Growing a brand

Fenella Smith has been designing colourful homewares and accessories for nearly a decade. We discuss the value of buyer relationships and product development – and the benefits of growing a business from home.

Hello Fenella, You’ve been successfully growing the Fenella Smith brand for nearly a decade now but how did your journey first begin?

I was working for The Hope Foundation in Kolkata and doing some product development work with ideas for their skills centre and it was a process I really loved.

I initially started with ceramic as I saw a gap in the market for well-made joyful kitchenware.

Over the past few years, the brand has evolved from designs inspired by your bohemian upbringing in the English countryside (quirky woodland animals and pooches galore) – to more colourful prints and bold, energetic patterns. What were the motivations and decisions behind your change in aesthetic?

I think the quirkiness has stayed in the brand but I have always been fascinated by colour and it’s a huge part of my aesthetic both at home and in the clothes and accessories I wear. I think you can be really bold with little accents of colour, I wanted to create ranges that you can mix and match and change up each season from a makeup bag to your purse.. these little assets really define who we are. I couldn’t find any accessories that offered this self-expression so I decided to create a range!

We have kept the Fenella’s Friends collections as I’m still a dog lover and these collections I really feel celebrate the joyful nature of our canine pals.

Fenella Smith products are now stocked up and down the country and beyond. But how long did it take to get your first retail order and what did that feel like?

I had a stand at a trade show as my launch pad, I was in a tiny box of a booth and I felt so daunted by the whole experience as everyone buzzed about me knowing what they were doing. Luckily I had a really good flow of orders from the show and some stores are still customers today!

Having worked with both small independent stockists and large international retailers, how do you compare the two?

In large part it is the same, what matters to me is the relationship with my buyers. I love chatting with them to get under the skin of what matters to their consumers. I love sharing my design ideas and thought processes about how I’m developing new ranges. Form and Function are really important to me and it’s key my buyers understand that investment into both the product’s use as well as its applied design.

Your studio has moved from strength to strength launching with slip cast ceramics and now developing handbag and beauty collections. How important do you think it has been to continually grow your range and product offering?

I think you have to constantly innovate and create freshness, whilst always thinking about consumer needs. I love designing the products so every season we have to decide on the best or I’d have 1000s of SKUs!

Tell us a little bit about your team and their individual roles in helping you run and scale the business…

Jo and Jade work most closely with me, they are my right-hand team. Jo manages the supply chain and stocks, she works on huge terrifying spreadsheets, she is fantastically thorough and the counterbalance to my over-enthusiastic desire to design and produce too many things!

Jade works with our key customers and makes sure everything is pressing ahead as required. She also oversees projects such as photoshoots which are always hugely complex but great fun.

Jo and Jade have become really close friends over the years, they bring in lunch for one another and giggle away at their desks.

What’s next for Fenella Smith?

We have just launched our Vegan Handbags and I will be extending this range, we are also launching Fenella Smith x 83 Oranges in the new year, Uma is such a wonderful designer and I’ve really enjoyed working with her to create the collection.

I’ve also designed dog beds… big Labrador Bramble is currently curled up in a tiny Dachshund sample bed!!

Is there any advice could you offer to founders looking to scale their brand?

Find the right expertise to support you and listen to their advice. Really understand your own core strengths then find brilliant people to fill the gaps in your own skill base.

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