Martha and Hepsie first came to my attention on Instagram, so I clicked through to their website and was immediately charmed by their bold prints and nature-inspired patterns. Their designs make every day, practical items, into beautiful pieces. I stopped by at their studio in Sheffield to have a chat with one of the company founders, Martha.
How did you start your business?
I’ve always been creative and had studied textile design at university. Then I went to London to work at a design company and my sister, Hepsie, who also has a creative background and did fashion design at university, was working full-time doing creative marketing for a jewellery company in Barnstaple.
I was getting pretty tired of my job and the London commute so I started designing in the evenings and on weekends, and sold what I made at local markets. Hepsie was also getting bored of her day to day routine so we decided to join forces and combine my design background with her marketing background. In the beginning we started Martha and Hepsie as a 5 to 9 job because we were both still working full-time.
Then both of us were made redundant within the same year, and I moved back to Sheffield where I’d grown up. We realised that it was now or never for Martha and Hepsie so we decided to make our own silver lining, and out of frustration and redundancy was borne our fledgling enterprise.
We registered the company back in 2011 and started working on it full-time in 2014.
What materials do you use to make your products, and why?
I design everything in Sheffield. It all starts with pen and paper and everything is hand-illustrated, with colours and patterns added using CAD, mainly Illustrator and Photoshop. We used to screen print all our tea towels by hand but it was a bit too laborious when we began to get busier so we moved to digital printing.
We make the cushions and lampshades ourselves, although the canvas is printed for us. Everything else is made in the UK and we only ever outsource to UK manufacturers which is really important and part of our ethos. We keep the quantities small and make a point of meeting our suppliers and building good relationships with them.
Tell me about some of the positive experiences you’ve had and why they’re important to your business.
A negative that has turned into a positive is the steep learning curve that comes with working out how to run your own business. You really do get thrown in at the deep end. You’re not just a designer, you’re changing hats all the time – you’re the marketing person, the finance person, the pick and pack person. Learning how to juggle everything has definitely made me more organised and helped me develop so many transferable skills.
What do you think your local council could do to help independent businesses?
The first thing that comes to mind is that if you’re a small business and you only sell online, the main reason you can’t have a shop is because of the extortionate rent and rates. There are pop-up shops and other similar schemes. We did one in the Winter Gardens eighteen months ago and it was really successful but there’s a need for a stepping stone and helping hand for small independents. Sheffield in particular is full of an abundance of creative, talented people that perhaps aren’t being given the opportunity to showcase themselves.
Martha and Hepsie are very kindly giving all Now Then readers free P&P on purchases made through their website. Just enter the code NOWTHEN at the checkout.
Interview by Felicity Jackson
Images courtesy of Martha and Hepsie