In our ‘Inspiring small businesses’ series we share and celebrate great stories from fellow small business owners who started and run their own business. By bringing you closer to these inspiring businesses we hope that you find motivation, tips and ideas for building yours.
Our next inspiring business is The Tartan Blanket Co., a company designing and selling a range of wool and cashmere blankets and scarves, and the story behind it shared by its founder Emma.
What is it that you do?
Here at The Tartan Blanket Co. we design and sell a range of wool and cashmere blankets and scarves. Our products are stocked in wonderful boutiques all around the world, including Harvey Nichols and as of next season, Liberty London! We are all about slow living, sustainable, natural materials and modern, but classic design. Our small, dynamic team is based in our studio-warehouse in Leith, Edinburgh. Here we create all our unique designs, as well as ensure every step of the customer experience from online browsing, right through to unwrapping their beautiful purchase, is as wonderful as it can be. Our customers are central to our business and our Customer Happiness Team ensure everyone who shops with us is just that little bit happier and cosier as a result!
What’s the story behind your business?
Having worked in fashion for many years, I felt there was a gap in the market for beautifully designed and well made products at affordable prices. I had purchased a gorgeous lambswool tartan blanket for a friends wedding gift, from a very traditional Scottish shop. Although I loved the blanket, the brand was very dated and the range they offered, very limited. I felt there must be better options in the market, but really struggled to find any. When my husband Fergus and I were thinking about starting a business together, this stood out as a great opportunity in the market, to combine my fashion retail background with Fergus’s Scottish industry knowledge.
Scottish Tartan Blankets are traditionally made of wool or cashmere which means they are all natural and fully sustainable, which we felt was really important to focus on, especially in today’s world of fast fashion and disposable products. We also saw an opportunity to expand on the traditional tartan designs, to offer a mix of tartan and simple, modern designs, which would not go out of style or fall apart, but be loved and used for many years to come, potentially being passed on to others.
What inspired you to start your own business?
Back in 2014, my husband Fergus and myself were living in London where I worked as a footwear buyer and Fergus remotely ran an Edinburgh-based kilt business. I loved my career in buying, getting to travel the world and buy shoes for a living was a dream job and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. However, when we got engaged and were imagining our lives in the future, we weren’t sure how having a demanding career in London with no family around, would work with starting a family of our own.
So we decided to move back to our beautiful home town of Edinburgh, where all our family were. However, the decision of what we would do once we got there was a bit more tricky, as buying roles were few and far between and so my career would be extremely limited. So, after many wine fuelled nights excitedly talking about how we could achieve the perfect balance of doing what we love, whilst still having the family life we always dreamed of, we always came back to the same conclusion: “let’s (gulp) start a business together”. And so with a big leap of faith, The Tartan Blanket Co. was born!
What is the most difficult aspect of running your own business?
One of the biggest challenges recently has been managing our growth. When we started it was hard work, but every order or every new design was a real win. The expectations were low and we ran most areas of the business ourselves, so we had full control. Now, as we have grown, we have had to learn how to find great people, who are able to realise our vision and take the company further than we could alone. Although we have been very lucky to find the wonderful members of our team we now have, it has been a very steep learning curve. We have learnt so much about how to find and train the right people, how to relinquish control and trust others with our business baby and how to work together and not let work stresses impact our personal relationship (at least not too much). Our roles have become primarily about managing and leading our team and company on the path we set out, and less about doing the many jobs we did at the start. Being more hands off and focussing on training and growing others, takes a bit of getting used to, but this process has been essential to enable us to start a family and have the life we envisioned.
What is the best thing about running your own business?
There are so many highs and lows with running your own business, it’s like an emotional rollercoaster. Every success or problem is so personal and impacts your entire life. This can feel draining at times, knowing the buck stops with you, but wonderfully empowering to know that you can take the business in any direction you choose and be so proud of what you have created. Last year we welcomed our twin girls Amabel and Mara into the world, which was amazing, but it created a challenging juggling act, with their two year old sister Aila and running our business. We only took a few full weeks off work, as it’s impossible to fully switch off when you run your own business. The first few months were really tough on us, being pulled in all directions and having very little sleep, and the team struggled not having us around as much. However, recently we have started finding a good balance, with a wonderful nanny coming to look after the girls a few days a week at our studio. This allows me to focus on work a few days while also continuing to breastfeed and be there for the twins, who are now nearly one already! This flexibility to raise our children the way we would like, but also continue to run the business that we love, is truly the best thing about running our own business.