Indie Interview: Blue Fox Creative
On the Indie Oxford blog today, Sarah Franklin, owner of Blue Fox Creative shares the story behind her business, her design process and her tips for avoiding comparison and burnout. >>
Tell me about your background and why you decided to set up your own business
I have always been creative and I loved art at school as well as other creative subjects such as textiles and fashion design. Through lack of confidence and a deep rooted opinion that I wasn’t “good enough” to pursue an artistic career, I ended up training in finance and accounting as it seemed like the right choice at the time. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I decided to make a change by quitting my job and heading to university as a mature student to retrain as a designer.
I studied interior design at university and although I enjoyed it, it still wasn’t hitting the “this is what I want to do” spot. After graduating, I decided to focus more on the illustration and design side of the things that I had learnt at university and wanted to pursue a career in illustration and graphic design. I reached out to the lovely Rianna at Jampuppy Design asking for a work experience placement and she took me on board. Over the course of a few months Rianna really helped me with setting up my portfolio, giving me projects to work on and even helped me prepare for job interviews.
In January 2020 I decided to set up Blue Fox Creative as a place where I could sell my illustrations and designs and also offer my services as a freelance designer and illustrator.
Tell me about your indie business
Blue Fox Creative started as a freelance business, with my illustrations and designs being sold through my Etsy shop online. It started off with selling just a few cards online and has now grown into a range of cards, stationery, mugs, textile homewares and more. I wanted to create products that brought a little bit of the countryside into our homes, as well as a bit of fun and a splash of colour.
Blue Fox Creative is built on four core values. The first being “high quality” which means that I fully test everything before it goes on sale in my online shop. I really run my products through the mill by taking a sample and putting it to the test so I can be confident when selling it online that it does what it says on the tin. Blue Fox Creative’s second core value is “eco-conscious” which means that from start to finish, sustainability is at the forefront of the design process. Everything in my online shop has been made in the UK, from responsibly sourced materials from the paper in my cards right up to the bags I send out the textiles in, which is made from plants not plastic. The third core value is “giving back”. As of 2022 I decided that every year I would launch limited edition products and donate 50% of proceeds to a nominated charity. The first launch of our greyhound valentine’s day cards was a huge success, raising over £100 to go to the Greyhound Trust (there are still a few left!) And last, but definitely not least is the fourth core value “Earth positive business”. I recently joined Greenspark and pledged to plant a tree with every purchase.
Describe your design process
My design process always starts with an idea that I might have or something that bugs me for a few weeks and I think “I really want to try that”. I always keep a pen and paper handy on my bedside table as I often have my most creative thoughts at night and I can’t always sleep if I don’t jot it down.
I then move onto sketching. Something I have learnt is that no matter how digital our world becomes, you simply cannot replace the art of sketching ideas down on paper. Sometimes these are just doodles and scribbles and writing, and other times these can be more intricate, it really depends on the item I am trying to design.
I will then take this across to my iPad and do a digital illustration, again sometimes this can be quite a simple thing or perhaps something that is more detailed and complex. I usually try and revisit my digital drawings a few times before deciding whether they are finished enough and ready for the next stage.
The next part of the design process really depends on what the illustration is going to be used for, so for example I could turn it into a pattern and use it on a tea towel, or I could take it on its own and use it on a mug or a card.
I will then send my design to one of my UK suppliers and they will send me a sample for testing. I review the sample for texture, colour and quality, and then I put it to the test (the oven gloves and tea towels had a very rigorous testing process!) Once I am happy with my quality control checks I then send off for a larger bulk order and when the bulk order arrives, I check that order to see if they match the sample in quality and colour and then they are ready to be sold in my online shop.
Describe your studio and creative routine
I work in a family studio setting, where I have a large desk with a birds eye view of the river Cherwell. Although being a small business owner who works from home, sometimes you will find me on the sofa or in the kitchen working away on something late at night!
On my desk you will find my iPad, my MacBook Pro, a sketchbook, a notepad and my life-saving label printer. There will usually be a mug or two about as well, but I do try and keep my space as tidy as possible!
I keep my products in the studio in sealed containers, that are labelled so I can find everything (when I started my small business I only had a bag for life and one small box). I also have space for packaging and packing as I like to add lots of finishing touches to my order. A wonderful thing about buying from a small business is the care we take on our packaging.
I always start the day with a good breakfast and a dog walk. As I spend most of my time sitting at a desk I really enjoy getting outside and stretching my legs. I am trying to get better at doing this because I do feel so much better for it and try to make the time rather than try to find it. If I am really struggling creatively, I just step away and switch off. I have learnt that becoming stressed and trying to concentrate on something that just isn’t happening will only prolong the process of either a creative block or a concentration slump. I step away from my desk and put down my phone to try and refocus my energy, usually outside, and this time away usually always helps me to get back on track creatively.
What’s your best advice for someone starting out in business today?
I think my number one advice would be don’t compare yourself to others. Social media can be a brilliant thing, but it can also lead down a dark spiral of comparison and self criticism. It has taken me a while, but I try to remember that the only person I need to compete and compare progress against is myself. I use social media to my advantage for marketing tips and I engage with other small businesses and celebrate their success and join in on conversations.
Another piece of advice I would give, is to try and switch off. This is really really difficult to do, but it is so important. Trying to find a good work life balance, whilst also running a small business is really challenging, but not taking the time to step away and take time for yourself can really quickly lead to burnout, and that is no good for anyone. I am still very much learning how to do this myself and it is definitely a work in progress!
When you’re not working on, or in, the business, what do you love to do?
Making time for my family is really important to me and I love spending time with my husband Adam and our son George and our two dogs. We often set out at weekends on dog walks or head to local markets to try and discover local independent businesses and buy seasonal food items. We also like to pop into Oxford for the day and have a wander around, or head to a national trust building or garden.
I also enjoy finding new places to eat, and I love curling up with a book in the evenings to try and wind down.