If you’ve ever wondered who is behind Hello Marilu and wanted to know a bit more about what I do, then take a read of my recent interview and sneaky peek into my London-based studio.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you did before Hello Marilu
I'm Mary-Ann, I grew up in London and still call it home. I was always super creative as a child, drawing and making things all the time so it was a pretty natural progression to go on to study art and textiles and complete a degree in textile design at Nottingham Trent university. After graduating, I worked within creative industries for interiors and then fashion brands but I moved away from the creative side into more administrative based roles within marketing and store development. After doing this for a fair few years, I'd gained some really great experience but I felt like I lost touch with my creativity and felt the urge to get back into it again so started making and selling things on Etsy and launched my business in 2016. It was scary to make that leap when I had an established career but it completely felt like the right thing to do and I'm glad I did.
How did you first get into product design and what inspired you to start Hello Marilu?
I've always been quite creative but I remember going to a print fair at Somerset House in London called Pick Me Up and was so inspired by the artists there. I thought, this is what I want to do! Up until that moment I never thought it was something I could do, or that people would be interested in my work, but it dawned on me that it was possible, as everyone at the fair was doing it. There were so many different styles of work, I actually thought I could see myself there.
I enjoyed screen printing at uni so I signed up to do a screen printing course which really inspired me. After watching many YouTube tutorials and scratching my head a bit, I taught myself how to make a lightbox so I could develop my own screens at home. My first listing on Etsy was a screen print but I then went through a phase of trying out lots of different crafts and product ideas - screen printing paper and fabric, making greeting cards and notebooks, candle making, jewellery making, painting ceramics including baubles, and even making pom poms. It was all a bit of an experiment for a while until I settled on a few crafts that worked for me and I now feel like I am streamlining my products to those which seem to work for Hello Marilu. I really love working with different crafts though so I'm hoping to introduce a few new product collections to my range, even if they are limited edition.
How would you describe your design style?
Eclectic! I feel like I am drawn to lots of styles all at once - sometimes I love abstract patterns, other times I love illustration, and sometimes I want to make bold graphic screen prints. I do sometimes wish I had a more specific style, but in a way there is something quite nice about being versatile and not necessarily fitting into one box.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I honestly feel like I find inspiration in everything! Sometimes I can be scrolling through instagram and the colour of someone's outfit can inspire a new design in my head. I honestly have about 10 million ideas scribbled down all over the place but there's never enough time to actually develop them all! I love nature; plants, animals, patterns on rocks and stones. Abstract art makes me feel inspired, the way colours blend together or the simple mark-making of a paint brush. Light and shadow. Colour. Everything inspires me.
Can you tell us a little bit about your workspace?
My studio is actually in our conservatory which we built on to the side of our flat. It's fairly small but very bright and sunny and it opens out onto the garden which I just love. I'll often work with the doors open over the summer or take my work outside when it's a nice day. My cat Pebble often keeps me company by sleeping under my desk or, less helpfully, sitting on my keyboard! As Hello Marilu is growing I sometimes wish I had a bit more space but I do really love it here. We built it ourselves so it feels like a really special, personal space to me. It's full of artwork, both my own and from other artists, and being a conservatory it's a perfect spot for lots of plants.
What do you love most about being part of the creative community?
It's just really nice that there is a sense of community as working alone can be quite lonely. I have made some lovely friends through craft markets and even through Instagram. In general, people seem to be encouraging, positive and kind on Instagram and it's so appreciated!
Tell us your favourite designer-makers to follow!
Good question! I love Melanie Johnsson, Lisa Congdon, Carla Llanos, and Malika Favre though there are so many others I could go on forever! They all have their own unique style, I find them really inspiring!
What would be your ideal working day (and how different is that from the reality?!)
An ideal working day would be to be creative all day, experimenting, sketching, playing. The reality is there is a lot more admin to running a business and I don't spend as much time creating as I would like... but I still know that I spend a lot more time being creative than I did when I was not self-employed, so I am still grateful I am where I am.
What do you do when you're not working on Hello Marilu?
