I recently met the wonderful Amy Harrison-Mason at an event in London. I instantly loved her energy and as we started chatting, I discovered that she is creator and founder behind the fabulous Olive Jennings furniture and homeware brand. Amy creates all her pieces in her London workshop and sells them on her website and in selected stockists throughout the UK. I am so thrilled to be able to interview this inspiring woman about what about her experiences running Olive Jennings.
1. Could you please share a little bit about the Olive Jennings journey with our readers?
I never actually intended to start a business when I began, it started as a passion project in my garden shed. I made a kitchen table for our flat from some old floorboards, and my husband thought I should put it online and see what response I got. Turns out it was a good one! I then started doing commissions and the business was born.
2. Olive Jennings is named after your grandmother. How did she inspire you to create this business?
My grandmother was my mum’s mum, and she actually died when I was quite small. I’m really close to my mum and she’s always encouraged me to do what I love and work hard at it, so I wanted to give the business a name that reflected this. My grandmother brought up this wonderful woman in my mum, and I hope that when I have a daughter one day I can pass on those values and strength and inspire her as my mum and grandmother have inspired me.
3. I also noticed that all your products have people’s names – are they all named after someone special in your life?
Yes - my family are the reason I’m doing this, so I wanted to maintain the family feel throughout the brand. The first piece of furniture I ever made, that kitchen table, I named after my dad, Russell. He is a carpenter by trade with his own business and he has taught me so much of what I know today, including giving me a crash course in the wonderful world of self-employed finance and teaching me how to use a biscuit joiner!
4. What is your process for creating a new piece of furniture or homeware? Where does your inspiration come from and how do you then turn that into reality?
A lot of my inspiration comes from places I’ve visited and the architecture, and I love using new materials that add to and complement the range. I also like to keep abreast of current trends and try to find a way of incorporating these into my designs. My process is quite ‘organic’ (although I don’t like that word!) - I can’t really draw so the design sits in my head and is created through a lot of trial and error, imagination, problem-solving and copious amounts of product testing!
5. Who was your first stockist and how did you find them?
My first stockist was Blossom and Threads in Brockey. I met Nadia (the owner) at the first craft fair I did back in 2016. She was on a stand next to me and we got chatting, she then started stocking my products and she also did my wedding flowers! This is one of the things I love about doing what I do, meeting so many talented people and swapping skills - my first client commission was then my wedding photographer!
6. I believe we need to talk about and even celebrate failure because it shows the courage to try something new. Can you share a failure, how you overcame it and what you learned from it?
Some of my products have been huge flops and never made it out of the studio! As my whole process is based on trial and error, sometimes a product just doesn’t translate how I hope it will, and over the years I’ve learned that that’s ok and it just means I learn something in the process. I also had some major shipping f**k ups in the early days - keeping concrete and furniture safe in transit it hard! Again, over time you learn what works and what doesn’t, and speaking to other small business and reading a lot of blogs helps!
7. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business? What do you wish someone had told you?
The biggest piece of advice I would give to someone starting out is to get your costs correct right at the beginning. There’s nothing worse than under-charging because you lack the confidence in your product and then realising you’re not making any money on it! I would also say surround yourself with like-minded people running small businesses - doing this can be quite isolating at times so it’s invaluable knowing other people that are in the same boat as you that you can turn to for advice (Rachida is one of mine!). Even if it’s a glass of wine and pep-talk, it’s sometimes needed!
8. What plans do you have for Olive Jennings in 2019?
I can’t believe we are in 2019! There’s already so much I’m working on, including (without giving too much away) - expanding the product range, a new collection in an area I’ve not explored before, some retail partnerships, an exciting collaboration with another brand, a popup, developing the wedding styling and interior design consulting.
Oh and finally finishing our flat renovation! : )
Thank you to Amy for her wonderful insights into the world of Olive Jennings! I thought her point about creating a support network is so essential because entrepreneurship can be a lonely path at times. People are usually keen to help but don’t get discouraged if you come across someone that isn’t. There are also some great organisations you can joint (like Enterprise Nation) and plenty of networking events to go along to (see what you can find in your city).