Hello! I'm Chloe (not Clara) and I am the creative force behind Cotton Clara. I wanted to tell you my story and share my passion for this business with you. There's a shorter version, and a more in depth one, depending on how interested you are! But I'll start with this little video....
So I love embroidery, I love encouraging people and I'm living my best life combining the two, encouraging people to have a go at embroidery! I built the business as a side hustle, working full time with two small children, from a corner of our dining room and it's grown to fill a beautiful airy studio in my adopted home town of Loughborough, UK. It used to be just me, but now there are a team of us, producing all of our kits here in the UK. We ship all over the world and have been stocked in Anthropologie, Liberty, Oliver Bonas, The Conran Shop and Boots to name a few. I've just written an embroidery book that will be published by Harper Collins in March, things have escalated from the dining room days!
In lots of ways, I have no idea what I am doing (I'm a big believer in winging it and saying yes to things you have no idea how to do) but on the other hand I have massive dreams for this brand, this business and what it can become. I think business can be a force for good - this is a passion business with a very strong 'why'.
I want to provide a creative spa experience for our customers, to introduce them to embroidery as their no.1 self-care tool. I also want to show that if you have a dream, and you work hard enough - you can make it come true. I want to encourage others, who have no experience or connections, who think they could never build a business, or make their dreams come true, that you can!
What I've built so far is only tiny, but I know I can keep going and this tiny business will become a force for good, and a globally recognised brand!
The long version...
Cotton Clara started as a seed of an idea after I'd had my second son in March 2014. I'd been thinking for a while that I wanted to try create a job for myself that meant I was flexible to look after my children, and was a bit more creative. After a creative degree I'd fallen into working in environmental sustainability work. I'd had some really interesting jobs but I was really a square peg in a round hole, a bit of a rebel (don't think I was ever really designed to have a boss?!) and I got bored SO easily. I was always looking for the next move I could make.
Above: The evolution of our office space
I think I signed up to Instagram at around this point and I started to see people making a living from being creative, and I just started thinking....I could do that?! I I had in my head right from the start a kind of blurry vision that I could build something really great. I also think I imagined it would maybe take a couple of years. How wrong I was on that one! The vision has just got clearer and clearer as I've taken action and just started. The first step was an Etsy store with some home made needle point kits. I made my own logo, I made my own bags - I even used to walk to the local church office where they would print off my instruction sheets for me!
Above: My first attempt at packaging. I made my own bags and designed my own logo!
I started selling a few (and I mean a few!) kits and I started to put things out in to the world, on Instagram mainly. I studied other companies and brands and started reading blogs and books on business. I sent off ideas for articles to Mollie Makes magazine, and started to have them published. I remember one of my first goals was to get accepted as a Not on the High Street seller. I went down to London for one of their pitching events and didn't get accepted, but I took on their feedback went away and six months later I got a yes!
I've just gradually worked away at my product and packaging, trying to make it better and better. I've spent hours trying to learn how to take and edit better photos, I've spent even more hours listening to other businesses talk about how they've grown. This has been a slow journey of developing my product but also my focus - to start with I wasn't focused exclusively on embroidery and craft kits. I made earrings, coasters and stitched some of the products myself. It's all just been a process of learning, refining and focussing, and a key thing in that is not being afraid to put things out there even when they aren't perfect!
Above: The front of the NOTHS Christmas catalogue!
A couple of years in I was working every hour I had while still working full time and being mum to a 2 and a 3 year old. I'd had lots of amazing opportunities to talk about my work, I was on Kirstie's Handmade Christmas and had a photo shoot with Giovanna Fletcher in my attic studio, thanks to Not on the High Street! I'd even been on the front cover of the Not on the High Street Christmas catalogue with one of my products! I'd made lots of online friends with other people who ran businesses and it was one of these connections that lead to the next step - quitting the day job!
I met Amanda at a Crochet Retreat run by Ruby from Frank and Olive Crochet. Amanda runs Little Box of Crochet and has a huge following. I was running a workshop at the retreat to stitch one of my wooden banners, Amanda loved them and almost instantly placed an order for 2000 boards for her crochet subscription box. This was SUCH a significant moment for me and I will be forever grateful to Amanda for this vote of confidence in what was such a fledgling business! It was this order that gave me the confidence to leave my full time job. They had refused me part-time hours so I took that as a sign that i needed to just go for it! My eldest was about to start school and as well as being fed up with my corporate job, I desperately wanted to be there to drop him off and collect him.