IN THE SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: KAT FROM THE KAT & MONOCLE - AN INDEPENDENT BUSINESS BASED IN LONDON, PROVIDING HAND DRAWN DESIGN CONCEPTS FOR FASHION, HOME, AND GIFTWARE.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name’s Kat – (short for Katrina), and I live and work in Hackney, London. I’m originally from North Yorkshire but left in September 2000 to study a Foundation Course in Art and Design, and a degree in Embroidered Textiles. I studied at The Manchester Metropolitan University and have always been interested in drawing. I have a love of pattern and print, and music is right up there on my list of interests too. I enjoy walking and being outdoors, plus I run regularly but can’t say I love it - it definitely makes me feel good after though.
I like cooking and travelling and one of my biggest interests is providing help in the community. I’m part of a group who provide amenities and conversation for the homeless and I definitely want to get involved in therapy-based artwork in future. My studio space is in Dalston – very close to where I live, and I love having that shared space to separate work from home, whilst working alongside others in the creative field. I have a small but close family, all dotted around the country, and I’m currently living with my boyfriend plus two other lovely housemates and my cat Grace!
Describe your business
‘The Kat & Monocle’, is a small independent business which I set up towards the end of 2012. I came to a point where I wanted a change from working for a company – something I had been doing 5-6 years prior, and gain the opportunity to work in an environment where quality and design come first. Basically I wanted to be as in-depth and creative as possible in my design endeavours.
I create detailed, hand drawings, in pencil, of dogs and cats in gentrified costume, giving them plenty of character and an eccentrically British sense of humour. My subjects are not necessarily just dogs and cats and I’ve created ‘people’ and cityscape illustrations too. The essence of the brand is in the intricate style of my drawing, which is time consuming to produce. Furthermore I add my own patterns into the mix, in order to complement and add to the signature style of my illustrations.
All of my designs are printed ethically in the UK onto various gift-based products such as t-shirts, greetings cards and dinnerware. The principal aim of my business is to provide goods with a conscience that bring cheer and enhancement to peoples’ lives. I always seek to use recycled or environmentally sustainable materials, and take commissions including bespoke wedding invitations, stationery, pet portraits and illustrative prints.
What inspires you?
My Dad is a retired vet and I grew up in a very beautiful part of North Yorkshire, surrounded by pets! This definitely has some bearing on the inspiration of my subjects, as I know how much pets enhance our lives. Perhaps (not consciously), I wish to share this love and belief, and have done so through illustration and design. I also find that a lot of my designs originate from portrait commissions requested by customers so I can certainly say that my customers inspire me too.
My inspiration is also triggered spontaneously by what surrounds me. I love geometric prints and wallpaper design, which influence my patterns heavily. I might find marks or shapes in the environment around me, which influence these patterns too.
I’m a huge fan of doing things the old school way, such as hands-on drawing, collage, and making etc. rather than always relying on digital methods of producing my goods. I’ve always admired independent designer/makers such as Donna Wilson because her products have so much character and are completely unique to her. She definitely hasn’t lost her identity and brand ethos amidst her growing success and I really believe she deserves the credit she has earned today.
Why did you decide to start a business?
I felt the need to branch out on my own and move away from working for a company. I couldn’t find an opportunity to stretch my design work to its full potential because of time constraints, concerns that the design wouldn’t be commercial enough, or costs constraints of putting it into production. I wanted to see how I could get on if I were to set up on my own accord and see how designs under my own direction would work.
Recycling also plays a large role in inspiring my work and I have a borderline obsession with avoiding waste and being resourceful. The textures and colours within my repeat patterns come from an ongoing theme I’ve been working on - looking at different ways in which I can reuse business envelopes.
The business was therefore consciously planned, despite my initial efforts to achieve the above goals through freelancing and/or finding a smaller company that was more in tune with my aspirations. I found that the business built itself off the back of a wallpaper design I created for an American company, which involved various hand-drawn dog breeds scattered over a background of large white spots. There is no doubt this inspired me to come up with the subject matter for my own designs and having tested out these illustrations on some Christmas cards at a market, I realised there was scope for them to sell.
Has the direction of your business changed over time?
