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Start with your ABC's...

Please tell us a bit about the nature of your business...

Alphabet Bags is an accessories/clothing brand established in 2008 by husband and wife team Hayley and Lucas Lepola. We design and create fun items with an emphasis on the simple, bold and cheerful.

What inspired you to start your business?

Lucas and I met while we were at university and started our first brand, the online gallery The Calm Gallery, whilst studying in 2007. It was started as a hobby more than anything, we had no idea that we were starting on a path that we'd still be following today. We had been enjoying designing prints and running The Calm Gallery for just over a year when we decided to try our hand at designing tote bags. We had a shared love for typography and bold prints and felt there was a gap at that time for fun printed totes that were of a higher quality than what was generally available. We had the idea to design a collection of totes with large bold initials and Alphabet Bags was born!

What was the most challenging aspect of building your business in the beginning?

Getting people to visit a new site is always challenging, we were very lucky in that we had some great features in magazines when we started. We launched Alphabet Bags from our small two bed flat so space for stock was an issue back then. We had lots of ideas for Alphabet Bags, but knowing which would be the best to pursue and how to find the space for new items was a challenge. We ended up following our instincts, just making items that we would have enjoyed giving or receiving. In terms of space we gradually made changes to house more stock, moving to a rented house, then taking on a small storage unit, before finally committing to an office space.

If you were to launch your business again, would you do anything differently?

We wouldn't change much. We grew very slowly and organically and we really enjoyed adding new products and collections in our own time. We've always been a team of two or three and we like the family business atmosphere in the office. We do wish that we were naturally drawn to adding some content to the site, it would have been great to run a blog alongside the shop. It's something we've often felt we let slip, in a perfect scenario we would have kept on top of this!

What keeps you motivated?

The motivation isn't always there and increasingly when things are busy with family, or other more boring aspects of running a business, you do have to kick yourself into gear. Wanting to realise the ideas that we have is a big motivation. To get from an initial idea, to a sketch, a sample, a finished product and then see someone using and enjoying that thing is an amazing feeling and the best motivator (even if the customer is one of our own kids)!

How do you balance work and family life?

It's always tricky when you run your own business to get the right balance but I am very lucky to have my husband Lucas and sister Amy working with me which gives me flexibility and a lot of help. My youngest is only 10 months so most of my time is spent with him but I'm able to squeeze a lot of my work into his nap times. Lucas doesn't tend to work regular hours, most days are based around the kid's schedules, so inevitably we'll catch up in the evenings or at weekends. Running your own business you'll always feel as if you're running behind on projects or where you want to be, but you get used to that and we really try to keep in mind what is important. We just feel very lucky to be in the position we are, where we can do something we enjoy and spend plenty of time together as a family, I hope we can continue this way!

What’s your proudest business moment?

Being asked to design a UT t-shirt collection for Japanese brand Uniqlo was an amazing moment. We have always been fans and customers of theirs. They were such a joy to work with and collaborating with them was a huge deal for our little brand.

What’s been your most successful form of marketing and/ or brand awareness?

Getting press coverage, either by our own efforts or as a result of working with a PR company, has been really valuable to us. Other than this I would say that word of mouth can be just as important. If you're doing something unique and are giving customers an experience that they would want to recommend, that's the best marketing tool.

Do you have any positive habits or routines that you feel have attributed to your success?

Sometimes when working on new collections you can get a little apprehensive as to whether what you're making is going to be well received. You can often find yourself second guessing your decisions and that can really slow you down. Over the years we've tried to get into the habit of sticking to just making things that we would enjoy giving, receiving and using ourselves. Trusting your instincts is a good habit to get into.

What's your favourite business app/ tool/ book/ podcast etc?

The A Colour Story app is great for making photos look pretty for Instagram etc. It's certainly not business related, but I love the Adam Buxton podcast, for easy listening while editing photos for hours on end.

What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs just starting out?

It's always so difficult to give advice, I think things are very different now compared to how it was for us to start Alphabet Bags 10 years ago. I would suggest looking around to see if your idea is unique. You don't want to be copying anything that's already done, and if you find that you're just doing something that many other brands are doing you might find it hard to succeed in a crowded marketplace. If your idea is unique you're likely to get exposure for your brand far more easily. Also, make sure that excellent customer service is your number one priority.

If you want to get in touch or see more of Steph's adventure, head over to her website or social media:

Instagram @alphabetbags

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