Getting to know Eleanor Churchill: fibre artist

Most business owners will tell you that the first year in business is the hardest. Creating a product is just the start; being able to align your own values and capture an audience in the depths of social media is no mean feat. Where ordinarily support and sales may spring from in-person networking and browsing customers, for the businesses starting in lockdown, their entire base has been enclosed within the four walls of home.

Eleanor Churchill, a fibre artist based in Manchester, is now the owner and designer at Ellamé Designs. What started as a way to keep her plants away from her cats and to decorate a newly purchased home, has led to an influx of macrame orders from eager shoppers. But, Eleanor’s business seems to have popped up at the right time – not only are her customers making a space for themselves that’s practical for working and comfortable for living, Eleanor’s seen a huge shift in her own wellbeing through its creation.

Could you tell me a bit about your background first of all?

Eleanor Churchill, Owner of Ellamé Designs

Yes! I’m Eleanor (Ellie) – I’m a fibre artist, drummer and cat enthusiast from Manchester.

Of course, we have to hear more about your feline friends…

Sure! I have one very fluffy ragdoll called Avalon, he loves eating peppers. He’s also the size of a small dog. My other cat is a European shorthair called Jefferson Bootsie Collins (Boots), he’s an absolute terrorist to be honest, but incredibly affectionate and cute. It’s lovely having them as work companions.

How did you go from a genius hack to setting up your business?

I’ve worked in Digital Content Production in various places including the BBC and Hull City of Culture 2017 and I fancied a change. I worked a couple of very different roles whilst at the BBC and the one left me feeling a bit deflated as it was in Production Management and to be honest, it was draining and a bit boring. I preferred my time working on CBeebies and in my previous Digital Content roles. Because of this, I ended up being even more creative than I was and I tried out making a plant hanger for the first time; it went well, so I made more.

I eventually moved on to wall hangings, and everyday accessories which led me to setting up my Etsy shop. I worked a full time job and came home to work on my macrame every night, most lunches were spent in the post office! I found the response to my work overwhelming and by October last year I left my Content Producer job at the British Council as I felt ready to take the plunge.

How did it feel to receive your first commission or sell your first piece?

The first time I sold something was actually on Facebook marketplace, I couldn’t believe somebody wanted to actually buy it! The first time I was asked to do a commission I actually felt really confident because I’d been knotting away for so long I felt comfortable doing it. It felt great though.

How have you found the physical act of crafting and making during the pandemic? Has it contributed to your wellbeing?

Yes, so much. I can be a very anxious person at times even when I don’t necessarily show it. Macrame helped me relax when I felt stressed in my last BBC role, it gave me more of a sense of purpose a little like my drumming does and it helped keep my mind from overthinking about everything. I’ve certainly had my dose of anxiety over lockdown, but if I didn’t have my business keeping my brain occupied I’m not sure what I would be like right now.

How do your products make a difference to people’s spaces now we’re spending so much time living and working in the same area?

It gives me a lot of satisfaction knowing that people are buying my products during lockdown especially. Their home is their personal space that I’m helping to make a brighter one for them. Whether it’s a guitar hanger, wall hanging or even a small plant hanger, I like the thought that someone will be looking up at it everyday and it could make them smile.

What challenges and successes have you faced developing a new business during the pandemic?

It’s been a year since I first started selling my products and I’ve already gone full-time with it, which to be honest I didn’t think would happen this early. So I would say that’s a success.

The challenge I had was working a full-time job to support what I was doing in the early stages as I was literally working all the time, day and night, I was very tired but I just persisted with it and knew I could succeed in it if I kept trying. I did a lot of research into Etsy as well, I don’t think a lot of people realise that it’s pretty much a big search engine so it operates differently to how they might think it does. In order to sell on there it isn’t enough to have great products, you have to understand its thinking and how to get your products seen. I find stuff like that really fun though, thankfully!

If you had free reign to create one mega bespoke design for a northern business which would you choose and why?

There’s a really lovely bar I like to drink at in Manchester called Wolf at the Door, it’s a pretty boho kind of place with heaps of plants and I love the interior, it’s really cosy. Upstairs they have a large piece of art that covers the whole wall and I remember thinking I would love to create something that huge for that space when I was last there. Perhaps something geometric and modern with some of my metallic rope.

You can find Eleanor @ellamedesigns on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.


In Conversation with Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee, Aerospace Engineer and STEM Ambassador

Although the industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men and the number of women studying engineering courses remains low (just one in seven), for those who have pursued their passion for STEM and engineering, such as Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee – a chartered engineer from Liverpool who works as a Senior Flight Systems Engineer – brighter skies may be ahead.

After being inspired by a family trip to see an airshow as a child, Krystina went on to become the first engineer in her family and now volunteers as a STEM ambassador and mentor to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry and encourage more women to consider engineering as a profession.

Last year, she set up her own business AviateHer selling accessories to further promote this goal and inspire young women to consider STEM careers and push past gender stereotypes. Late last year, we spoke with Krystina to find out a little more about her career to date, the change she would like to see and why she founded her own business to pave the way for future generations of female engineers.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born and grew up in Liverpool where my parents moved to after emigrating from Mauritius. I’m now a Senior Flight Systems Engineer working at BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire and living in Liverpool, the city that feels like home to me.  

What made you want to pursue a career in this field and what does a typical day at work look like for you?

I was inspired to study a Masters degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering after visiting an airshow with my family one summer whilst in school. I still remember the feeling of awe I felt on that day and that was the point I can trace back to where I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Aerospace industry. 

I began working at BAE Systems six years ago as a Flight Systems Engineer on various projects. My current role involves developing new technologies for a future combat air system as part of the Tempest project. For me a typical day varies, I could be working with various suppliers, liaising with other specialist disciplines or carrying out my own tasks, all with the goal in mind of looking at how new technologies can be integrated onto a future platform. 

Growing up, did you feel like a career in STEM was accessible to you as a woman?

Growing up, I saw my parents in STEM careers, although not engineering, and I did feel like a career in STEM was open to me. There was a disparity in my physics lessons at school yet the gender disparity was blatant when I started university as one of only two women on my course. Going from my school experience to this was jarring, especially in the first few weeks. This did not overshadow my experience at university though, my coursemates became my teammates, and gender was not an issue.

When did you first know you wanted to work in this field?

I always enjoyed creative classes when I was growing up but my favourite lessons were physics and maths. Engineering was always a top choice for me, even though my parents wanted me to pursue a different career path. However, I wasn’t aware of the various types of engineering until I went to the airshow and started researching the Aerospace industry.

What challenges did you encounter on your journey to become an aerospace engineer?

Following my four years at university, I struggled initially to find a job due to my lack of real-life experience in engineering. When I was looking at my options following school, apprenticeships were not highlighted as an alternative option to university therefore a degree qualification seemed to be the natural next step to take. I persevered and got there in the end.

As a STEM ambassador and founder of AviateHer, what do you want to change in the industry?

I want to inspire more young women to consider a career in STEM, more specifically engineering. There is currently a shortage of engineers in the UK. Companies are realising that a diverse workforce brings a lot of advantages such as more innovation, which is an important part of engineering. This means that there are opportunities out there.

I also feel that stereotypes in society play a part as well. Boys and girls are brought up with targeted advertising or gender roles which encourages gender biases. Young girls may feel embarrassed about enjoying physics as there is the perception that it isn’t cool.  

Leading on from that, how can those changes take place in a tangible way?

I believe that changes can be made with more visible role models. I see amazing women in engineering in my network but the stereotype of what a typical engineer may look like isn’t relatable to young girls. 

There is also the awareness of engineering itself. Engineers can make a difference and there are so many paths with an engineering career! Showing young people how engineering has been used in everyday life and how it can be used for the future will definitely help bring about change. When I was younger, I didn’t realise how many different career options there actually are in engineering. For example, I didn’t even know the job I am in now existed until I came to searching for jobs after university. 

Have you seen more women enter the industry in recent years and if so is this due to greater mentorship and encouragement from other women? 

I have seen more women enter the industry and this is absolutely due to encouragement from other women and mentorship. I think women are actively striving for change and are more than willing to support young women who are considering future careers in STEM. 

Selected as a Northern Power Woman Future List 2020 and winner of WeAreCity Rising Star Award, how did it feel to be given this recognition of your work? 

It was such an honour to receive the recognition alongside a brilliant group of women! It meant even more to me personally as I had only recently returned from a year’s maternity leave in 2019. To come back to work and go on to receive the recognition I have done has motivated me to open the door to more opportunities to push diversity in engineering, and showcase my experiences to young women.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about life, what would it be?

