Meet the lovely and very inspirational Ariane Holford.
Ariane is the owner of the unique online stationery shop Fox & Star which specialises in exclusive and beautiful stationery from amazing brands, in particular Korean ones like L'apres Midi and Livework. She set up her online shop pretty much single-handed and now runs her successful business from Birmingham with the help of her boyfriend Jim. Ariane studied Mandarin Chinese at university here and in Beijing and worked for a time in South Korea, where she clearly spent every spare minute in their fabulous stationery shops.
Me: Hi Ari, tell me where your love of beautiful stationery began.
I'd always been fond of stationery through school and loved doodling on exercise books, covering text books with wrapping paper and generally hoarding fountain pens. When I lived in Asia collecting paper-based bits and bobs became a full-blown passion and when I wasn't working or studying I would be trawling the aisles of stationery shops and making very important decisions about stickers!
Me: Did you always want to have your own business?
The business evolved out of a desire to focus on something that I'm passionate and knowledgeable about. When I realised that I couldn't think of my ideal job, I figured I might as well try to create one myself.
Me: How easy was it to set up? Tell me about the process. Was it an enjoyable experience?
I started working on the shop whilst I was still in my old job, tinkering away into the early hours of the morning. Many headaches arose from the fact that I'm not graced with the skills of a web developer and most things happened through sheer hard work, trial, error and searching around the internet for answers. The business side of things fell into place quite easily but I still pester the accountant. A. Lot!
Me: What was the reality of setting up an online business compared to the dream?
Because I'd already worked for an online retailer, I had some idea of the day to day reality. There is always so much to do and I'm always trying to improve so there is a lot of hard work and time involved, it is great to be driven and determined about something though. Being an online business means I'm always switched on so sometimes I have to remember to take a step back, blink and have a breather.
Me: Tell me about an average day.
The first thing I do is drag myself over to the gym and listen to Kermode and Mayo. After breakfast and checking emails I start to pack orders after which I stock update all channels. The rest of the day is spent checking off things on my daily list which of course is written on the prettiest planner! Afternoons are spent adding new products, taking product photos, chatting with suppliers, doing the post run and keeping up with all social media channels. I also consume a large amount of tea!
Me: Tell me about your product range? It has such a beautiful aesthetic and I wondered if you have rules about what passes the Fox & Star test. What are your favourite brands?
Thank you for your kind words about my range, I'm always super happy to hear that other people like it too. One of the really cool things about not having partners or managers is the freedom to be as creative with product buying as you like. There are no set rules with products and so it's really fun to discover and create new ones. My first love was L'apres Midi as each of their city-themed illustrated journals fills me with delight. Lately I've been loving the colourful graphic themes of Paperways and Livework, Seeso has the minimalistic looked nailed down perfectly and of course you can't look at Quill and Fox's designs without swooning.
Me: Who and what inspires you?
This is a real toughy. I wouldn't say there is a particular 'who' in answer to that question, I'm constantly amazed when I look at Feedly at the creativity, knowledge and heart behind blog posts that cover everything from oreo milkshakes, graphic design and packaging. Whatever the content, it's super inspiring to see all sorts of creative types be passionate about something and then go on to create/share that passion with us. My particular favourites are This is Glamorous, Creature Comforts and Ishtar Olivera.
Me: Do you feel like you've made your dreams come true? If so, how do you think you did it, are you a planner? an organiser? a doer? a dreamer? Do you keep a journal?
Hmmm I can't imagine I'll ever reach the stage of thinking my dreams have come true as I don't think I'll ever be entirely satisfied, too much of a perfectionist perhaps! Running a business isn't really like having a a set project with a finish date because it keeps evolving all the time. It can be quite frustrating that there is no finish line but I like seeing that year on year I'm getting closer to my goals and that's quite encouraging. Wish me luck! A planner is my total must-have for day to day organisation, I've tried all sorts of different apps but always end up going back to a nice clean paper planner. I do keep a journal, it gives me a view of how things are ticking along but it could also be confused with an explosion in the MT washi tape factory!
Me: What advice would you give other people thinking of setting up an online business?
Everyone has to start somewhere so start small and work with what you know, whether that is something you are making yourself or a product that you're really passionate about. Listen to your customers, don't be afraid of hiccups or making mistakes and above all remember to take the time to enjoy the little things.
Thanks Ari for taking the time to talk to me about your wonderful, beautiful online business.
To celebrate being the first of my inspirational women to spill the beans, Ariane is offering 10% off all orders at Fox & Star until 16th May, so hurry over there now and use the code BLOOM10 at checkout. Also check out Ariane's blog for more pretty stuff and papery ideas.