all photos courtesy of Hygge & West
Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from Aimee and Christiana, the gals behind the designer wallpaper shop Hygge &West. When these childhood friends happened upon the Ferm Living wallpaper collections one day, they decided to capitalize on their design/biz owning dreams together. Proposing to act as the US Distributor of Ferm Living, Aimee and Christiana successfully partnered with the shop. A year later, they started their own brand, Hygge & West, to curate a series of one-of-a-kind, designer wallpapers. Today they share a bit about their career journey with us! —Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump…
Why did you decide to start your own business?
C: Out of desperation, mostly. I realized I had a passion for interior design when I moved to Chicago after law school to work at a law firm there. I was so much more excited about shopping for furniture for my new apartment than going into work. Very unfortunate timing to realize you wish you were doing something completely different with your career… Five years later, still not having figured out how to break free from my job, Aimee and I were emailing back and forth searching around for wallpapers online and stumbled upon Ferm Living. We loved their designs, but when Aimee tried to buy some, we learned that they didn’t have a US distributor. We quickly sent them a proposal thinking how hard could it be to sell cool wallpaper and wall decals? (answer: harder than you’d think). I truly felt though that the stars had aligned to create this great escape into the world of interior design, and I still feel so grateful that we decided to just go for it! A year later, we wanted to try something more creative so we started our own brand, Hygge & West.
A: I had run a business a few years prior, and was always kind of looking for a reason to do it again. And I grew up in an entrepreneurial family – my father owned and operated grocery stores, so I think that it is just in my blood. I was working at a branding and design agency at the time we found Ferm Living, and when the opportunity to build a new business arose, I was really excited to have another go at it. And last, but not least, it gave me the chance to constantly email and text Christiana all day, which we were doing anyways, but this legitimized it to family and other friends :)
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
C&A: Hygge & West started from us wanting to collaborate with artists and designers whose work we loved. Originally, we thought we’d make all kinds of products and import products as well – basically make and sell anything that we felt was within our “hygge” aesthetic. This proved to be a mistake, because it ended up being too generalized and too scattered. Once we narrowed our focus to the thing we believed in the most (wallpaper!), we were able to concentrate specifically on how to differentiate and market our brand, as well as quickly develop expertise about that product. We are actually gearing up to expand into textiles later this year (yay!) but in a focused way this time.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
C: This isn’t advice specifically, but I think the best thing I did when we started out was to seek out other entrepreneurs that I could check in with to swap ideas and for mutual support. I was always very risk adverse (hence ending up as a lawyer) and hadn’t known other business owners prior to starting our company other than Aimee, so it felt very scary at first. But, as I became friends with more and more people doing similar entrepreneurial things, it made me feel much less afraid or like I was doing something crazy. Every business is started by someone, right? Why not us?
A: I definitely learned a lot from my father growing up and seeing how he successfully ran a business. One of the most important lessons was to be really aware of your finances – and to know what ALL of your costs and expenses are. And, something I learned from previous experience, if you’re starting a business with someone else (especially a friend), you need to be really honest at the outset about what each of your financial needs and expectations are for the business.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
C: Definitely the financial insecurity of it all. We launched Hygge & West right before the economy tanked in 2008, and it was an uphill battle for the first couple years trying to keep the business afloat and pay rent. I actually lost the rent battle for a few months. It led to some very random adventures I wouldn’t have had otherwise so I can’t complain (although maybe my fabulous friends, Aimee included, whose spare rooms I crashed in might!).
A: We also had a really steep learning curve with regards to production. It took a long time and a lot of research to find the right partners who were able to achieve the quality of product that we wanted. Neither of us had any experience in this area, and I think that in a lot of respects, we were pretty naive about what was involved as far as manufacturing was concerned. That naivete ended up being really beneficial, though, because if we’d really understood what we were undertaking, we may have gotten discouraged and talked ourselves out of starting Hygge & West.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
C: This might be pretty obvious, but it is extremely important to find great people to work with that also believe in and care about what you’re doing. For example, we’ve been fortunate enough to work with an amazingly talented and detail-oriented graphic designer on our branding, websites, photographs and collateral, etc. that we trust completely and rely on to keep us in check. We’ve also worked with several fulfillment warehouses, and finding one that fits our needs and that we can consider as part of our team has made ALL the difference. It might seem like a minor thing, but we spent a couple months trapped in a completely dysfunctional fulfillment warehouse situation, and it truly was like living in a nightmare, resulting in delays, missing orders, lost inventory, upset customers… It was so, so very bad.
A: Along the same lines of what Christiana said, I think that for me it’s been accepting that I can’t do everything and being able to delegate. I am a pretty big control freak, so this has been a tough lesson. For the longest time, Christiana and I were doing EVERYTHING – from shooting our own photos to shipping all our orders. As our business has grown, we’ve had to find partners to help out so we can focus on where we really add value. We’ve been lucky to find people who we can really trust and who truly care about our business and our success.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
C: Not specifically, but only because we vowed never to speak of it again. It involved us failing miserably at doing some very basic math. Let’s just say that there is a huge difference between single rolls of wallpaper and double rolls of wallpaper when you are determining how much wallpaper you have in stock, how much profit or loss you have during a given year, and/or whether you need to hire a lawyer to sue someone about something. Single rolls vs. double rolls never cease to cause confusion!
A: I would elaborate, but we swore to never speak of it again :)
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
C&A: Our upcoming collection with Rifle Paper Co. feels very major in terms of working with an incredibly talented designer to create something beautiful. There’s already a lot of excitement around this collection and we’ve had a great response from those we’ve shared it with. We’re also working on a new collection with Julia Rothman later this year, six years after she designed our very first collection. That she still is happy to collaborate with us feels like we must be doing something right. And of course, being able to work together on Hygge & West for this long through all its ups and downs and remain the best of friends is our biggest success of all!
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
A: 1) Have you really understood the financial implications of starting a business? Christiana and I both had other jobs when we started and did this as a side project for quite some time before it became financially viable. 2) Are you self-motivated? You’ll need to be able to set goals for what you want to achieve and then be prepared to hold yourself accountable to them. 3) Similarly, when you own your own business, there’s no “quitting time” and no “that’s not my problem” – you will have to deal with every single set back personally. But I think that makes the successes all the sweeter!
C: 1) How much risk are you willing and able to take on in terms of time and/or money? 2) Do you fully believe in what you’re creating? 3) Are you ready for this roller coaster? (say yes, it’ll be worth it!)