If I could give my younger self a piece of advice it would be not be so scared to put myself out there. I suffered from a lack of confidence when I was growing up which held me back from networking and getting involved. This changed once I had my little boy and started ‘winging’ motherhood. My confidence grew and I’m now saying yes to opportunities and trying not to be so afraid of failure!

During the first lockdown you started a business selling enamel pins to highlight diversity in STEM, how was it received and why is it so important to you to further this cause now?

The response was fantastic! I hadn’t expected such an amazing reception and the messages of support I’ve received have really inspired me to continue. The cause is perhaps more important now than ever because the Coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately impacting women’s careers and it’s so important that we retain women in STEM. 

Which charities are some of the proceeds going to and why did you select these particular causes?

I donate part of the proceeds from each pin sale to charity, with each pin contributing to a specific charity associated with the message of the pin. It started with my first Engineering pin for which I chose the Women’s Engineering Society and whenever I have expanded with a new pin I have researched to find a charity that is working to increase diversity in that field. The charities that I ended up selecting are the Women’s Engineering Society, the British Science Association, the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK) Making Engineering Hot campaign, Stemettes Futures, the Young Women’s Trust, Fly2Help and Eco-Sud. So far, in total, almost £1000 has been raised thanks to my wonderful customers.

Lockdown rules permitting, how do you like to spend your spare time?

In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, volunteering as a mentor and STEM Ambassador and travelling all over the world (when possible!). I really miss attending live music events and festivals at the moment so I hope we can get back to those soon.    

Where are some of your favourite places in the North?

My home city of Liverpool has some of my favourite places such as Sefton Park, the Docks and Lark Lane for delicious food! I also enjoy visiting the Lake District and the Northern coastal areas as I love being near the sea.

We have to collaborate to survive

Words: Lucy Foster

Not many of us expected a global pandemic and even fewer foresaw the impact it would have on hard-won gains of working women. But as the nation pivots to adapt to the new economic landscape, one business hero is clear on how it should look.

“Facing the floods is one thing; you get on with it and you know what measures you have in place to deal with it. You get through it. But this situation is just something else. I have no idea.” Alison Bartram, 57, owner of Hebden Bridge’s Heart Gallery is musing on the impact of COVID-19 and the West Yorkshire town’s chances of survival as a shopping destination. Catastrophic floods in 2015 temporarily closed many local businesses – Alison, herself, had to shut down for six months to deal with five feet of waste water in her gallery that sells artisan jewellery, ceramics and contemporary art – but as yet, the legacy of this year’s nationwide lockdown is still to be revealed.

Alison Bartram, Heart Gallery

And no one, it seems, can give a definite answer on how it will all play out. But current forecasts don’t make for comforting reading – particularly for women. According to research from The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education, nearly 50% of mothers are more likely to have lost their jobs, quit or been furloughed. There are warning cries that we are heading back to the 1950s, such is the expectation that women will pick up the bulk of the care and domestic work. And when the furlough scheme ends and the inevitable widespread redundancies come, it will be women – the ones who have taken the back seat, who have been absent from the Zoom calls in order to pick up the slack of home schooling, cleaning and feeding – who will find themselves facing the workplace guillotine.

Not only that, hospitality and retail – sectors which both employ a disproportionate number of females – are the two industries that have been hardest hit. A recent report by global business consultancy McKinsey has stated that while grocery and online retail has, not surprisingly, increased during lockdown, this increased expenditure has not managed to outweigh the number of closures in non-food retail – clothes shops, homeware, or galleries, like Alison’s. Accommodation and catering are next in the firing line, services vulnerable because it’s difficult to see how they can be performed remotely or with strict social distancing in place.

Rethinking the future

Anyone skimming such reports would be forgiven for thinking the worst. But unprecedented times can give way to unprecedented thinking and one figure who has been a vocal advocate of a fresh approach to business is Kate Hardcastle MBE, known also as television’s Customer Whisperer. Kate, 43, founded business consultancy Insight With Passion (IWP) in 2009 after a stellar career in marketing, which saw her turn around the fortunes of bed manufacturer Silentnight during her time as its head of marketing (“I developed a leading international online retail business in 2004, so still very early in that respect, and that gave me a lot of knowledge about how to help businesses transform,” she explains), train in strategic alliances at global business school INSEAD and win a seat at the boardroom table by the age of 30.  

Her time working across Asia in global sourcing – sometimes being the first Caucasian woman many of the factories had seen – and learning both about international business, but also more functional skills such as manufacturing techniques, has meant that she can overlay the operational with the commercial and find common ground. It has proved to be an extremely fruitful mix. “What’s unique about IWP is that I can use my experience in operations, international trade and buying, for instance, and then apply them with the customer-facing side so we find a bridge,” Kate explains. 

Kate Hardcastle MBE, Insight with Passion

IWP is, in essence, a transformation business that works with clients across the globe to restructure their current set-up. By reimagining the relationship with the customer (and by walking the shop or factory floor in addition to driving strategic changes), Kate and her team pride themselves on getting to know each organisation they work with and its supply chain and customers, finding creative, workable, and ultimately successful, solutions. 

Insight with Passion also looks to transform businesses by also using Kate’s training in strategic alliance and partnerships – often bringing together complementing businesses with similar target audiences to help ideas and projects thrive. “The idea of working together collaboratively has always been our direction when many others would do the opposite,” she says. “We do things differently and it works.”

The facts support this statement. Kate has won countless awards and accolades (including Yorkshire Business Woman of the Year in 2018, the same year she was honoured by the Queen for her services to business) and IWP’s in-built corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, Access For All, which requires her employees to give 20% of their working hours to start-ups and charities free of charge, is also making waves.

Access For All means that micro-businesses and not-for-profits – often founded by women – get exposed to expertise allowing them to grow and develop, which might otherwise cost them thousands – perhaps best framed as a B2B mentoring scheme. We hear a lot about sending the ladder back down and anyone having heard Kate’s keynote speeches or seen her talk knows she’s a champion for women in business. Access For All is her walking the walk, not just paying it lip service.

Of course, it’s notoriously hard to measure the monetary value of guidance and mentorship but Savannah Roqaa, 24, knows first-hand how useful a guiding hand can be. The Leeds-based make-up artist and part-time nanny found herself stripped of half her revenue stream as social distancing became paramount and to fill the time, began baking, leaving brownies or the ubiquitous lockdown favourite, banana bread, on her friends’ doorsteps.

What happened next takes some believing, but to cut a long story short, Savannah, with the help of various friends’ kitchens, fortuitous sharing on some Leeds United players’ Instagram accounts, and all-night cake-making sessions, has found herself sole founder of a highly successful baking business – The Savvy Baker – all within two months. But it hasn’t been without pitfalls.

Savannah Roqaa, The Savvy Baker

“Leeds Council called me and asked if I’d registered the business at Companies House. And I was like, ‘Companies what?’” recalls Savannah. “Tax. Packaging. Premises. I’ve literally no idea.” So when Sara Hassan, 33, Kate’s protege messaged Savannah offering help to start mapping out a long-term business strategy, it couldn’t have been more welcome. “I was just bobbing along so when Sara came out of nowhere… no one has ever done that before, just offered help free of charge. Not unless there’s been an underlying agenda. And it’s so welcome because I think you can have a brilliant idea and a successful business, but make one mistake and it can quickly go south.”

Similarly, Kate – a proud Yorkshire woman who lives outside Wakefield with her husband and three children – has previously given an enormous amount of her time to Welcome to Yorkshire, the county’s regional tourist board. Working with her during that time was Laura Kirk, 34, former Head of Membership, whose job it was to put together free events and workshops for her members to add value to their annual subscription fee. Kate’s sessions focusing on the customer experience – given free of charge as part of Access For All and delivered the sole intent of helping businesses improve their customer offer – were attended by marketing managers of Yorkshire’s big attractions along with proprietors of the smallest seaside B&Bs. 

“When Kate spoke you could see people ferociously making notes and action points,” says Laura. “A lot of the businesses simply wouldn’t have had access to that sort of support otherwise – free help for which they’d normally have to pay hundreds of pounds. And Kate broke it down into achievable points, so attendees could go away and implement a couple of changes, then perhaps a couple more. It was practical and inspirational. Kate’s guidance was invaluable.”

 Access For All

Corporate social responsibility is often regarded as something only the largest of organisations can accommodate and even then, the amount of time given over to socially conscious programmes is often minuscule compared to IWP’s remarkable pledge of 20%. It’s common to find that employees are given three days a year to volunteer or that a certain amount of monthly revenue goes to a local charity.

Laura Kirk

“For micro-businesses and start-ups, there really is a need for pro-bono help,” explains Laura, who has seen first-hand how tourism and hospitality ventures can thrive with the right advice. “I’m not sure how all businesses would be able to afford the 20% that Kate has built into her Access For All model but she makes it work.”