The essence of my business, such as the hand drawn style and the use of pattern hasn't really changed. My product offering is continually expanding though, and I offer a lot more bespoke products too. I like the idea of creating products, (such as wedding invitations and groomsmen’s ties/bow ties), on a supply and demand basis and would like to focus on this type of work in future. It is a lot more resourceful materials-wise and involves less hoarding of surplus stock.
My freelance work tends to differ in style to the goods I produce under my brand. I have a regular client who asks me to create their company Christmas cards each year with a cartoon look, and I am happy to deliver what is requested, which varies my business greatly.
What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?
I’ve found there are many challenges as a small business owner.
The challenges differ from person to person - I don’t mind doing the accounts for instance, which is something most creative professionals hate! I do struggle with the marketing though because informing people continually of what I am up to does not come naturally and I find that quite relentless.
It's easy to lose your work-life balance as a small business owner but I strongly believe you should be aware not to. The enthusiasm you have in the early stages is great and it’s good to put a lot of time and energy into your work. The pitfall however, is that if you don’t take a break at good intervals, you risk ‘burning out’ and losing that wonderful enthusiasm you had in the first place.
I find it hard to work on projects that seem never-ending. I like to commit all my attention to one project at a time, give it my full attention, then go on to the next one. As a small business owner you can't really do this, as there are many things to juggle at once, plus your business is ongoing, so things can seem like they’re never ‘finished’.
The best way of coping is to break down all the tasks into ‘mini’ projects and tick them off the list when they’re complete! You also have to be very organised to do these tasks at the right time and in the right order to make optimum use of your time and meet any deadlines you have set for yourself.
What's the most rewarding aspect to running your own business?
Having mentioned the pitfalls above, working for yourself is still a very rewarding experience. There is nothing better than creating something you are passionate about, which others appreciate too. The positive feedback from customers is what keeps me going and it is re-affirming to know that there are people out there who get what I do and want me to make more of it! It’s also very nice to have no one else to answer to, apart from myself of course, plus having the opportunity to direct my business in whichever way I choose can be very liberating.
Another thing I love about having my own business is that I can pick and choose where I work and what kind of environment this is. My studio space, (described above), is to me, far more inspiring than working in an office and I can also work at the times of day I choose, which I love!
What advice would you give to new businesses that are just starting out?
You certainly have to be very self-motivated and passionate about what you do. Without that, it would be hard to find the drive to keep going. You need to really believe in your business’ practice and what it stands for. Being your own boss, as good as it is, can be hard to sustain so it can be easy to lose direction and stray off the beaten track.
Having business mentors and going to regular workshops which offer skills and advice is a good way of keeping on track. You also have to be very organised. I find a good list is what keeps me in check and I tend to make these continually. Also working out your ultimate deadlines and creating a time line to work back from is an excellent way of organising your time. I don’t think I’ve ever used a calendar/diary as much as I have since I started my business!
You need to take a holiday! You are likely to burn out about two or three years later if you don’t. Also if you expect to have plenty of time to allocate to your actual business practice, you will feel disappointed. There are so many other tasks in running a business that will take up your time.
Finally, I think you need a clear, succinct idea of what your business actually does. I feel I’ve stumbled with this at times and still think I could be spreading myself across too many different products. I personally think that the most successful businesses have a very clear purpose, which is unique to them and is something they do very well.
What's next for your business?
I have a few options at this stage. As I’d touched upon before, I think I’d prefer to provide more custom-made products on a one-off or supply and demand basis. I like the idea of reducing waste and that way, I can take orders and work on separate projects, as and when they come in.
I would also like to cater more for weddings or one-off events/projects. I have enjoyed working on the commissions I’ve gained in this area so far, and it’s been exciting having to have a whole project to manage and deliver.
I’ve also been doing a lot of voluntary social work aside from my business, which involves helping the homeless and catering for their needs. I’d like to work more in this way and am considering a qualification in Art Therapy in order to apply my art with a more healing-based purpose. I know how much the arts can aid those who are undergoing difficult periods in their lives, both physically and emotionally, and I feel quite strongly about being a part of this practice.
Please feel free to watch this space as I’m sure any further activities will be posted on my social media feeds. My products will be available at The Hackney Shop with the wonderfully talented members of the London Local Team, from the 2nd to the 14th August!
Twitter page: https://twitter.com/KatandMonocle
Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/the_kat_and_monocle