Vintage and Floral founder Jennifer Campbell Kirk speaks to Precious Online Magazine April 14, 2013 22:11
Jennifer Campbell Kirk spoke to Precious Online Magazine about why she is inspired to make handmade American patchwork quilts and gives advice on starting your own business.
Describe your business in one paragraph
Vintage and Floral is a luxury brand that beautifully handcrafts limited edition heirloom patchwork quilts and cushions in the UK, using Vintage American design and craft with Shaker style simplicity.
Why did you decide to start your company?
My Dad died in 2011 and I was facing redundancy from my job. My mum had died suddenly three years before, so I was at a very low point in my life. I felt that my family history had evaporated.
My 81-year-old Texan mother-in-law happened to be in the UK at the time when my Dad passed away and patiently began to teach me how to make quilts. I found this very therapeutic and quilt making helped me deal with my loss. Six months later I spent a month in Dallas, Texas learning how to patch-work. I would spend 8 to 9 hours a day sewing and was completely hooked. I loved the traditional American quilt patterns, their sense of history and the idea of preserving a female heritage craft. I then realised that I wanted to start my own business making these beautiful heirloom quilts.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
My background is in youth work and I spent several years as a manager running arts projects and events with young people. I trained as a Drama Therapist in 2004 and five years ago was awarded funding to set up a creative arts therapy charity Wise Dolls, for women and girls who had suffered domestic abuse.
Recently PR guru and feminist, Lynne Franks, has come on board as Patron. A percentage of sales from Vintage and Floral quilts are donated to the charity.
Did you always know that you would become an entrepreneur?
I didn’t define myself as an entrepreneur or even a social entrepreneur back then, but if I saw a problem and had an idea for the solution, then that would motivate me to make it happen. I find it very rewarding to make a real difference.
Tell us about the business planning stage
I didn’t have a business plan for Vintage and Floral, although I did have for my previous ventures. My business started on my kitchen table and was fairly cheap to set up. I invested in a good sewing machine and several quilting books to build on what I had learnt from my mother-in-law.
I also attended a several sewing workshops and was delighted when I got a place onDoug Richard’s School for Creative Startups, to help me with the business side.
Tell us about a typical working day
Well, I still have a day job and I run my charity part-time, so my life is very busy at the moment. I wake up at 7.30am and then work until 6pm. I spend my lunchtime making calls and answering emails and use my train ride to and from work either mediating or organising my day.
I come home and sew patchwork quilts until 11pm. I then go through my emails, do social media stuff and admin for my charity and for Vintage and Floral until around 1am. I usually watch Munsters, the Addams Family or Green Acres in bed to unwind.
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
I have recently launched my business at School for Creative Startups Showcase at Somerset House which has been very exciting for me. Having such a positive response to my quilts and the history behind quilt-making has been encouraging. I met some amazing people and as a result have a couple of projects planned for this year so watch this space!
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
My late mum has been an inspiration to me, she was a very strong person who had her own mind and was always helping others. I am also inspired by the courage of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and admire Oprah Winfrey for overcoming such adversity, her business attitude and her philanthropy.
How do you work on making your business grow?
Social media has been key for me. I am influenced by my psychotherapy background, so I tweet on how people can be creative and enjoy a simple life. I think it is important to be authentic and to connect with others on what one is passionate about. I am also trying to get more involved in networking and moving outside of my comfort zone.
What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learnt as an entrepreneur?
I think juggling between working ON my business and AT my business has been a valuable lesson. I am still learning how to balance how much time I spend making quilts versus marketing and promoting what I do.
What other passions do you have away from your business?
I trained as a Classical singer so I do my best to regularly practice my singing. Occasionally I still do professional gigs. I also love gardening and tend to pot around on the weekends. It is as a form of mediation and helps me maintain equilibrium.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own business?
Be passionate about your business which will sustain you during the difficult times. Keep learning and become an expert in your field so others will trust you. We buy from people we trust. I have also found having a mentor really useful. It helps me stay focused, disciplined and accountable.