More and more of us are choosing to spend our money wisely and buy gifts for others or ourselves from small businesses.
According to bionic.co.uk 'Small and medium enterprises make up 99% of UK businesses, employing millions - so their collective successes and failures have an impact on the economy'.
Small businesses have never had such an important role and as ever need our support. This is with the added benefit that these small businesses showcase and ooze so much talent, skill and creativity, which in my opinion we can't have enough of.
I caught up with Textile artist Grace Ellena aka 'Cushy Paws', to get her views first hand on running a small business.
I’m Grace Ellena, from Cushy Paws and I’m a Textiles artist based in Staffordshire, creating a range of original textiles artwork pieces as well as a range of homeware and gifts.
In the Cushy Paws brand I have a range of Pet Portraits and doggy prints, an animal range which expands across our homeware, kitchenware and gift section and I have recently introduced a new floral range ready for spring and Mother’s Day.
What inspired you to work in your chosen profession?
I have always had a creative background throughout my education, I studied textiles at GCSE, A level, College and then onto University. Whilst studying at University I took a year out on placement to work in the Textiles industry as an intern, and I think having that experience out in the ‘real’ world really made me more determined to have my own business. The core inspiration for the business as simple as it sounds was our family pets and our first family dog ‘Millie’. My mum wanted a cushion with Millie’s face on for her dog bed. She had made her one out of old suitcases and wanted to create her a little home. At the time I was on my third placement down in Whitstable working for an amazing woven Textiles company called Margo Selby. This was quite a small business and tight knit group and Margo’s work inspired me, although it was my least creative internship out of the five it was one, I learnt the most about, and the ins and outs of running your own business.
Although I didn’t see Cushy Paws as the business I would be doing, as I studied weave at University it just developed into a business as time went on.
What is the favourite thing about your job?
My favourite thing about my job would be the freedom to create when I want to, and to make people smile with my work.
And I love that I don’t get that sunday night dread of going to work that week, I actually look forward to going to work and Monday is probably my favourite day.
What has been the biggest challenge running your own business and how have you overcome it?
My biggest challenge for me personally running a business has been my confidence and the confidence in my own work. It has always been a massive downfall of mine all throughout my education, my reports would always say ‘you need to have more confidence in your work’ and it has stopped me from pushing my business further. But as time has gone on and I am still here doing what I am doing it has given me a little bit more confidence to try and work on that. I also think the encouragement and belief people have in me who have absolutely no idea who I am, that makes me think, if they can believe in me, why can’t I. I do have a really supportive family and partner but when it isn’t something you are naturally born with it takes time to work on it.
AND being dyslexic massively knocks my confidence and when I first started I would never have agreed to do something like this interview as I would be terrified of it not making sense and my grammar would be awful (So I apologise in advance).
Where do you start when you begin a new project?
When I start a new project, I always like to make sure I have all my other projects finished and a clear head space. I tend to just get stuck in straight away and start making and see how I can create the idea that’s in my head. Or something that has been on a list for a year to do and just keeps getting pushed to the bottom.
Where do you find your inspiration for your work?
My inspiration comes from all over. My colours are inspired by my final degree show, which is inspired by my travelling and architecture around the world and I have been really trying to modernise my brand by bringing those colours in. A lot of the time my customers are my inspiration in what they ask me for and what they’d like to see from Cushy Paws. It just depends on what project I am working on. My latest collection from the floral collection is inspired by the work of a local florist who has stocked my cards and prints for the past few years.
Her floristry work is amazing, and I think her floral combinations are just stunning. I am not a floral person, so I really needed someone who knew what they were doing with florals to inspire me. (I did ask her beforehand if I could use her bouquets as inspiration).
Name a person or business that you admire or inspires you (and why)?
Honestly, my Mum and I know that sounds so cheesy and this should probably be another small business, but she inspires me to do something for myself and make my dream come true. She has worked so hard in trying to achieve hers and she gets knocked down so many times and so many hurdles in her way, but she continues to fight for herself and for me. We work closely together and bounce ideas off each other all the time, my partner and her are like two peas in a pod they have the same ideas about EVERYTHING, and they tend to be the opposite of mine so it’s really good to have their perspective on things. I couldn’t do this without her, and I am so lucky to have her by my side.
Best piece of advice you have been given (in life or business).
This is a hard question to answer, in business it would have to be ‘don’t be a busy fool’ (I think that was the quote) but this is what Theo Paphitis said at our SBS event and one of the reasons I created my printed range of products because I couldn’t make everything myself it was physically impossible. And to try and expand my business and grow I needed something else as a revenue stream instead of all my handmade artwork. I am still working on it, because I do feel like a busy fool a lot of the time, but my theory is that whilst I am young and don’t have kids and I can put my absolute all into this, I know that I’ve tried my best to make it work.
In life, I think there’s so many quotes and bits of advice I could say but for me it would be that Happiness is THE most important thing in life. Doing what makes YOU happy and for me this is it.
Also, I think as a small business is ‘don’t believe everything you see’, it is so easy to make comparisons and I’m guilty of it too especially when I first started my business. It is so easy to be disheartened but if you work at it and keep going the hard work eventually pays off (I hope). And as I am sure Sarah (you) know too, it’s hard work.
What is your biggest success story or proudest moment in your career so far?
Proudest moment in my career is probably actually just surviving a pandemic in business. I think that is a bloody good achievement. And I think graduating with a First-class degree and winning a New Designers award and Winning the Spring Fair stand with Theo Paphitis are the highlights.
What would be your dream commission/ project?
I don’t think I really have one, my dream is to just be able to continue with this and see my little business grow and to be stocked in shops around the country. I would love to have my work used regularly on interior design shows or something along those lines as I would be an interior designer if I could do anything else besides this.
Find Cushy Paws amazing collection of gifts and homewares at: