So, this has been a long time coming, but I thought it would be fun to share my business journey with you. How I started and the struggles I encountered along the way.
I’m Eleanor, I’m 33 years old and a Mother of two. I have a 4 year old girl, a 1 year old boy, a French bulldog and a VERY supportive husband (lucky me!)
I’ve always had a passion for art since I was young. My Dad was an artist, he taught at art college, did a bit of sculpting and painting but he eventually became a Headteacher and special needs advisor. My Mum was a primary school Teacher for 44 years, but she’s now retired. Although she wasn’t naturally gifted at art she was incredibly creative and would turn her hand to most crafts! My sister is a graphic designer - so I would say art is in the genes.
When I was in school I always loved art and had a natural flare for it. Even in primary school when we had competitions to make the best Christmas hat or at Easter to be the most creative with some eggs, those were the things I loved. My Mum (I like to call her Madge) always encouraged me to pursue art and design. We used to sew a lot together and go to craft fairs and talk about fabrics and designers. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have her supporting me.
I studied Art at college along with English Literature and Media studies. I then went on to do a foundation degree in Art, followed by a Degree in Textile Design and graduated with a First Class Honours. I don’t know how I got a first, I must have scraped it because I partied a lot and watched back to back sex and the city for days on end. Amidst the partying I always found time for painting. I felt like something was missing if it wasn’t there. It relaxes me and helps me switch off and it’s when I’m at my happiest. So from there I knew I wanted to have a career in Art!
During my time at uni I managed to get two placements. Unfortunately my Uni didn’t help much with placements, so I had to hunt down some myself. Amazingly I managed to get a placement at Zandra Rhodes and Liberty. At Liberty I sat with the design team and made a lovely friend who was on a placement there too. I spent a lot of time cutting out fabrics and making swatch books there - it was actually really enjoyable and I felt like a real professional getting the tube there every day! One of my very good friends (he’ll love that he’s getting a mention here) let me stay with him the whole time and we shared a bedroom in his little house share just off Brick Lane.
When I finished uni I didn’t know what I was going to do. I remember being sat at my degree show, hoping someone big was going to come and see my potential. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. I started applying for jobs, I applied for everything and most of the time I wouldn’t get a reply, never mind an interview. Once I realised the design job was out of my reach I applied for absolutely anything and I signed on the dole. I was in a bad place at that time, mentally, because I knew that wasn't what was meant for me. It wasn’t the path I envisaged myself going down. But without fail, every week I would go to the Dole office and collect my £70 a week.
That lasted a few months and I had interviews for retail jobs which I didn’t get as I was ‘overqualified’, and ended up working for a company that sold TV licenses. I lived at home with my Mum for the next couple of years.
I didn’t give up applying for jobs and out of the blue I got an interview for a presentation artist at an interior design company. I got the job and worked there for just over a year, designing the presentation boards for pitches and drawing room layouts by hand. I absolutely loved it. The commute was too much in the end as it was an hour and a half drive most days but I was gutted to leave. But I’d got a new job! A friend I was at uni with said a Textile design company she knew were hiring, so I applied and got the job! It was a dream come true, I was painting every day, designing, travelling the world, going to trade shows and meeting with huge companies. I was there for just over 4 years. I won’t get into the details of why I left but let's just say the dream didn’t last forever… I felt overworked and underpaid. I was treated quite badly and would come home most nights, crying. One day, after months of what felt like a downward spiral, I handed in my notice. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no money but what was left from my last wage. I messaged a friend I knew who worked for another textiles company and managed to get a freelance job there. Alongside the freelance, I started designing prints for friends and thought to myself… I bet I could sell these!
In 2015 I incorporated Eleanor Bowmer Ltd. I had no idea about business, how to run one or how to start one! I had no idea where I was going to sell the prints or where, so I contacted Not On The High Street. I’d been a customer for years and loved it so, when I heard back that they’d accepted me as a seller I honestly couldn’t believe it. My prints were selling and I was making a little bit of money. Not enough to pay the bills (by this time we had our own house and we’d got married!) but I got such a buzz from it! I started painting pet portraits and one Christmas I painted well over 250 dogs. I don’t know how on earth I did it! Gradually, I managed to reduce the amount of freelance I was doing as the orders increased. Eventually I stopped freelancing and gave it my all! I was using my computer from Uni, which was on its last legs and I bought a scanner with money from my last wage to scan my artwork in. I had to borrow some money for a new computer from my father in law and paid it back as I earned it. Those were unpredictable times, but the best times. I just remember how happy I was to be doing something I loved.
I fell pregnant a year later with my daughter. I had no idea what being a mother entailed and boy was I in for a wild ride! Such an incredible experience, challenging but incredible (saving running a business and being a mother for another blog post). I managed to scrape 6 months Maternity leave but I had to open up the shop again.
When I started making money again, I decided it was time to invest in a new product. I had a small amount of money in the business that I wanted to re-invest and that investment was in tea towels! I researched day in day out, I asked friends, I trawled the internet for suppliers. I phoned tons of them. After finding someone I ordered a low quantity of about 80 of 3 designs, one of them being the pink leopard print! I could not shift them for months. I was giving them away to friends, picking up dog poo with them (joke lol) but on a serious note… no one would buy them!
I set up Instagram.
I started posting pictures on there, I had about 180 followers and they were all my mates. I did some talking to the camera and said mates would text me… what the f**k are you doing *laughing emoji*. I said, just you wait… and slowly my following crept up. People were sharing my products… I was sending freebies to accounts. Most of them didn’t even message me back, but some did and I was grateful. They’d do a little feature and id get another 10 sales and a bunch of followers. It consumed me and I was determined that I would sell these bloody tea towels if it was the last thing I did!
After a while the tea towels sold, so I bought some more… I did some new designs and I did the same again. They sold, so instead of ordering 80 of 3 tea towel designs I ordered 100 of 4 designs. They sold, and then I thought… I have this spare money in the business, what can I invest in next? So instead of going and buying myself a Gucci bag, I sampled a tote bag in the print that sold the best (pink leopard). It sold out.
There was a snowball effect. That is how I’ve grown my business organically. I’ve watched a hundred youtube videos on how to run a business, I’ve asked for advice, I’ve listened. But above all I had the determination to succeed.
It is not easy. Believe me when I say I’ve been in the pits. I’ve been incredibly disheartened at times and I’ve often thought ‘I can’t do this’. Sometimes I still do. But there is a passion that runs deep for what I do. Running your own business is not for the faint hearted. If you’re thinking about it… DO IT… but be prepared for it to consume you. There’s no ’switch off’ time. There’s no waving to your boss ’see you tomorrow’. It’s there then you get home, it’s checking your emails at midnight and it’s the topic of conversation with your partner after ‘what’s for tea?’. But I would not change it for the world. I’m immensely proud of what I’ve achieved and it gives me a huge sense of fulfilment.
Hopefully, this is still the start of Eleanor Bowmer. I want the business to grow and flourish and I look forward to sharing more of my journey down the line with you all.