By Kate Marsden
This week we’re heading down to the Sussex coast to meet Michelle of The Fox In the Attic. Read on to hear about her wonderful illustrated products for children and to hear her views on the Just A Card campaign…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
My name is Michelle Kreussel, and I live and work in St. Leonards-on-Sea. I’m married, with a one-year-old daughter called Penelope, and a ginger tom called Floyd. I run my business, The Fox In The Attic, from my own studio and workspace in the basement of our house. My shop takes inspiration from classic children’s themes, mainly based around animals and nature. Alongside familiar stalwarts such as anthropomorphised woodland creatures and animals, customers will be able to find other mythical beasts such as the much-loved and currently very fashionable unicorn. I’ve recently added a range of cactuses, and also produce special seasonal ranges to cater for annual events such as Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and so on. All my items are tied together with a thematic unity based on my own aesthetic, loosely brought together with one eye on colour and fun, always bearing in mind a target audience of mothers and young children.
What does a typical day involve?
A typical day for me will begin with my daughter waking herself up in her cot at about 7am. I’ll probably begin my working day sewing and stuffing a few items around morning coffee, and organising my daughter’s breakfast. Over toast, I’ll check my emails, any new or current orders, and cast my eye over my social media accounts. After a shower and getting dressed, I’ll head down to the studio and get on with a couple of hours’ solid work, checking orders, planning deliveries, packing orders and checking stock. This will all be balanced with changing nappies and getting lunch for my daughter. If the day isn’t too busy, and things are running smoothly, my husband and I might be able to pop out to grab a coffee on the way to the post office and let Penelope play on the beach for a while. Back at home, I can finish the afternoon by working on any new ideas and trying out new illustrations and designs. Bath time, dinner and putting Penelope to bed take up most of the evening. Most days I’ll still be sewing and stuffing toy animals in front of the television before bed.
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
My studio is in the basement of our Victorian house. It is a lovely, light space to work in with sunshine streaming in from the south. When we bought our house a little over two years ago, the basement was totally uninhabitable and we had to renovate the entire space, so I’m still settling in and making it my own. I feel very lucky to have my own space, since when we lived in London my toys, fabric and threads were all over our little terraced house.
The main elements for a good, productive atmosphere for creation are probably a cup of tea by my side, my ginger cat sleeping in his basket, and possibly some 80s pop songs on the radio! When I’m not working, and if my (also self-employed husband) isn’t working, we love going on small day trips to visit any gardens, or houses, galleries or museums nearby. We’re both members of the National Trust, which we love. Other than that, just a bracing walk followed by coffee and cake somewhere usually does the trick of rejuvenating me.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?
For me personally the biggest challenge has been going from a part time business to full time and being able to survive financially. Another challenge is getting thought the quieter times, when there are not as many orders. Basically, the typical ups and downs of most self-employed people can be a real challenge. There are benefits and drawbacks to being your own boss (such as self-reliance and motivation), and the feast or famine nature of a self-employed financial income can also be tricky to deal with.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
For a lot of makers in the current climate, I think simply still being up and running, and successful enough not to revert to a ‘proper’ job, is a priority when considering one’s possible situation down the line. Speaking just for myself, I intend to continue broadening my range, trying to always be ahead of the curve when it comes to those things that seem to become in demand, and remaining ‘on trend’, as some describe it. I’ve recently begun stocking in some independent high street shops in my local area, and it would be nice for this to continue and perhaps broaden out. Basically, in a nutshell, it would be nice to do what I’m doing now, just a bit more of it and on a slightly bigger scale!
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Try not to be daunted or afraid - easier said than done, I know. Just think of creating as an act of play - dive in and enjoy yourself. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get something right first time, or you feel you're not getting the results you want. Perseverance is another cliché, but for an obvious reason. I still have the very first toy I made, and it is far from perfect and very different from my more polished creations nowadays, but it is still one of my most treasured possessions, and reminds me every day that if you dream big and work hard, you can get there in the end.
Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.
I Am Acrylic - Amazing, fresh, colourful, happy jewellery.
Viktorija from And Smile Studio - Wonderful, unique illustrations. Her work is amazing and makes me happy just looking at it.
Lucie Ellen - Classy jewellery design from this very talented lady. I love all her products.
Had you realised the Just A Card campaign message suggests cards as an example of a small purchase - we're about encouraging all sales as they keep businesses afloat?
I did know that promoting sales of just a single item was part of the Just A Card campaign message, and I thoroughly agree as I know just how incredibly important every single order and sale can be to a small, independent seller - and even bigger ones! In this line of work especially, each order can seem essential.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
In the new markets that have opened up enabling people to start-up businesses from home, sell from home and promote from home, mostly via social media and the internet, the Just A Card message could not be more timely and important. Awareness is key to the success and survival of any business, let alone those small, independent ones that rely on single sales to thrive.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently? What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
I heard about the campaign on Twitter, which is one of the platforms I use most frequently, alongside the now ubiquitous Instagram and, of course, Facebook. People can help support Just A Card not only by obviously buying from independent makers themselves, but by talking about Just A Card to friends, and spreading the message far and wide across whatever social media they’re signed up to and interested in.