How I Create: Emily Wright, Cuttlefishlove
My big vision for this site going forward is to open it up to tell other people's stories. With this in mind, I'm excited to share a brand new interview series with you today, which will take a behind-the-scenes look at the creative processes, triumphs and challenges of fellow creative freelancers and entrepreneurs. Kicking things off in style is Emily Wright, founder of Brighton-based Cuttlefishlove, which sells gorgeous hand-crafted silk flower hair accessories, fascinators and brooches inspired by the Japanese art of tsumami kanzashi.
I was so inspired by Emily's story and can relate to so much of what she's saying about the doubts and challenges she's faced along the way. Here, she opens up about creative fears, how motherhood has changed her and the biggest lessons she's learned about her creative process so far.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and story so far. How did Cuttlefishlove get started?
Cuttlefishlove got started when I hurt my back at work and I found myself stuck at home suffering from chronic back pain. I needed something to keep myself busy, and to make myself feel like I was doing something rather than just passively accepting the situation.
I started folding silk flowers as presents for friends. Eventually it became apparent that I would not be able to return to a job working in the care sector, which left me pretty devastated. I realised I could make what I was doing into a business that I could work around back pain, in a way I'd never be able to do with a full-time 'normal' job.
2. How has your business and design style evolved since you started?
I've taken my business from something that just provided me with a creative outlet, to something that I could earn a reasonable living from, and then scaled it back down again to have a child. My business style has always been (and probably always will be) a little haphazard, but I think I'm now more focused on my business being a means to live my life as I want it, rather than letting it run my life. When I started out I just made anything I fancied, then as I started to take my business more seriously I tried to develop proper 'lines'. Now I am trying to maintain a balance between making things that fulfil me creatively and making things that will sell.
3. What does a typical week look like for you?
In a typical week I have two child-free mornings. During this time I pretty much do all my work, apart from taking things to the Post Office which I do with Etta, my two-year-old. I do a little bit of social media networking and Instagramming while I look after her, and occasionally use the evenings to blog or make and package orders. In the main though I am trying to keep in mind that self-employment can give me lots of quality family time, and not let work impinge on that too much.
4. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned about your creative process so far?
That the sense of satisfaction I get from creating something inspired by the world around me (rather than what I think people want to buy!) is the driving motivator keeping me happy in what I do. I didn’t really perceive myself as a creative person until recently, despite having done an art degree when I was younger! Realising that I have an intrinsic desire to create (rather than just be busy) has helped me find a sense of purpose in what I do.
5. What do you do if you hit a creative block?
I try and keep motivated creatively by doing things that make me feel happy, or see the beauty in the world but don't necessarily require a creative 'output', like swimming or going on a walk. Another technique I use to unblock creatively is to try out lots of new techniques or materials, with a focus on enjoyment rather than on the end result being 'good'.
6. What doubts or fears have you faced along the way and how have you overcome them?
After finishing a Fine Art degree back in 2004, I was left with the confidence completely knocked out of me. I felt like I was not a creative person, that what I made was embarrassing or value-less and that I lacked the creative drive and motivation that a true artist should have. I abandoned a creative career and went into care work. I think over 10 years later I am only just starting to face those fears that held me back and prevented me from taking a creative path at that point in my life.
Interestingly, I am finding the tools like meditation, yoga and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) that helped me deal with chronic back pain (and anxiety caused by that) are now helping me to tackle my creative fears.
Meditation and yoga really help me to hear my inner voice over the constant stream of other people's opinions and thoughts that we're exposed to over social media. Concepts from CBT of facing your fears in incrementally small stages have been transferable to my fears in the creative world.
These fears are often linked to approaching new contacts, or sharing my work with a wider audience. I'm not sure I would say that I have overcome any of my fears totally! I have found these things make them less a part of my life, and less dominating of my decisions and actions.
"Meditation and yoga really help me to hear my inner voice over the constant stream of other people's opinions and thoughts that we're exposed to over social media."
7. You mentioned recently that becoming a mum has made you reassess your direction. Can you share a bit about what this means for you?
Prior to having my little girl I'd been really focused on achieving a comparable wage from self-employment to what I'd previously earned in a 'normal' job. I really wanted my business to be seen as very professional, I think due to underlying fears that I wasn't good enough, or didn’t belong in a creative career. In many ways this has stood me in good stead, but since having Etta I am trying not to let those fears be the driving force behind what I do.
At the moment I want quality time with Etta and my partner Rob to be the focus of my life. I've also realised (through failing to get the balance right at times!) that this goal isn't possible without time away from them, without things that sustain me creatively and give me a sense of achievement.
8. What’s the biggest challenge you've faced on this journey so far?
I think my biggest challenge has been balancing motherhood with being a business owner. As soon as I got pregnant I suffered almost unrelenting nausea and sickness for the entire nine months, and was not able to put my all into my work. I found this really distressing, especially as I had some exciting wholesale work with an overseas client at this point.
I reopened my online shops when Etta was three months old and looking back I think I probably put myself under far too much pressure to be working again so soon. In the last few months I've tried to take a long hard look at where I want to be personally AND professionally and find ways that those things can work together.
I want my work to be something that fulfils me creatively, allows me some degree of financial independence and also allows me real quality time with my family. As someone with a strong perfectionist and workaholic streak, I've found it a constant struggle to balance the attention I give to myself, my business and my family. My mantra at the moment is to give myself a break and let my enjoyment of creativity, work and family time be what guides me.
9. Your Etsy ratings are amazing! What do you think this comes down to and what have you learned about keeping customers happy?
As well as selling I also try to buy handmade wherever possible, so I always think about the service that I would like to receive myself when shopping online. I sometimes see Etsy sellers writing their shop policies as if they have an expectation that their customers are going to try and rip them off. I think the likelihood of this happening is very slim, but maybe the way you approach your customers also affects how they approach you.
It makes sense to base your policies on the idea that your customers are probably lovely people if they appreciate your work, and of trying to understand their perspective if they are not happy with something in any way. I try to always be polite and kind when composing messages to customers.
10. What are your top tips for someone who wants to start their own creative business?
I think sometimes the key is to just jump in and start learning as you go. I'd also definitely advise people to hang on to, or continually reassess their reasons for going into business and check that they are getting what they truly need from this sort of work. If you leave traditional employment but then become a mean boss to yourself, you might find that you are not any happier going freelance!
Be yourself, and make and create things that please you, not other people. You can't guarantee financial rewards from any venture, but if you are fulfilled creatively then that is a reward in itself.
Don't measure yourself by how other people appear to be doing. You never know what sacrifices people you admire on the internet are making in other areas of their life in order to achieve their success, whether they are actually making a profit or how happy they really are. Use your own satisfaction to steer you.
Feel the fear and do it anyway! The more things you approach, the less scary things will be. I can remember when I was scared to even apply to do a craft fair, which now seems a little silly.
I sometimes see Etsy sellers writing their shop policies as if they have an expectation that their customers are going to try and rip them off. I think the likelihood of this happening is very slim, but maybe the way you approach your customers also affects how they approach you.
11. And finally, what does the future hold for Cuttlefishlove?
Creatively I want to move away from only making folded silk flowers and explore different materials and other types of product. I feel like I can afford to be a bit experimental right now!
I have recently started blogging, with a renewed sense of purpose and a real desire to find my inner voice through writing. I don't know where blogging will take me, but I am really enjoying it right now. Business-wise I would like to find more wholesale suppliers, and find ways that I can make my income more consistent or predictable in preparation for a time when Etta starts school.
Images by Emily Wright, Cuttlefishlove