Kate and her team have spent a lot of their Access For All quota in places like Hebden Bridge, assisting small independents find their feet again after the floods. “I’ve definitely followed Kate’s mantra and implemented things that she’s said in the past,” says Alison. “She talks about passion a lot and I fully believe that the businesses that survive are the ones where the owners are passionate about what they do. She’s always had that passion and always been really positive.” 

Kate, again, has shown she’s ahead of the curve here because for a long time, CSR was merely considered a nicely polished trophy on the corporate mantlepiece. However, increasing amounts of research are pointing towards it being a vital component of customer trust and relationship-building, and equally a surefire way of attracting young, ambitious talent. In 2011, a survey by Deloitte found that 70% of millennials listed their company’s commitment to the community as an influence on their decision to work there. For Sara Hassan and Laura Kirk, and their peer group, giving something back to the communities in which they live and work is as important a part of their job as is their monthly wage. 

And let’s not forget that despite the hardships of the last few months, there has been a renewed and welcome onus of the power of community; shopping locally or just checking in on neighbours, offering services and sharing goods, be it a bag of self-raising flour or a dozen hard-to-come-by eggs. And while many are keen to cherish and nurture this focus on community action, it remains to be seen if it can transcend the everyday and move into business, with organisations incorporating the community in their plans, collaborating and partnering with like-minded ventures to share skills and resources.

Sara Hassan + Kate Hardcastle MBE

Certainly, Alison, who as well as running the gallery in Hebden Bridge is chair of the Hebden Bridge Business Committee, is adamant that everyone contributing to improving the town freely and willingly and therefore encouraging a greater trade, is the only way small independents – and therefore high streets – rejuvenate after COVID. 

“We’ve got to work together to survive. By that I mean not just the business community but also the community in general,” she explains. “In the past, businesses were happy in their own bubble but now our survival – and the survival of the town – depends on us collaborating and partnering up. And people staying loyal to local, as they have in lockdown.”

And it’s this approach – the strategic alliance approach that Kate was advocating 15 years ago, the sharing of skills and data and budget – that might just prove the most successful and sustainable way out of the COVID slump. And hopefully her attitude to giving back, and helping the little businesses survive and thrive, will spread too. As Sara so succinctly says: “Working alongside Kate to deliver great work and good deeds is really inspiring. And she proves on a daily basis that success always leaves room for kindness.”

The Edit: In Conversation with L’Oréal Blackett, Journalist and Broadcaster

What does it mean to be influential in today’s digital world? Is success only measured by how you’re perceived online? And if you have influence, how do you use it for good?

In the midst of lockdown and eager to find out the answers to these questions, journalist and broadcaster L’Oréal Blackett, created her own podcast, The Edit, which delves into the world of influencer culture. Unpacking the truth behind the likes, shares and hashtags, L’Oréal is using her voice to find out what it’s really like to have a personal brand, exploring the impact of having a popular presence online and how this has affected the individuals and brands dominating our social media feeds. 

Having worked for the likes of the BBC, Bustle and Body Confidential, in a variety of reporting and broadcasting roles, alongside a number of gigs as an ambassador and presenter for businesses including Bumble, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, L’Oréal is by some people’s definition an “influencer”.  However, like many women in journalism, she sometimes struggles with the idea of curating her own brand. Hence the creation of The Edit, a way to better understand the realities and expectations of influencer culture and the role that we all play in this shifting digital narrative. 

Born and bred in Manchester, L’Oréal knew from a young age that she wanted to work in the media, “I was just set on it, it was either that or be a dancer”, she tells me over zoom, seemingly the most popular medium for conducting interviews, podcasts and webinars under lockdown. Taking a traditional route into the industry, she studied Broadcast Journalism at the University of Leeds before landing a placement aged 21 at MediaCity, the BBC’s Salfordian home, and as they say, the rest is history.

Well not quite, because to gloss over L’Oréal’s various career achievements, which include an editorship at Body Confidential, would diminish the hard work and determination that she, and many other women working in journalism – an industry dominated by white males – have put in over the years.

According to a report written for Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism by Suzanne Franks, a professor of Journalism at City University London, women substantially outnumber men in media training but very few secure senior jobs and the pay gap between female and male journalists remains considerable. In another study by Reuters, released in 2016, it was reported that journalists were 94% white. Whilst publications such as gal-dem, Black Ballad, FEM Zine and Yellowzine have sought to make media and its reporting more diverse, recent events show just how much work still needs to be done in order to create a more representative media landscape. 

For L’Oréal, a regular contributor to online platform Bustle, the roadblocks to success were apparent very early on. “It took me a while to really understand that media is a business before anything else,” she says. “From the SEO, to the clicks and links and everything like that, as much as some media organisations want to show themselves as quite radical, or tell the kind of taboo stories, you know the reality is they’re quite scared – scared of offending their core audience.”

Just a few weeks earlier, L’Oréal had written a piece for Bustle, who she credits as one of a number of platforms giving writers such as herself, a space to write about her own experiences and those of other women of colour, about the lack of mental health provision for black women and why it is imperative that this is put on the agenda. Exploring the narrative that Black women are stronger than others, L’Oréal sought to show that this doesn’t tell the whole story and that provision, access and representation with regards to mental health services is simply not where it needs to be to positively help and support women of colour. 

 L’Oréal explains that she feels now is the time to delve deeper into these subjects, which, in the past, she didn’t feel she could because the conversation wasn’t yet open enough. “Obviously the industry has changed. I would still write about mental health but in a broad way, but as a  journalist it now feels like the right time to talk about something that does resonate with me but also with a lot of people,” she explains. “It’s great when I’m working with Bustle or other womens’ magazines, they’re open to sharing a wealth of stories, so I feel empowered by that. I feel comfortable writing about those things.  I’m pleased to be able to speak about something that can be quite difficult in the black community.”

Part of the reason L’Oréal remains hopeful – in spite of both the racism and sexism she has faced in the industry – is because of her strong relationship with her family, who have always supported her dream to be journalist or fashion editor. “Maybe it’s a weird naivety in me but sometimes I feel I will always succeed, it’s been drummed into my head from my parents,” she says with a smile. “I never thought I couldn’t do something, but I did realize soon enough that it might be slightly more difficult. I wouldn’t say I’m thick skinned but I am so determined.” This dedication to her craft is supported wholeheartedly by her family who she credits for always inspiring and uplifting her, especially during the earlier phases of lockdown – a time that gave her the chance to press pause and consider her next steps.

Despite her year not getting off to the start that she had planned, the arrival of lockdown set off something inside of L’Oréal, who after taking some time out to focus on her health and wellbeing, through running and outdoor workouts, began to consider new ways to channel her media skills, which eventually resulted in the creation of The Edit podcast. 

“Not to diminish what the virus is at all, but lockdown has grounded me and made me think about what I do. I think of ideas all the time and I don’t know where to put it sometimes,” she says taking a sip of her freshly brewed coffee. “You like talking so just do the podcast. I started there and just focused on one project. I centered in on the things I want to do and the podcast has been a natural fit and also a great distraction; what a time to explore another facet of yourself that you’ve never had time to do.”

Applying what she had learnt from her time in broadcasting, L’Oréal began to ask, what does it mean to have an influence in today’s digital world, speaking to guests such as Haçienda legend DJ Paulette, designer of positive vibes Zara Khalique and tech entrepreneur Melissa Snover about their experiences of influence, the sacrifices they have taken to keep up appearances and what it means to have a voice in today’s society. The podcast has also led the esteemed journalist to examine her own online presence and the side effects of time spent online.

“Instagram is a minefield, especially when it’s so image-led. I struggle with that. I love fashion, music, all of it, but I love to write and read, but I don’t always know how to marry it,” explains L’Oréal. “With the podcast, that’s me being me, you have to be yourself. That’s what a personal brand should be.”

Having seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of social media it seems like L’Oréal is already understanding what it means to have a significant degree of influence and has made sure to use it to challenge stereotypes and ask the difficult questions that need to be answered in these particularly polarized times. Meanwhile, she advises those looking to pursue a career in media to use Instagram and other platforms on their own terms. “There’s so many more opportunities for journalists now thanks to social media. Go get more than you ever could, whether it’s talking on panels, speaking, doing courses – you can supplement your income using it,” she concludes. “So don’t be afraid, don’t be controlled by how everyone else is using it, don’t let it be a negative thing, because it doesn’t have to be.”

You can read more of L’Oréal’s articles here and listen to the latest episode of The Edit here.

