If you wander into a certain kind of (wifi-providing) coffee shop in the middle of the day chances are, as well as the bearded barista and complex coffee menu, a sea of Macs will greet you. You’re as likely to find a beard behind those as you are behind the counter tbh. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the age of the freelancer.
With Small Business Saturday looming, I have been thinking about self-employment and the freelance lifestyle. Due to the nature of my work, many of my friends and colleagues are self employed and looking on social media platforms and in public places gives evidence to a fantastic boost in entrepreneurial spirit over the last couple of years, with small businesses appearing all over the place- pop-up shops, craftspeople, designers, artists- all creating their own little empires.
In the UK, self-employment reached a record high in 2014 with 4.5million (15%) people choosing this way of life. There are a number of reasons for this. With the economic downturn there were less jobs available and more people being made redundant, giving many people little option but to become self employed. When I graduated with a degree in Fashion and Textiles in 2004, I waitressed for a while as there was next to no chance of being employed in a creative/fashion role in NI- there simply weren’t those kind of vacancies out there. The natural progression was to register as self-employed which was pretty damn scary. My dad is a lecturer and my mum a nurse so I had been brought up around traditional careers, and although they wanted to help there was little advice they would offer me in so far as my business went. Luckily, they had instilled a good work ethic in me and this, teamed with my stubborn nature, love of fashion and art and advice from other self-employed peeps, meant I’ve managed the old freelance lifestyle for the last decade.
The biggest influence on this employment/self employment shift is obviously the Internet. Email and Skype allow us to conduct business with people anywhere in the world, online marketplaces such as Etsy, eBay and the like mean we can sell our wares and social media is the ultimate marketing platform. Social media also allows freelancers to keep in touch with the outside world when they are in the midst of a long project or up against a deadline. Working from home definitely has its advantages but can be a bit isolating at times.
To be honest, if it wasn’t for the Internet I wouldn’t have the work or lifestyle I have. It allowed me to make the move from Belfast back to the coast last year, which I have found to be very inspirational and has increased my productivity- the sea air fuels my brain. A lot of my work is done online- be that sales, commercial illustration work or writing- I sell to and work with people all over the world from my home studio. For styling work, I travel to Belfast and beyond, but a 1hour 15minute commute is not exactly the worst- if I lived in Dublin or London that would be the norm but in NI the idea of that travel time is often greeted with horror. Plus the train journey gives me time to devour the glossies!
Another resource that affords freelancers a better working life is the shared studio or co-working space. When I lived in Belfast I had a space in Blick Studio that I adored.
It was great to have a workspace where you could sit at your own desk without the distractions of home or a coffee shop, as well as having like-minded people to chat to. Although no-one else in my space worked in the fashion industry there are overlaps in every small business- cashflow, tax returns, ridiculous hours- and we all face similar challenges so it was great to have other people to chat these things through with.
Being self-employed is a love/hate thing. I LOVE my work but I don’t always love the business- I hate accounts stuff, I hate ‘The Fear’ that strikes from time to time and the idea of holiday and sick pay is completely foreign to me as I’ve never had that (Anyway self-employed people aren’t allowed to get sick.) BUT I love being my own boss, getting paid to draw and play with clothes, I love seeing my business grow, my clients happy, working with lots of creative and amazing people and I really love being able to go to the beach in the middle of the day if it’s sunny, even if it means I have to pull an all-nighter to make up for it J
Anyway, as we’re celebrating small businesses here are a few of my favourite local ones- products I adore and places I love to browse.
BTS Concept Store, Coleraine
Back in the 90s…..memories of Queen Street from my teenage years are not good- dominated by greasy spoons we would frequent because they sold the cheapest gravy chip in town (£1.95) and half-hearted study sessions in the strange-looking library.
However, in the last couple of years a lot of effort has been made to regenerate this part of Coleraine and this street in particular has cleaned up well, now home to some really nice independent businesses, including my favourite lifestyle store.
Originally opened as a pop-up shop (but thankfully now a permanent fixture) BTS Concept Store houses the most beautifully curated collection of coastal-inspired homeware and lifestyle products, coffee table journals and art.
The emphasis is on clean, classic design in a pale, muted palette that is both contemporary and nostalgic in a way that feels comforting and familiar. In essence, pieces which are timeless and a pleasure to live with.
