Do you need a creative VA in your life and business?
This month I took some time out to chat with July’s Resilient Retail Club small business member of the month, Rachel Winchester, founder of Holchester Designs. From hand-painted fabrics to wholesale, wallpaper to Bridgerton we covered it all!
Tell us about your small business and why you started it?
Holchester Designs and Creative Support studio is my two-pronged small business! It’s part surface pattern design studio where I design and sell my own colourful stationery and art prints, and part graphic design support service for other small businesses.
I actually started as Handmade by Holchester nearly 7 years ago, where I handpainted fabric and made soft furnishings, but pattern was always my thing so I honed my surface pattern design skills whilst on maternity leave with my second daughter and things grew from there.
I relaunched as Holchester Designs in 2019 and then ran a successful kickstarter campaign in Spring 2020 to build things a bit more. The Creative VA side of things started when I realised my small business background could be put to better use and that I missed working with people. I now do both things side by side and I love the variety it gives me along with flexibility to parent too.
What was your life like before Holchester Designs?
It was very different! Although I studied Art History and Museology, I ended up working for many years in HR including in a small business that supported other growing small businesses too. So that’s where alot of my passion for and knowledge about small businesses come from. As with many people having children changed my priorities and when I needed flexibility I also took the chance to follow my latent creativity a bit more.
What’s the most common question you’re asked about your business?
“You drew that?!” Especially when talking about the stationery. I think so many people are so used to seeing stationery in the supermarket etc that they don’t necessarily match up that someone’s had to design and think about it, in the same way they might when looking at other handmade objects when they’re at a makers market. It’s a great conversation starter though and it’s really nice to be able to talk through the process with them.
What’s the nicest thing a customer has said about your business?
All positive comments are lovely, and still give me tingles. I think one of my favorites though was a customer who bought a handful of bags and stationery last autumn and told me she was making up hampers for christmas gifts, using my bags as the hamper itself. They’ve since replenished the planner pads too as they found them so useful. It’s also a great feeling when I see a graphic I’ve worked on for a client ‘in the wild’ when I don’t expect it, that never gets old and when they get great comments on it too that’s such a buzz.
What are you most looking forward to during the next 12 months of running your small business?
I’ve recently started offering wholesale so that’s hopefully an avenue that’ll grow over the next year. There’s two new pattern ranges on new products coming in the autumn which I’m really excited about, including some new photography too which is always refreshing. And finally I’m also hoping to be putting some of my most popular patterns as available on fabrics/wallpapers so people can use them to decorate their homes or make clothes out of. I love making my own clothes (when I get a chance!) so I’m hoping there’s a new wardrobe in my future too!
As recommended by Holchester Designs
In keeping with our new tradition I asked Rachel to name 3 podcasts, books or events that have helped her with running Holchester Designs – here they are:
I’m a massive fan of Studio Cotton on Instagram. Aime has such a wealth of knowledge and is fantastic at breaking things down, and it’s given me so much food for thought over the past 12 months. I’ve not actioned all of it yet, but it’s in the pipeline, and she’s well worth a follow.
Kerry Lyons’s The Imperfect Life podcast has also been brilliant for working on Mindset over the past few years. I’ve actually followed her blog/business/Instagram for years now and whilst she’s not doing the podcast anymore the episodes are still available and they’re a great listen.
I’ve recently been reading Atomic Habits by James Clear too. It’s not a business book but it’s been interesting to break down some of my actions and get a grasp on how I might develop better routines to balance home, kids, work, me time etc.
Gretchin Rubin’s Better than Before was great for working out how I work a bit too. I find books like that really fascinating but I’m also a big fan of a cheesy book like the Bridgerton Series for whisking me away somewhere totally different for a while – it’s can’t all be business!