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Images: Courtesy of L’Oréal Blackett

Getting to know Rachael Kennedy: Owner of Grönn Eco Salon

Words: Helen Brady

Rachael Kennedy is the owner of Grönn, one of the only eco hair salons in Greater Manchester. Grönn is self-described as:

‘North Manchester’s own cosy and luxurious community-minded Eco Salon with both hair and tea made with love.’

Rachael started her own micro business in 2011, working for herself but within other salons. She used this time to learn from others, understand what worked and what didn’t, what she would do differently, and how to avoid the mistakes others had made. Rachael shared what it is was that made her decide to finally take the plunge, “I’d been building up to getting my own salon for probably five or six years. Primarily the reason for opening the salon was needing to create some stability for my future. I turned 40 and decided it’s now or never! My parents lent me £3000 and that’s how Grönn was born.”

Rachael went on to explain why it was important to her to set up an eco, green business, “I’d say over the last 15 years, I’ve definitely become more environmentally conscious, becoming a consumer, making sure I knew were everything was coming from. I’ve always had a loathing of plastic bags, things like that. They’re just my real sort of staunch core values and I wanted to make sure my business mirrored those.”

She continued, “The mission and philosophy at Grönn is that we do fantastic hairdressing, but we don’t impact the planet while we’re doing it. I didn’t want it to be just scratching on the surface of being green so when you drill down further into the business commodities, you’ll also see our green credentials showing through. We’re with Ecotricity, which is the only wind powered, vegan society approved electricity and gas company. It was important for me, if I was going to do this and do it well, it really had to match my values and so I could hand on heart say I work with green integrity.”

With increasing national awareness and support for all things eco, a growing trend for going green, and consumers becoming ever more aware of what products they’re using and where they’re coming from, Rachael explains that there has never been a better time to run a green business.

“I think there’s been a massive shift in people finding eco conscious businesses, green products, natural products because I think we’re more aware now than ever about what we’re putting into our bodies, what we’re putting on our skin and how it’s effecting the environment. When I first opened Grönn, people used to ask ‘What’s an Eco Salon? I don’t understand’ but even in those five years it’s been a real upward curve in demand for eco conscious businesses and that just makes my heart swell. There’s a massive increase now in people wanting to do better and behave better.”

Grönn is situated in Bury, which may seem like an unusual first choice as home to a forward thinking eco business but Rachael explains why it was important for her to set up her business here, “Coming back to Bury was like coming home. I’m a Bury born northern lass from Lancashire and it just felt right. I did much of my hairdressing training and apprenticeship in Bury as well.”

After initially starting her micro-business in Chorlton, Rachael made the move back to Bury in 2016 to open her own premises, bringing with her a legion of eco-conscious, loyal clients. Nearby, Ramsbottom is quite an eco-conscious, forward thinking market town with a growing green community. Plentiful, a plastic free refill store, is based on Ramsbottom High Street.

Rachael Kennedy

The current world crisis put an abrupt halt to countless businesses and their 2020 plans, with many small business owners being the worst affected. Rachael shared how the initial shut down affected both her and her business,

“At first I felt a little lost and panicked. I started responding to the crisis in a similar way to other businesses around me but then I thought ‘Why am I doing that?’ The entire reason I set up Grönn is because I wanted to do things differently to other people. So, once I remembered that, and went back to doing things my way, I relaxed, and the business is still solid and still strong. I have a very, very loyal clientele. We’ve kept in touch via social media, sending out marketing to them, emailing, keeping in contact any way possible.”

Rachael went on to explain that after the initial shock of the situation, the unrequested break meant that she could take time to do some of the things building up on her salon to-do list. This includes a refresh for the building both indoors and out, so when the salon opens for business again, customers will have a refreshed surrounding. Rachael has even contracted a Vegan Builder to carry out the refit!

“We’ve been closed for 12 weeks. We actually closed before the officially guidelines because I felt increasingly uncomfortable that I may have been adding to the problems by remaining open. It’s been a tough three months for everybody but I’ve got new clients booking in everyday for when we do open with appointments.”

To Rachael, a sustainable business is also about how it operates, and she believes this approach has helped her bridge the COVID-19 crisis. She said,
“I always wanted to ensure that the business has been able to run independently so to me that meant never taking out bank loans or business credit cards. I wanted to be able to pay for everything and make it as sustainable as possible. In the past I have had a little bit of debt trouble so I wanted to make sure that whatever happened, and if for any reason on a rainy day, I could make sure that that business survived.”

Grönn is hoping to be back open for business on Saturday 4 July 2020.

Here are three more of Rachael’s top tips for shopping eco and supporting local in Greater Manchester:

Earth Friendly Rocker is run by Lauren, a loyal Grönn client. Earth Friendly Rocker is based in Affleck’s Palace in the Northern Quarter and opened in September 2019. Lauren believes rocking out should not cost the earth! (Quite literally!) and she plants a tree for every purchase you make from them.

Veauty – An online vegan and eco beauty store run by another Grönn client, Kate Coop. Kate is soon to be opening a bricks and mortar refillable shop in Darwen that will be plastic free and entirely vegan.  

1 Tree Cards – Rachael stocks 1 Tree Cards at the salon. They are 100% recycled paper and printed using only vegan vegetable-based inks. Plus, they come with a flower seed token inside as well!

Sounds of the Future: In Conversation with Keely Liptrot, Founder of Sass and Snarl

According to Keychange, a pioneering international movement which empowers women to transform the future of music whilst encouraging festivals to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022, only 15% of music labels are majority owned by women. The gender imbalance in the music industry workforce is stark with the gender pay gap sitting at around 30%, and in the US women only make up 14% of the acts on festival stages. 

But things are changing and a number of organisations are committed to the pledge towards ensuring greater balance and openness. Already 130 festivals from across 26 countries have signed up to the 50:50 gender balance pledge and the work of Keychange has inspired swathes of women across the world to lend their voice to the initiative. 

Individuals including 18-year-old Keely Liptrot from Manchester who has founded Sass and Snarl, a platform that encourages self-promotion, supports women in the music industry and provides a place for all creatives to network. Her exciting new project aims to end the gender divide in the music business through virtual events and online campaigns, at least during lockdown, with big plans for live events and networking once restrictions are lifted.

Under a banner of unashamed self-promotion, Keely, who has been running her own music blog since the age of 13, understands the barriers that currently exist and hopes Sass and Snarl will be part of the solution. Features such as her Future CEOs posts, highlighting the upcoming female talent that inspires her, along with her brilliantly curated Spotify playlists, are sure to resonate with followers and play a part in evening the playing field for all female creatives.

We had the chance to speak to Keely, who has recently started her degree in music management, about her initiative and discussed some her favourite female acts and producers and why she wants to help more women celebrate their work and contributions to the music industry. 

Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I’m Keely Liptrot, I am 18 years old and have just finished my first year taking a Music Business degree. I am originally from Manchester which definitely gave me lots of inspiration when I was 13 and starting my own music blog.

In May, I launched my own platform Sass and Snarl where I teach self-promotion to young creatives in music. Being so heavily influenced by the organisation KeyChange, we also work to support women in the music industry. This ultimately gives us a perfect opportunity to build our own community, so we are definitely wanting to start some networking events once lockdown is over.

What is the mission statement of Sass and Snarl?

Encourage shameless self-promotion, ending the gender divide in our industry and provide networking opportunities for creatives in music.

What inspired you to create this platform?

Seeing so much talent going unnoticed. Anyone from photographers to artists to copywriters, there are so many creatives not getting the attention they deserve, mostly because they do not know how to self-promote. And also, the amazing work from KeyChange!

Where did the inspiration for the name come from?

Sounds so ridiculous but it is how I describe my dog. He has so much sass, but boy can he snarl. I think it sums up the aims perfectly and I get so much feedback on how people love our name.

Why do you think the music industry still fails to fully represent women?

As I said, I was in the heart of the Manchester music scene when I wasn’t even old enough to go to gigs by myself. I was constantly surrounded by men, my music teachers were all men and still are for that matter, the artists I would interview were all men, the promoters, photographers, managers and other journalists I would work with were all men. It didn’t seem important at the time because I was still working with so much talent but I would sometimes feel like I wasn’t meant to be there and that maybe this isn’t the place for me and now I am in this community of amazing young women, I now know how important and empowering it is.

In the future, I would love to work for a major music company but if I was in the exact same job as a man, I would be payed 30% less. I refuse to let that happen; I know my worth! And for an industry based off talent and creativity, we really do lack diversity, I’m sure we have all seen the festival line ups, they perfectly sum up the lack of representation in the music industry. I personally think it all stems from the perception many still have of women, if women were taken as seriously as men were would we be having a different conversation?

How are you planning to get the concept out there into the world?

So, in July, we will hopefully be starting our virtual events to teach about self-promotion. We are also running a campaign called Future CEOs where we feature a young woman making her own way into the music industry every week.