Gardening - I absolutely love my garden! If the weather was warmer all year round I would be there all the time. I just feel completely at ease when I am gardening, it makes me really happy. I've also started some crafts which are purely for pleasure and not for work - I took up knitting last year and I am going to attempt to knit a jumper soon (got the kit for Christmas). It's quite nice to have a craft which is purely for me and I am not automatically thinking about how I could make this into a product to sell.
What has been your proudest achievement so far with Hello Marilu?
I've been lucky enough to work with lots of brands, some of them quite big names like Fortnum & Mason. When I first get the email from a brand, especially when it is a really well-known, established brand, it makes me feel amazed that they have even found me out of all the millions of other people out there, when I'm just a teeny tiny brand myself. It's nice to know that my work has stood out enough for them to notice me.
Is there anything you've found more difficult than you expected to?
There are lots of difficult things with running your own business. Self-motivation can be hard, especially when you don't necessarily see immediate results from something or your not sure how a product will be received. I often have imposter syndrome and have to work hard to not let self-doubt get the better of me and not to compare myself to other people (who always appear to be doing better).
You put yourself out there a lot when you have your own business - there is a fear of judgement that you have to get over and just get on with it. It's always lovely when you get good feedback of course but you just have to take it on the chin a bit if something you've worked your butt off for isn't as successful as you hoped.
It can also be tricky trying to manage all the different elements of your business yourself; the time spent creating is so much smaller than I'd like it to be! I never quite feel like I am getting enough done but everything takes time so I'm learning to be more patient and kind to myself.
What's your favourite product to make?
It's hard to pick one as I like them all in their own way, but painting (whether a christmas bauble or abstract plant pot) can be very therapeutic. It only feels stressful if you are under pressure to get a lot done in a short time, which is often the case during the Christmas season, though I'm aiming to be fully prepared for Christmas 2020 gifts!
What's the weirdest thing you've ever been asked to make?!
I was asked to design a range of Christmas baubles for Matilda The Musical based on the characters in the theatre show, but I wasn't allowed to illustrate the characters or write their names on them at all - that was tricky! Each bauble was inspired by their costumes or interests/habits so I made one to look like a chocolate cake, and the other like a teapot. That was a really interesting project and quite fun to go a bit wild with the designs and not be traditionally festive at all.
Do you have any hobbies that you keep separate from Hello Marilu?
A lot of things merge but I keep things like knitting separate and I'm going to go to lots more workshops this year. Some for business purposes, ie. learning skills to make new products, but others are just for fun. Next month I have a sourdough bread baking workshop booked which I'm really looking forward to (mainly for all the sourdough I'll be able to eat afterwards) - I think I might actually explore more food-based workshops as I will never be tempted to make a business out of it.
Talking of sourdough, what's your go-to comfort food to make?
I quite like making banana bread as it's so easy and quick and making it feels quite therapeutic. I try to be healthy and make a sugar-free version which is only sweetened by the bananas. It's actually so good toasted with a little bit of butter on. The problem is I can literally eat the whole loaf myself within a couple of days!
For naughty comfort food then cinnamon duffins or a super simple victoria sponge cake are fun to make. I wouldn't say I was great at baking by any means but there is something so satisfying about making a cake.
Finally, what would be your biggest tip to anyone else thinking of starting their own creative business?
To just start. You don't have to leave your job and go all in, and you don't even have to know exactly what it is you want to achieve, but if there is something that you are passionate about then do it. Small steps can lead to your bigger goal so as long as you are doing something to work towards it, it all helps, whether that's starting an Etsy shop or a blog or whatever it is. I think a lot of people (including me) have mistakenly thought successful business owners have just got there overnight, but it doesn't work that way. It takes time, lots of work, and the small things you do then lead on to something else... even things you didn't necessarily plan. I never intended to teach workshops, for example, but after selling my personalised baubles online I was approached and asked to teach one for an event. That one event has lead to me working with lots of brands. I think things have a natural tendency to evolve and opportunities start to present themselves if you are doing something you are passionate about.
Thank you so much for reading - do let me know if you have any other questions you'd like me to answer in the comments!