Julia Grant is a Chichester-based designer and owner of Winter’s Moon, a design studio selling a beautifully curated mix of vintage and contemporary furniture and handmade homewares. She is also the co-founder of Design Collective Chichester, a group that supports design professionals through gatherings, skill-sharing and raising the profile of design in Chichester and the surrounding area.
Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and your own creative journey?
My background is textiles. My mum had a dress fabric shop and was, and still is at 88, an avid seamstress and knitter, so I grew up surrounded by fabric and making. I did a constructed textiles degree and then worked for a couple of high-end upholstery fabric houses in London in their showrooms.
I then worked for Sofa Workshop for 14 years starting in their showroom and ending up in marketing producing their customer communications, so my work involved, branding, styling and writing. I was really lucky to work with a great team on great products, and I learnt so much about how to make a product look its best, about PR & graphic design (though I’m still crap at Photoshop!) and about writing for the customer.
When and why did you set up Winter’s Moon?
When I was working on the shoots for Sofa Workshop I would buy vintage props from car boot sales to use in the shots. This led to friends asking me to find them pieces & Winter’s Moon grew from there. I did it alongside the day job for a couple of years, and then the financial crisis hit, most of us at head office were made redundant and I decided to concentrate on Winter’s Moon.
The mix of old and new at Winter’s Moon works really well – is there an overall theme or ethos behind the products you choose?
I truthfully find it really hard to describe what I look for in a product. I think it’s the inherent individual ‘eye’ that we all have that makes us create what we create - almost like an accent, we can’t hear our own, but it is obvious to other people. I would say the factors that dictate are the colour - I definitely restrict what colours I buy, the quality and the functionality. I have always felt the new pieces freshen up the vintage, and the vintage ones give the new pieces and bit of depth and uniqueness, I would find it so hard to not be able to offer both.
Colour is obviously very important to you. Where do you find your creative inspiration?
It’s all around us, and there is almost too much for me to be honest especially with the world of Instagram and Pinterest. There has never been a time when we have been so bombarded with visual imagery, so it’s a case of trying to see the wood for the trees I think. But I often return to my stash of vintage fabric and design books and then things like a box of Formica laminate samples I have. Playing colour palette combos with a cup of tea for two minutes is heaven.
How do you balance the business and creative side of things?
I have always struggled with the business side, but I am still hereafter 9 years so am not a complete failure. I basically focus on making sure I have more money coming in than going out, I use Xero accounting to save me having to manually keep records which has been a game changer and gives me up to date info on how the business is doing. I would say I am too instinctive and don’t plan ahead enough - but you are constantly learning in this game. And then when some crucially obvious thing becomes so obvious you can’t miss it e.g. how important a good margin is, I go ‘oh yeah, it’s obvious when you think about it’ it just took me a good 6 years to figure that one out!
Finally, any tips for someone else looking to set up their own business?
Find your own point of difference. If it’s an interiors business you need a really clear and strong consistent style to stand out and grow your customer base. There are too many brands out there who look identical and I just don’t think you have a huge chance at longevity if you don’t have your own unique look.
Find your support tribe - I definitely have mine, business people who mostly run their own companies who I talk to about the boring stuff no one else would want to listen to. The Design Collective group I set up with my good friend Alys, has been great for this too - we have a Facebook group and regular meet-ups. It can be a lonely world when you are self-employed so you have to actively seek out like-minded people.
Be prepared to learn! I have actively learnt so much over the years and there is no excuse to say ‘I don’t know how’ with the internet at your disposal. I regularly do online courses to keep myself up to speed in things such as social media, Facebook ads etc. Otherwise you just get left behind.
Look after your customers above all else - I am really lucky to have a good loyal following of repeat customers and they are the people that keep me in business.
Oh, and good luck! It takes a lot of nerve sometimes to trust your instincts and put yourself out there, but a friend once said when I was having an anxious moment ‘but if you weren’t doing it, you would only be wishing you were’ so that made me realise I didn’t have a choice, I just had to get on with it.
Brilliant, thanks Julia, that's sound advice indeed! You can see some of Julia's fabulous selection of homewares over on the Winter's Moon website www.wintersmoon.co.uk and her wonderfully colourful Instagram account @wintersmoonuk