I have also done some really cool interviews with Priya from @BhamBNails who spoke about building her own business, doing the nails for Little Mix, Mabel and Jorja Smith and even Serena William’s nails for Wimbledon! We spoke to Manchester band, PINS, who have launched their own label and just from a little bit of self-promo and showcasing their talent got them a song with the legend, Iggy Pop! I also interviewed my most favourite Manchester DJ, Shell Zenner and we talked about how aspiring presenters can help themselves get a job at a radio station and also the high school pettiness that some women still have in this industry.

So yeah lots of new campaigns, events, interviews and of course lots of self-promotion, it seems to be working so the only way is up!

What support have you had with launching the platform?

I launched the business all by myself, told everyone about it, gave myself a week to build a website, write the interviews, start looking at branding which was hectic but done is better than perfect in my eyes so it just needed to be done!

I still solely run Sass and Snarl but have had some amazing opportunities to talk about it like with this interview and the chance to co-host on the BBC Radio which was really awesome. There are so many platforms and organisations trying to help women and new talent in this industry in lots of different ways so building myself into that community has been a lot of fun and has helped me out a lot mentally!

What do you hope it will achieve in the long-term?

Ending the gender divide sounds so bold doesn’t it! But it is truly why a lot of us are here, of course Sass and Snarl isn’t going to change the industry solely on our own but being part of the movement that will, that’s a goal!

For myself, I hope Sass and Snarl inspires people to know their self-worth and want to start their own side hustle and build their own business because it really does feel so good!

And I want to do networking events and travel and meet lots of new people! 

Why do you think women find it hard to talk about their achievements?

I think we all find it hard to talk about our achievements, sometimes I think it’s a British awkward thing, sometimes I think it is because we don’t know our worth and sometimes, I think it’s because we care too much about sounding like we have a huge ego and what other people will think! 

I was in a webinar, not so long ago and I remember one of the panellists saying care less and share more and I have honestly had that in the back of mind since.

How can we change that as magazines, media platforms, communities?

Giving creatives a chance to show it and being excited when they do. People are putting their heart and soul into their work, if you have the opportunity to share it, not only will it help them feel good but also yourself. A huge part of self-promotion that nobody realises is actually supporting others so if you want to promote your brand, promote others too!

A proud Manc, what are some of your favourite spots in the city?

My favourite ever music venue when I was younger was Sound Control which has now been completely knocked down and is being turned into flats, so this is the perfect time to say to help our grassroots venues.

I’m also a jazz guitarist so having Matt and Phreds on my doorstep is amazing.

I’m a lover for some vegan food, so V Rev is a lovely spot! And if you have never been to Flight Club, I guarantee you that it is so much fun!

How has being from the north shaped you?

My mum has the poshest voice being from Henley on Thames. My dad is from Bolton. I have THE WORST Bolton accent you can ever imagine, and my mum always says, “you’ll never do well in a job interview with that accent” but I think our northern charm reigns supreme and for a brand that is all about communication, I can definitely tell you it hasn’t held me back.

I’ve gone down South for uni and I miss that sense of community that northerners have, I think that is why I am so passionate about it!

If you could dispel one myth about the north what would it be?

That our accents mean we won’t do as well in job interviews.

What inspires you on a personal level?

Good music. That feeling of putting your favourite track when you are feeling on top and then putting on that special playlist to help those bad times feel a little bit lighter. Nothing spurs me on more than that!

Which female musicians should be tuning into right now?

Chika! I swear I say this every week! She is a black, gay, plus size woman in the music industry, every single one of those things makes it so much harder for her but she is killing it! Her EP Industry Games perfectly sums up what is going on in our industry, yet it is so empowering and just makes you want to dance, I honestly have no complaints. 10/10!

Follow Sass and Snarl and Keely for more information of how the music industry is changing and how to get involved.

Keychange is an international initiative which transforms the future of music whilst encouraging festivals and music organisations to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022.

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Community Matters: In Conversation with Danielle Heap, Freelance Events & Project Manager

Born and bred in the Saddleworth, Danielle Heap’s passion for gigs and festivals has led her to pursue a career working behind the scenes at some of the country’s biggest venues and event spaces. From London’s Alexandra Palace running sold-out performances for Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, to the coordination of Festival Square at last year’s hugely successful Manchester International Festival, she’s certainly made her mark on the events industry. 

At a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, we spoke to Danielle about her career to date and discussed everything from The Maccabees farewell tour to Manchester’s tight-knit community of party starters and festival goers. As the sector pivots towards online events to engage with new digital communities, we also spoke about the effect of the pandemic on Danielle’s own work and her hopes for the future of events when they resume IRL.

What drew you towards a career in events?

I’ve always loved going to gigs and festivals, the adrenaline you feel when you’re in a crowd watching one of your favourite bands. I wanted to be part of it and help to deliver that excitement, and those memories, for other people. Anyone who works in events will know that months of planning goes into an event which may last just a few hours, but when you’re on site watching people having an incredible time with their friends it makes it all worthwhile. Knowing you were a little part of making that happen drives me to do what I do. 

What was your first job out of university?

My first job out of university was as an Indian wedding planner, very specific I know, I used to get a lot of shocked faces when I told people what I did for a living! For my first job straight out of univeristy it was extremely full-on. In the summer I would be working every weekend, 18/20 hour days back to back, but it’s definitely what made me into the person I am today. You have to constantly be on the ball, being in charge of someone’s big day, and when I say BIG I mean BIG. These were weddings averaging around 600 guests, at venues such as Blenheim Palace and the Natural History Museum in London. The biggest I worked on was a wedding for 1500 people at Manchester Central. It was a job that taught me how to work under a lot of pressure and manage situations, calmly and in control. 

Danielle at Manchester International Festival 2019 (MIF)

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

At the end of the night, when you have worked your butt off for 18 hours straight and you see everyone leaving the event having had an amazing time, there is always this buzz in the air. That is when I know I love what I do. 

You’ve worked on some major festivals and events, which ones stand out and why?

My answer to this is the same every time and it’s super nostalgic. Whilst working at Alexandra Palace I ran the final three nights of The Maccabees’ farewell tour. This was a band I had grown up with, I had all their albums, I loved every single song, and here I was running their last ever gig. The emotions that went through me that final night were electric. There was sadness of the band splitting up but the sheer buzz of knowing I was part of making those final gigs, that so many people will remember forever, happen. There were many tears shed, that’s for sure! 

What is it like to work in Manchester’s events industry? 

I think working in events in London is slightly disconnected – there is so much going on there that keeping up with the amount happening is just not possible. In Manchester everything feels connected. All events, no matter how big or small, work to make the city what it is. Everyone who works in events here does so because they love the city, they want to ensure the talent of place is heard, and they want to bring entertainment to the people of the city because they know how much the people here love it. The events industry here feels like a family, we are all working together to make the city a better place. You feel part of something bigger. 

Can you tell us about your experience working as part of the team behind Manchester International Festival?

My first job when I moved back to Manchester was as the Festival Square Coordinator for Manchester International Festival. It was a nine month contract, which ran from the beginning stages of planning and putting the event together, to managing the site for the six week build on Albert Square, the event itself and finally the breakdown.

Festival Square itself was open every single day for 18 days, hosting up to a thousand people on site each day. It was such a privilege working with some of the top people in the Manchester events industry and the experience I gained from working on such a demanding site in the middle of the city was incredible. My ankles don’t miss the cobblestones though! Working for MIF was incredible for me, not only did I get to run Festival Square but it was the first job I had back in Manchester and really gave me a taste for the events happening in this amazing city. 

As a freelancer, how has the current situation impacted you?

I decided to go freelance last November after my contract with MIF. It took a while to start picking up work. It was a big change to go from being in contracted work, where you can just get on with the work that comes to you, to then having to be really proactive and putting yourself out there. By the end of January, I was in a good place with three freelance contracts – an arts festival, a street food venue, and a series of local wellness-focused events – and loving everything I was working on. Then comes Covid-19 and the events industry is the first one to grind to a halt. I lost all my contracts and none of the government schemes covered me due to only just becoming self employed. It’s tough. 

Have you learnt anything new about yourself during this period?

Being in the events industry you very rarely stop. You are constantly working towards something with deadlines that cannot be pushed back. The event can’t be moved to the next day just because you forgot to do something. You work long hours, constantly on your feet running around – I’ve walked an actual marathon a day running festival sites. For all that to suddenly stop was a massive change to my lifestyle. I love being constantly busy, but this time has shown me that I also need more time for myself, more time to be still. We will see how long that lasts once the events industry is back on its feet though! 

Looking at the events industry more widely, what do you think the short and long-term impact will be?

