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Starting a Creative Business: International Graduate Insights

Two people sit in a white room at a desk smiling with a laptop in front of them and notebooks scattered about on the table.
Two people sit in a white room at a desk smiling with a laptop in front of them and notebooks scattered about on the table.
Cem Hamlacibasi during his Internship at Narrative Projects, © Alys Tomlinson
| Photograph: Alys Tomlinson
Written by
Ananya Agarwalla
Published date
01 December 2021

On Monday 8 November, Careers and Employability hosted a talk as part of Global Enterprise Week. Starting a Creative Business: International Graduate Insights was one of the first events. It featured three UAL graduates from the Creative Business Accelerator program. The program aims to help graduates set up a creative business. This includes guidance with goals, funding, team building, business skills, development and collaboration.

The speakers shared their journey of setting up their creative practice and what it means to be an owner of a small business.

Niki Jessup co-founded Atelier HOTELMOTEL with her partner Corrine Bourget. Niki graduated in MA Fashion Footwear from London College of Fashion (LCF) and is now a joint principle designer with Bourget. With a commitment to preserving shoemaking knowledge, they handcraft unisex sneakers and accessories. Based in Montreal, they aim to make their work ethical and sustainable. Niki aims to slow down the fashion industry against the fast-paced model of producing endless collections each year.

"Being a business owner is a lot like a squiggly line" - Niki Jessup

She states that constant highs and lows have led her to take bold decisions. Going on to say that although having your own practice is satisfying, it can also come with financial insecurity, especially at first. She recommends finding a solid network and peer mentoring. This is one way the creative accelerator program has helped her. Through connecting with like-minded people across the globe she has shared her ethos with a wide audience. Niki says she now understands her brand better and what works well for them. All while sticking with her goal of disrupting the fashion industry, favouring slow fashion.

Samantha Newell agreed with Niki. Also favouring a conscious and sustainable brand that encourages people to slow down. An LCF graduate in Fashion Design Technology, she launched Yard + Parish with her cousin, Alesha Bailey. Yard + Parish is an online platform offering a curated shopping experience. Inspired by the modern 'Island' girl, they champion a natural, conscious and colourful lifestyle. The shop stocks independent Black-owned brands offering clean beauty, handmade jewellery, fashion accessories, homeware, and much more. Samantha's ethos is to 'bring back a simple life, redefine luxury, slow down and cooperate with nature, be in line with nature.' She states that two things helped her set up Yard + Parish :

  • being in a community of mentorship and incubation
  • being surrounded by people that can guide you.

When looking for funding they received two grants, one from Santander and the other from the Retail Trust. Samantha notes that featuring in publications has helped with their marketing. The Black British Business Awards 2021 have also nominated Samantha and Alesha in the Consumer and Luxury Rising Star Category. They state early recognition and actively seeking opportunities has helped the business grow.

Alexander Mitchell co-founded Bigger than Reality, a design and visualisation agency in Dublin. He graduated from CSM in MA Industrial and Product Design and started his company in 2020. He started out after gaining freelance clients and a network of small firms. The design studio produces imagery and renders for architectural and spatial purposes. They also offer interior design services for commercial, residential, retail and workplace strategies.

Alexander says the founders faced many dilemmas when setting up their practice. It was tough to leave their full-time jobs with a stable income. At first, they struggled to reach larger corporate clients, mostly working on smaller freelance projects. Of course, the pandemic did not make it easier. He mentioned that having a 'day job' was helpful when setting up their practice. It allowed him to focus on what exactly he wanted to do with the brand and what he wanted to achieve. He also said that having co-founders has been beneficial. It has helped with accountability, relieving stress, and encouragement. The other founders in the talk agreed.

The three founders related to each other throughout the talk. They found shared experiences with:

  • Financial constraints
  • Needing the support of family and friends
  • Persevering when the going gets tough
  • Remaining focused on the intention they started with.

The founders left us with an inspiring takeaway:
Trust your gut and take the plunge when you have the vision for something big. It's always a challenging start, but it does get easier.

How can UAL help me?

If you're a UAL student or graduate, our range of funding, mentoring and advice could help you get your business off the ground.

Find out about UAL's mentoring and graduate entrepreneur visa schemes as well as scholarships and business development programmes on the website, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with new opportunities.

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