Proprietor Tracy McAllistar (whose previous work life was in the corporate sector of the University of Ulster) has a fabulous eye for design and interiors and a wonderful knack of knowing what her customer needs.
Gráinne Maher Vault
I first met Gráinne not long after I started styling, backstage at a show when she turned up with the most amazing millinery creations NI had seen, back in the days when the only choice for your head was a hairband with feathers sprouting out of the side or the sort of large hats the Queen favours. G’s hats and headpieces were cool, architectural, fun and different. Since then I genuinely believe the woman may not have had a day off as she is always busy with various creative projects, including launching her Perspex accessories line, Pluck and Devour, a few years ago and more recently opening Vault in Spires Mall.
‘Vault’ is the kind of place I dreamed about upon graduating, a treasure trove of a boutique stocking independent designers including some recent graduates. The stock ranges from very wearable classic with a twist through to seriously quirky and is fast becoming known as Belfast’s ‘best kept secret’
Another great space for creatives which means they don’t have to create at the kitchen table! Studio Souk is an open plan creative studio and retail space that supports over 80 local artists and designers AND they have a great coffee shop. Studio Souk has the most amazingly diverse range of products and is an amazing place to browse and chat to the resident artists and designers.
Fir Beard and Body
I met Mr Fir Beard and Body many years ago back in the university days when we both worked in a coffee shop (like ACTUALLY worked there, not just faffing around on a laptop or taking ‘meetings’ over a latte) Over the past year or so I noticed more and more beautiful countryside and landscape posts on his social media and discovered he’d sidestepped his previous corporate life to move back to his native countryside, study Environmental Management and in doing so had been inspired to create a product range for the bearded man. No shortage of customers there then.
Being an impressively bearded man himself, he obviously knows what he’s doing and I have to say I adore the products. Before you wonder if I do in fact have a beard, let me put your mind at ease and say, no I don’t but my fiancé does. He uses the products on his beard and tbh I use a little on the end of my hair to tame frizzies. The products smell insane- so evocative and rich. My favourite is campfire, it smells like the smoke and embers of a beach campfire on a summer night. The thing I love about this range apart from the excellent product is the ethos, which I see as being similar to my Éadach ethos- being inspired by your surroundings and adventure, creating an authentic product that you use and love, harnessing the strength and magic of the Irish coastline/countryside.
As I type this I am surrounded by the warm spicy smoky scent of their ‘Hot Whiskey’ wax which I was lucky enough to get my hands on- keep an eye out for that in the near future.
Art loves Editions
Art loves Editions was the brainchild of art consultant, curator & all-round cool woman Carrie Neely. When I left art college I was sick of drawing (honestly can’t imagine feeling like that now) and it was only a few years later after a meeting with Carrie that I got back into the art side of things. At the time it was difficult for an unknown artist to secure gallery space, never mind an exhibition but Carrie started running group exhibitions in great spaces, hanging graduates next to established artists, and after showing at a couple of her group exhibitions I built up a body of work, had a couple of solo exhibitions and secured representation with an commercial agency. Art loves Editions runs in a similar vein- providing a platform for both established and emerging artists, Art Loves offers exclusive ltd ed Giclée prints that allows art to be accessible to first time buyers as well as collectors. Carrie says: “Art Loves demonstrates the richness and diversity of the artistic landscape in Ireland. The pieces we have chosen have gone through a rigorous selection process and are a testament to the wonderfully eclectic mix of styles, mediums and subject matter of art in Ireland today.”
This girl makes all the jewellery that I want to wear. Simples. Bohemian Vixen is my go-to gal for statement (like, STATEMENT) pieces for shoots as well as my own day to day trinkets. I feel like a pirate with all the loot when I’m rifling through BV pieces.
Inspired by gypsies, hippies, punks and her beloved Ibiza, Samantha Lemon Bell has a serious eye for design and an amazing way of combining textures and blending styles. She is also the owner of one of my favourite drawings ever, an Éadach Addict and mum to the littlest Éadach Addict. Find Sam in St George’s Market on Sundays.
If you have come this far, thank you!!! This was only meant to be a short post but when I started writing I realised there was quite a lot to say on the matter, but I think the most important thing is that we support local indie businesses as much as they work damn hard and create some amazing products and experiences. AND you never know, one day you may find yourself in the same position, if you chose to follow a passion and make a business of it 🙂
To celebrate SBS we are knocking 10% off the cost of Éadach ltd ed oversized silk scarves.