Collectively, the events industry has moved online for the time being. Initiatives such as United We Stream started by Sacha Lord have been amazing throughout lockdown. I was lucky enough to work as a volunteer production manager for Eat Well Manchester when it took over the United We Stream platform. It was a five hour live stream with celebrities taking part to raise money for Eat Well, which is a collective of hospitality experts who have been providing home-cooked meals to those most affected by Covid-19. Live streaming events seems to be the current solution but it’s not something that can last forever. We are human beings, we crave human interaction, and live events are a massive part of our lives. A picture on a screen could never replace the buzz of the real deal. So, in the long-term they will be back, but with the uncertainty of Covid-19 who knows when that will be. 

What do you think larger scale events will look like in the future? 

Events will most likely face lower capacities, more queue management, more consideration for human contact, but it’s hard to say how long this will last. With the constant changing of government guidelines who knows how this country will look next month, never mind next year. I’m sure large scale events will definitely be back, potentially with restrictions but really that just means more work for the events team to ensure the constant safety of everyone onsite. 

What projects or events are you currently working on? 

I’ve been doing some volunteer work for initiatives which need events or project management support while there’s not as much paid events work around. I’m hoping that once the government allows pubs and bars to re-open that smaller events under 500 capacity could potentially start happening again in the next few months. It’s hard to say, but I have all my fingers and toes crossed. I’m constantly on the lookout for my next project so as soon as things start moving I’m looking forward to seeing what new opportunities there are. 

Do you think you will always work in this line of work or if you hadn’t worked in events, what would you have done? 

I feel like I will always stay project based. I get a buzz from being on site, troubleshooting and seeing things come to life, that’s where I get my drive from. I don’t think I could ever be someone that sits at a desk five days a week, every month of the year. 

If I hadn’t gone into events I would definitely be doing something with animals, anyone that knows me knows I am dog obsessed. I would probably be a dog walker, dog groomer or work at a shelter.

When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your free time?

You would think I would have had enough of them but I love going to gigs and festivals, I will never grow tired of them, the atmosphere and buzz you get when you’re with your mates having a great time and listening to some amazing live music. I sometimes get shouted at by my friends for having my events head on though and questioning the management of what’s happening and how it should actually be done!

Any favourite spots in Manchester?

Albert Hall, it’s just the most beautiful venue. No matter how many gigs I see there, it takes my breath away every time. It reminds me of Ally Pally in many ways, these beautiful venues were built hundreds of years ago, and have now been brought back to life. They don’t make them like that anymore, and that makes them so special. 

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Gosh, we could be here for a long time…. Ha. 

I think the main one would be to have confidence in the work that I do. I think this is something I have only just started to do, and I still have to remind myself now!

About Danielle:

Behind every great event is an army of people sorting sound, safety and even snacks for performers. For the last decade working as an event manager, Saddleworth-born @daniellelucyheap has worked on festivals, gigs and even tattoo conventions, organising crowd and venue safety to make sure people make memories that will last a lifetime – for all the right reasons. What other job could see you having a Zoom call with Bez, handing an ironing board to The Maccabees, or arranging a private party for Idris Elba? The events industry will look very different in the future – but it’s people like Danielle who’ll be making sure live events can come back to life in a post-Covid world.

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Community Matters: In Conversation with Yas Banks, Graphic Designer and Podcaster

Image by Sophia Carey 

A University of Salford Graduate in Graphic Design, Yas Banks is a 21-year-old freelance designer from Wigan. Since graduating in 2019, she has been flexing her creative muscle as a freelancer and hosting the podcast Proper Talk , alongside friend and fellow Salford Univeristy graduate Jaheed Hussain.

Taking every opportunity that she can to learn more about her craft, Yas is also making sure to pass on the knowledge she has acquired since graduation and is helping those fresh out of university, who are just beginning to scope out roles in the creative world.

Having recently gone solo with the podcast, we wanted to speak with Yas about her first year as a freelancer, the realties of the working world and her advice for anyone needing a bit of encouragement when it comes to finding their place amongst other designers and creatives.

Affable and always brimming with ideas, this is a must-read for anyone interested in a career in graphic design and for those feeling a little lost in professionally and personally of late.

First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from and what you do?

I’m Yas. I’m 21. From Wigan. I’m a graphic designer and podcaster.

Image by Holly White

When did you first know you wanted to be a graphic designer?

Growing up, I had my heart set on becoming a fashion designer. I had an A5 sketchpad filled with drawings of my own clothes, drawing outfits together. That was my goal. In primary school, we had the opportunity to design and make our own slippers in an art lesson one week as a Christmas activity. I still to this day have this slipper – yes it isn’t wearable at all but it’s still a fond memory I have. 

That was until I got to high school and discovered something called graphic products, fell in love with the process and the opportunity it gave. I remember as part of my exam for GCSE, I learnt about the likes of Margaret Calvert & Jock Kinneir who are most famous for designing road signs and became completely in awe that the likes of design carried out such an important role in people’s day to day lives. This is when I found out this was my ‘calling’ in life – ha. 

How did you find the first six months after graduation?

Tough. I’ll be honest. Between graduating in July and starting back up in October, I’m not ashamed to say I had a solid two months off away from absolutely everything – having lived my life in education from the age of 4… I needed some time to think. That shift of every single day in education to suddenly in the ‘real world’, searching for a job… being an adult… having that responsibility held around you is weird. The security of education was gone! 

That’s what I feared, the lack of being secure… getting up to go sit somewhere with that comfort bubble over you of knowing what you’re doing in a certain place. I knew I was getting the train to see recognisable faces; knowing exactly due to a timetable I was doing. There was no fear of the unknown. No anxiety inducing situations. And leaving that environment was a weird adjustment.

However, I took every opportunity whilst still being a student to attend as many events as possible, connect with people, build a network. Which I am so glad I did as I now wasn’t this odd, new graduate trying to get my foot in the door not knowing anyone.

I got bored though, of having too much me time… deciding after picking up the odd freelance jobs during September that I wanted to explore what it would be like to be freelance. Straight from graduation, I’m aware I seem deluded but I wanted to take the risk. I wanted to see what it was like to be my own boss, not be scared of pushing myself out of my comfort zone and meet amazing people along the way.

What opportunities did you take up in those first few months?

Keeping a close network with the university I went to (University of Salford) I jumped in as a mentor on their amazing mentor scheme to help out the current final year students (big shoutout to Lily Duignan for being ace, I’ve now made a friend for life out of this). 

Furthering this relationship with the university, I took part in the Design Manchester x Extinction Rebellion takeover day. From designing assets for the screens around the university to leading my own badge-making workshop. All students from eight different universities came together in union through the power of design to listen, learn and take action for matters about Climate Change. It was an ace day to be involved with, seeing everyone grow in passion through the day and getting mega hands on with everything that was highlighted. 

From this day, I have just about wrapped on a mad publication of summary from the day highlighting everything amazing that occurred into one place for everyone involved to refer back to and see the magic of collaboration! It’s jam-packed full of amazing imagery, artwork and words. Keep an eye out for that release as it’s very nearly ready to go. I love working on editorial design, like this, with loads of content as it allows me to be as creatively free as I’d like for people to enjoy.

At the same time as being involved with Design Manchester events; I had the privilege of working alongside Ear to the Ground as my first major freelance job, working in-house on campaigns for the likes of I Saw it First, Arsenal, Beats and internal marketing work. Working in-house amongst a fab team of people gave me a sense of what it was like day-to-day to come into a studio environment, even as my own boss, and quickly adapting to their way of working, was such a great opportunity for my first freelance role. 

I’ve joined the amazing PechaKucha team too. Being involved helping out where I can; designing the PoochaKucha event programme, helping out with workshops and working with the amazing team. 

What have you learned about working as a graphic designer since graduation?

Ironically, I’ve learnt that learning doesn’t stop. And I know everyone says this but it’s true. Every day is a learning curve, you will make mistakes but that’s okay, you won’t know how to do things, you will frantically Google how to do things. Skillshare has become my best mate at the moment especially diving into the world of After Effects a bit more.

What support did you receive after university?

I worked with the Design Manchester team through the end of my third year at university starting with an amazing project alongside Peel L&P, in which a handful of us designed murals to go up near Harbour City, with the focus on wellbeing and mindfulness. This project helped connect me with the team, with John Owens at the forefront of the project. The support given through the project pushed onto post-university, acting as a huge mentor figure giving me crucial advice on things like my CV to Portfolio, as he receives countless amounts a day. He’s given me guidance on so much when I was lacking motivation in struggling to find a job.

