter. The reality of running a business can be daunting. As I work alone it is isolating at times and hard to remain confident in what you are doing.
I have recently made the decision to step back from Cowparsley and the pressures of the business to rekindle my love of working alongside other creative people who inspire and empower me. This decision means Cowparsley will be taking a back seat in the future.
Nicola: I also know you have started working alongside Grace Alexander, who featured in Issue 3 of the Creative Countryside magazine, on her cut flower and seed business. I’d love for you to tell us how you came to start working together and what excites you most about this new opportunity?
Alison: Many years ago I did a floristry course, and although technically helpful I found it rather restricting. However, flowers remain hugely important to me. I love the wildness and the ‘natural just picked from the garden or hedgerow style’.
I have recently started working alongside Grace Alexander, who I met when I attended a few of her flower workshops at Forde Abbey. Grace has a unique, natural and refreshingly honest approach to how she grows her cut flowers and packages her beautiful seeds. Grace knew I was looking to reconnect with flowers and the land again. She offered me a couple of days working with her and gardener Danny Burlingham in her flower field, helping to style photographs for both home and garden.
Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story was inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?
Alison: For anyone thinking of starting out in a creative business I would say never let age be a barrier. Also, think about what you want from the business. Will it be full or part-time? Do you need it to provide a regular income? It is a very competitive market out there. Be true to yourself and be authentic. Working alone can be isolating though, so find other creatives you can bounce ideas off and who will offer support. But most of all, if it makes you happy then do it!