Creative in the Countryside: Snapdragon
Today we're introducing you to Jane, the owner of freelance embroidery business, Snapdragon. Find out more about her journey from cut flowers to building a community.
Nicola: Tell us about Snapdragon and the journey you took to starting your own business?
Jane: My first proper job was curator of British Art at the University of Glasgow – it was a fabulous job but I worked in a basement office and in the winter I rarely seemed to see any daylight. I gradually got more and more unhappy there until I took the plunge, left and retrained in horticulture.
The thing that I wanted most by this point was to be outside, so I started a cut flower business and named it Snapdragon, because that was one of the few flowers that escaped the slugs that first year. I grew garden flowers and sold them from a green van from my garden gate and at markets.
Growing flowers in Scotland turned out to be a barmy idea – the climate is cold and wet, giving a very short growing season and, when I had masses of flowers, my regular customers tended to be away on holiday.
In 2005 I was asked to put together a show stand at the Country Living Magazine Christmas Fair in Glasgow and that gave me the opportunity to pivot the business and move into sewing. I had been making things to bring in an income during the months that there were no flowers, but this moved my freehand machine embroidery onto a different level and formed the basis of the business as it exists today.
Nicola: I know your work is inspired by nature. Can you tell us why nature is so important to you, and how it influences the way you live and work?
Jane: Being in nature is absolutely at the centre of my life. I have an auto immune disease which becomes worse with stress and I find that time outside in nature, noticing the seasonal changes, getting muddy, is the way that I can manage stress most easily. My garden and the amazing scenery around us are also the inspiration for most of my designs and I am fascinated by the way forms and colours change week to week.
Nicola: I’d love to know what has been the biggest challenge, and the best surprise in running your own business?
Jane: The biggest challenge for me has been staying true to my style. Over a period of about 8 years I gradually lost track of what was unique about Snapdragon. I had begun to respond to what sold, what shops wanted more of, what was commercial. Each little step, each compromise, took me a little bit further away from the core of my creativity until I became very bored with what I was making. About 18 months ago I decided to completely change the business and go back to my design roots, changing not only the products that we sell but also the way we sell them. I started a membership where people support the business with a monthly fee of £10 and in return get all the perks of ‘having shares in a studio’ – they can buy at cost price, there are members freebies, they get first dibs on limited editions.
The biggest surprise has been how changing the way we sell has transformed the feel of the business – this isn’t just with members, it has completely changed the way other people interact with me on social media too. Going for radical transparency on pricing and behind the scenes decisions seems to have changed the way people see us. I was very worried that it could be an incredibly stupid act of self sabotage.
Nicola: I know you moved to the countryside about fifteen years ago and now live in Loch Lomond National Park. Can you tell us more about your home, your workspace, and what a typical day for you looks like?
Jane: We bought our home because of a small bluebell wood. We spent hours in the wood, about 15 minutes in the house. The house itself is a 1980s bungalow – nothing special; when we bought it, it was fully of tiny rooms and we knocked 5 of these together to create a big open plan living space and put in big windows to give lots of light. I work in a wooden cabin built in a field behind the house, and in a vintage Airstream Caravan (which we are restoring). I have a team of helpers who print, pack and dispatch orders, allowing me to concentrate on designing and writing.
A typical day starts slowly – I am not a morning person. I have coffee in bed and catch up on Instagram or read. I start work at about 9 and tend to work until 4. Two days a week I am in the workshop, two days I am designing/writing and, ideally, I walk to the nearest village to work in a coffee shop once a week – this is a way of getting the things I procrastinate about actually done and the exercise is balanced by the cake. I switch the Internet off at 6pm and, though I may work after that, it is analogue things – designing, reading, journaling. I have found that has made a big difference to my daily stress and also made me more productive.
Nicola: When you aren’t working on Snapdragon, how do you enjoy spending your time?
Jane: Gardening and walking. When I stopped growing flowers commercially I had a few years where I didn’t really garden much – I think I was a bit burned out. Now though I am back spending hours in the garden, growing flowers and vegetables. I have big plans.
Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?
Jane: Build a community of people who love your style. This is the major advantage that the small creative business has now – there is the world of social media full of people who are interested in what you are doing.
When I was starting out I wrote a blog, a terrible, ugly, embarrassing blog – but the people who read that 15 years ago still remembered me and, when I wanted to go back to the roots of the business last year, they were the people cheering me on. Building that community was the best investment in the business I ever made.