That’s something that isn’t spoken about, the frustration of working your arse off through education, high school to get to college, college to get to university, university to graduate and get a job. But then that job isn’t always there straight away and the fight still continues, of course it does, it isn’t handed to you on a plate ‘because you got a degree’ but the frustration of rejection is a real thing.

John helped me channel this and not let it get me down and lose my motivation, I’ve had down moments about it, anxiety was raised because I felt there was an expectation to get a job or else it wouldn’t have been worth it. But just know, that isn’t the case. Everyone knows how hard it is, especially during the current pandemic, but as long as you keep going, don’t let this define you, it isn’t failure — it’s a learning curve!

What would your advice be for those just starting out in the industry?

Don’t compare yourself to others. This is easier said than done, as you’ll be seeing your peers getting jobs or internships and thinking ‘wait, am I doing enough?’ and ‘why aren’t I being offered those opportunities?’ It’s an awful feeling, I get it. But that’s normal. Everyone will be thinking it, but don’t get tied up in these thoughts. You’ve got to take things at your own pace.

In these situations, you’ve gotta keep your head down and focus on you. And this goes for those you don’t know but are inspired by – it’s more than likely they’ve been doing what you’re just starting for a long time. You’ll get there – you’ve got to put the work in.  Imposter syndrome is real – I get it, everyone does. But it’s about channeling those feelings and working as hard you possibly can to get where you want to be and be your own biggest inspiration! 

What have been some of the highlights of the past year?

I think I’ve named quite a few already, haha! Some other things I’ve done which are mind-blowing for me… designing our Degree Show branding, graduating, having the best summer… turning 21 at a festival with ace humans, attending some inspiring events, connecting with the best people, being on the Creative Boom podcast (WOW!), being able to actually take a step away from education and realising that (okay apart from the current situation) the real world is actually quite exciting, yes utterly bloody terrifying too, but equally as exciting. 

Oh and of course, starting my own podcast! 

And any challenges?

Rejection from jobs. Anxiety about money. This has been a bane of my life. Especially being hit in a sudden pandemic, work drying out. Luckily I don’t have rent or a mortgage to pay, but I still have bills to pay and it’s a constant worry. 

Feeling like I’m back at square one. Learning doesn’t stop just because education stops – this hasn’t been a challenge as such but the feeling of being the newbie, a fresh graduate, there’s a connotation about it… new, fresh. Ok in some instances, it looks good as we have new ideas and have to start somewhere but from a personal thought it does feel that we could get looked down on as we don’t have experience so what the hell are we talking about. It’s a challenge I’ve faced and began to overcome after speaking to others in the industry, and I know there will be loads of graduates feeling the same too.

Can you tell us a bit about your Podcast and the inspiration behind it?

Proper Talk spiralled after featuring on Creative Boom – seeing the positive outlook from other creatives in the industry when briefly discussing topics that we face as graduates in the industry inspired an idea. I noticed that, yes there are amazing articles out there.

Proper Talk is from the perspective of a graduate navigating the working world as a new designer. It’s support for emerging designers. A platform to share tips and advice that I’ve learnt and continue to learn along the way, with conversations with guests in the industry too! Giving graduates a voice. 

Bits of advice I’ve welcomed and engaged with from people who have also been in my shoes at some point but there’s nothing from recent graduates to spare that advice of ‘in the now’ issues that people are concerned about. I know I won’t be a ‘graduate’ forever but for now I am a recent graduate. 

For others thinking about launching their own podcast or side hustle, what do you think are the foundations for starting your own venture?

Research. You’ll have a starting point as the reason you want to start a podcast or form a ‘side hustle’, but it’s important to delve further into it. Find your niche and that slot in the market, so you’re not repeating content that’s already out there.

Using your voice successfully. Figure out what you’d like people to get out of it, if that’s just entertainment, a sense of escapism, information, that’ll help to give you a distinct direction on forming the narrative behind the project. Know what you’re doing! It’s a lot of work to build up a platform, especially using a slightly different avenue in the form of your own actual voice.

What has been the best advice you have received over the past few years?

This is difficult to choose but there was a time nearing the end of college where my mental health took a major spiral. It was hard. I despised college. Loved my friends, hated the work! I went mute, lost faith in myself. It wasn’t good. But my family noticed this, helped me out and during that time I was gifted a wooden plaque that’s still on my wall today, in god awful typesetting I may add but it’s the message and meaning behind it that matters. It reads:

“You are braver than you think, stronger than you look, more talented than you know and twice as brilliant as the brightest star!”

How to find out more about Yas and her work:

Instagram: @yas.banks

Podcast: Proper Talk

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Community Matters: In Conversation with Danielle Rhoda, Illustrator, Animator, Designer

Originally from Poland, Danielle Rhoda moved to Manchester via Nottingham to study Illustration and Animation and has considered the city a home away from home ever since.

An extremely talented artist and illustrator, Danielle has worked with some of the city’s most exiting emerging creatives and agencies from Fuse Manchester and Yolk to cultural institutions including the People’s History Museum. Alongside creating her own prints and greeting cards, Danielle also runs The Big Drink and Draw, an online meeting place for creatives to connect with one another during lockdown.

We caught up with Danielle to talk about her love of the north, what it’s like for young creatives entering the workplace and the projects she’s proudest of.

Can I start by asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m originally from Poland where I lived until the age of 13 at which point I moved with my family to Nottingham. I came to Manchester to study Illustration and Animation and stayed here since. I like to think of myself as a northerner at heart which you can tell by the way I love chips with gravy!

Did you know you always wanted to be an illustrator and artist?

Like many, I’ve had a strong interest in art and drawing since a young age. I’ve always loved making things, whether it was a painting or creating 3D shapes out of paper or clay. I’ve always had a thing for recreating things I saw around me. 

Although since I can remember I fancied the idea of one day creating illustrated books it wasn’t until coming onto a foundation course that I was guided towards illustration.

When approached or commissioned for a piece of work, where do you start, what does your creative process look like?

Much to my surprise I have found a new passion for research! While I do begin drawing and noting down ideas as one of the first steps I cannot progress without finding all that I can about the subject. Having developed my practice around observation I need a good set of visual prompts which ground my style. My favourite way to do so is to go outside and draw from life. Even on the day to day (before lockdown) when out and about I would often have my phone at the ready so that I could capture interesting characters. They could then evolve and merge into illustrations. That and really trying to memorise people’s quirks and funky outfits. 

Looking at your career to date, what have been some of your favourite projects that you have worked on?

To date it would have to be working with the People’s History Museum to create a visual language for this year’s set of exhibitions all around the theme of Migration. Having only been freelancing for a short time up to that point it was the first ‘proper’ brief I worked on. Such a great experience working on a topic that is so close to my heart. The team gave me pretty much total freedom and trust so I could really get playful with my style. It was also the first time seeing my characters play out in a live situation like this and on a range of scales. Of course, unfortunately, due to the lockdown, the museum has shut its doors and many events have been postponed so it won’t be until later in the year we’ll really get to delve into their exciting programme. 

You currently live in Manchester, where else have you lived and work and what impact did these locations have on you and your creative output?

Before moving to Manchester in 2015 I lived in Nottingham where I did an Art & Design Foundation course. During that time, my first ever job was working as a GA at the Nottingham Contemporary. For several years the gallery felt like my second home. I became a member of their youth program at the age of 15 and it was one of the best things I could have done. It gave me a real insight into the world of art. The team was very welcoming and I got to see many of the backstage processes to putting up exhibitions and creative events. That was a big influence for me at the time and spurred me onto pursing art. 

What are some of the challenges of your profession, or more generally in the creative industries?

Not enough information. Very soon after graduating I realised how little of the business side we got to see or understand at university. Although it seems to be slowly getting better, the industry often doesn’t seem all that welcoming to graduates with many opportunities still happening in closed circles and behind closed doors. It’s incredible to see more and more people realising this and speaking out but more needs to be done in order to make the creative industries more inclusive and less privileged.

There are so many brilliant new creatives trying their way in every year and I strongly disagree with the mindset of ‘they need to learn the hard way because we did’. Of course when first starting there are lessons to be learned but I think we all should feel a collective responsibility to make the learning as easily accessible as possible. Sharing tips, discussing experiences, introducing people, shouting out about new talent, getting real about finance (!)  and all in all feel a bit less protective of our knowledge and instead passing it on. That’s where the real progress can start, right? 

Have there ever been any barriers for you as a woman in the industry? Or generally speaking do you think the industry is diverse enough?

The workplace in general, within and beyond the creative industry is not diverse enough. I cannot believe that in 2020 one might not be able to get into a certain role because of their gender and or background. However, it does feel like right now we’re in a very important moment where this is becoming part of daily conversation. I remember sitting in a lecture where the speaker explained how the majority of creative positions are taken by white men and I being neither white or male was prepping myself for a much tougher journey than many in this field. Saying that, I’m a strong believer in marching on no matter what and having the work speak for itself. I might be mixed-raced but beyond that and more importantly ABOVE that, I am just an artist. 

What do you like about Manchester and its creative network?

The main reason for why I came to Manchester in the first place was because I’ve heard so much about its creative community. It is such an exciting place to be in right now, there’s a real sense of togetherness which is totally in line with the vibe of the city overall. I love the fact that we’re not as big as London; it really does feel like after a short while you start to recognise many faces.

The city is constantly evolving, especially in recent years, and more and more stripped back, real-talk events are taking place and I can’t wait to see what’s more to come. A little shoutout here to people, teams that made me feel more part of the community: Fuse, Yolk and of course NRTH LASS!

Do you think it is possible to have a fulfilling career in the north?

I think it is definitely possible to have a fulfilling career in the north, there are many creatives who already do and have done so for a while. We are beginning to see a real shift of focus which is coming with talks about diversity and mental health. It is no longer imperative one has to move to London in order to have a great creative career. Technology is playing a big part in this but also the general want of representing more than one voice.

With this in mind, I still believe it is harder to get yourself going outside of London or the south in general but good things don’t always come easy do they! What’s interesting is seeing how other cities in the north are rising up to the challenge and the connections we’re all starting to build. There is real creative power here and the more people realise it the better it will get. (You wouldn’t be able to tell I’m not from here, freaking love the north).

What do you love about the north?

We could be here all day! I love the people, such a warm, friendly bunch. Chips with gravy, but I think I already mentioned that. I love finding out stories about the rich heritage of the north. Especially being based in Manchester, there is so much that’s been forgotten about and is coming to light again.

I’m a real sucker for the architecture as well; layers upon layers of different styles, giving the cities a gritty but beautiful texture and acting as physical time stamps. Also have you been to a northern city in sunshine? No one has the same appreciation for sunlight as a warmth-starved northerner, the whole place comes to life.

Where are some of your favourite creative places to work and socialise in Manchester? 

Before the lockdown it was the endless list of all the beautiful cafes, like Foundation Coffee House, my fave being the one on Whitworth St, Ezra & Gill and TAAK to name a few as well as hidden bars such as Double Down and the downstairs bar in Sandinista! I’ve always been a foodie. Socialising for me means eating so I’m very much looking forward to eating out again and hope Manchester’s food scene will thrive once again. 

Outside of work, what are some of your passions and hobbies?

A trick question for any creative! Outside of work I still love drawing and art in various media be it film or music. As mentioned above I LOVE food, but in addition to eating I really enjoy cooking, it’s a great way to relax. 

Have you pursued any new pastimes during lockdown?

I’ve taken up a bit of gardening, feeling a bit wiser than my age of 24. I’ve also gone back to some forgotten, abandoned hobbies of playing the guitar and piano and have been trying to read more. A book I’m currently reading is Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?

To worry less and say yes more. 

Are there any new projects or pieces of work that you would like to give a shout-out?

Currently, I’m tugging away on a collection of greetings cards I have officially become gold foil obsessed. On top of that I’m working on some very exciting collaborations and will be sharing them soon on my ig! 

To see more of Danielle’s work and check out some of her latest projects head to her website or Instagram.

Danielle will be speaking at the next PechaKucha Night Manchester, Vol. 31 on the topic of ‘Migration’ on the 9th July, speaking about her work with the People’s History Museum and their programme on Migration.

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Images: Courtesy of Danielle Rhoda

Northern Business and the World of Etsy

As we move further into the digital era, curating an online presence is more significant than ever. Etsy is helping creative individuals in the North of England gain exposure and cultivate success by selling their homemade products, writes editorial intern Lauren Beesting.

Etsy was founded in 2005 and has become a thriving business model, chosen by many for its strong community ideals and unrivaled popularity. Etsy gives crafters and DIYers the chance to sell and distribute their products across the UK and overseas, allowing creative success wherever you are located.

Lauren spoke to Sophie and Kristyna; two Etsy shop owners based in Leeds, about their experience creating and selling products online. 

Sophie Howarth: Owner of SillyLoaf

Sophie Howarth and her SillyLoaf Cactus Scarf

Sophie opened her Etsy store in 2011 when she found herself unfulfilled in her office job. The store started as “extra pocket money for a fun hobby” says Sophie, but she soon realised the costs that would come with opening a store. She never expected the shop to become a full-time business, but it has been an enjoyable experience to flex her creative abilities. She is self-taught in all of her skills and has an abundance of support from her family, especially her partner. Sophie is a one-woman band and designs and produces all of her products. 

How has Etsy helped your business?

Etsy has provided me a lot more income than in the early days. It provides me with an incredible platform to get involved in the community and being part of an Etsy Team has allowed me to communicate with Etsy staff and actually influence how the platform itself runs, which is very rare.

They also have a ready-made audience that loves handmade, loves products with a story and really cares about what goes into the items in their home, and gifts they give to their friends. The opportunity to tap into that is unmissable for me as it’s exactly what my business stands for too.

Was it hard to become popular on Etsy?

I think if you do your research and learn and experiment it can work out really well for you.

What advice would you give to people wanting to start up their own store?

My best advice is to start now. Get involved in everything you can, share your knowledge and learn from everyone you meet. Don’t rely on your friends and family too much because they are not your target customer and trust me there is a customer out there for every weird and wonderful thing you could dream up. Finally, rest, learn, evaluate and change. Never give up.

Statement earrings available on Sophie’s Etsy page

What is your opinion on the stigma surrounding creative success up north?

I do think it’s a common misconception that there isn’t much of anything outside London. There are a lot more people just like you than you think, it’s just that sometimes you have to be the catalyst to bring those people together. Here in Leeds we have some incredible independent shops, a huge collective of artists selling in a shop in the centre of Leeds, lots of creative markets and fairs. If you don’t have them in your area – start one! You can probably find fellow local people hanging out online!

Kristyna Baczynski: Owner of Kriski

Wild Woman Risograph Print by Kristyna

Kristyna grew up in the Pennines of Yorkshire, her family weren’t the most creative of people, but her mother always supported her to work hard and do what she loved. Kristyna moved to Leeds for university and shortly afterwards opened her Etsy store as a side job, selling her illustrations as prints and stationary sets. 

She used the platform as a way to become accessible to her existing customers so they could find her online rather than just at events and fairs. In 2017 she became a full-time Etsy business owner, as she shared “hustle for a decade and your dreams can come true.”

Why did you choose Etsy to create your online store?

I think what encouraged me was a mixture of feeling like it was the next step naturally with selling all these products [at fairs], and then there were people who wanted to follow up and keep track of me through the internet, and then there’s the aspirational aspect what people were doing who were slightly ahead of me and I wanted to get to that place too.

Dream Studio – A3 Screen print by Kristyna

How has the experience been moving online?

Nowadays people are taking social media into their own self-promotion. Whereas when I left university no one was talking about building portfolio websites or running an online shop, and running a business, there wasn’t that focus on products and how you sell them and how you use the internet to establish it. People are so hungry for it because it’s so visible and it works. So, trying to figure out the internet at the early stages was weird, but then also being on the early edge of it I did well on Instagram initially and now I’m a steady account. My Etsy kind of grew at that point in the same way that my online presence did.

Making Things – Risograph Print by Kristyna

Have you ever encountered struggles with living outside of London?

People think moving to London is a badge of legitimacy like ‘ah I’ve made it I’m living in the capital this is where everything is happening’.

But to me I always felt like by not being in London I had way more advantages. I know someone in London who rents a room in a shared house, for the same money I pay to have a flat with my partner who is also a freelancer and we both have an extra bedroom for studio space.

In Leeds we are still connected to a city centre. We can get the train to London in two hours and yet people who live in Greater London’s commute are going on two hours as well and you just think it doesn’t really compare. I think for how much of a premium you pay on everything it isn’t worth it. 

I go down to London all the time, I work with publishers and clients in London. If I am down for a meeting with someone, I will also arrange deliveries to my stockists, and I’ll get a wholesale order for some of my products and I’ll meet about a job.

Sites like Etsy are helping to revolutionise the national success of small business owners, and creatives. No longer are we living in an age where you have to move to the capital in order to make it in life, there are growing opportunities across the country that are allowing women the creative success they’ve always dreamed of, from the comfort of their hometowns. 

A strong community is a huge deal breaker in business, without having that stronghold of support you lose out on potential to grow. Etsy is providing people from across the country with a platform that brings together crafters and creatives, providing individuals with the support and guidance of like-minded and inspiring people. 

Words: Lauren Beesting

You can find both Sophie and Kristyna’s work and creations here: SillyLoaf and Kriski