Name: Mhairi Allan.

Age: 31.

What is your business called?

Paper Houses Design.

Where is it based?

Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Products such as wall hangings, cushions, stationery, tote bags, silk scarves, lampshades. Services include online embroidery workshops.

To whom does it sell?

Our amazing community is mainly made up of women who love design and want to know more about the inspiration behind our designs, as well as the product-making process. I’ve had great discussions with customers about our shared love of Mid-Century Modern design and others about working with suppliers who are as committed to sustainability as we are.

What is its turnover?

Last year, thanks to being able to do exciting projects and still being able to launch our new collection, FORM, we hit over £10,000.

How many employees?

At the moment, it is just myself, but I work with great companies such as a batch manufacturer in Scotland to help make orders at particularly busy times.

When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

In what now feels like a previous life, I had created designs that were mainly sold to fast-fashion companies and realised that this wasn’t for me. I wanted to create products that are designed to last with a focus on sustainability and for each to have their own individual story. After I had my son in 2017 I knew I needed to go for it.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was teaching Art, Design and Textiles full-time at college level, as well as selling textile surface designs through licensing. I’ve always been more comfortable doing a few things rather than just one job, which is maybe why having my own business suits me.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I had put aside enough money from my savings to print some fabric to first get started. I then worked with Creative Scotland and Paved With Gold to do a kickstarter pre-order. The first production of my collection, called Signals, however, was ultimately funded by people who wanted to buy it. It was amazing to get that instant feedback for something I spent so long developing.

What was your biggest break?

I would say it was in Winter 2019. The Aberdeen Art Gallery reopened, and I was invited by HAAN Design Pop-Up to be one of the curated designers to show at their design market in the gallery. It was a beautifully interactive exhibition. Being able to talk to people about my work really opened up my business to local audiences, and the business grew through word of mouth from that moment. That year, I also showed at other great markets, including the V&A Dundee Design Market, and my products were being stocked in various independent shops. It really felt like my business was on a roll.

What was your worst moment?

Like many people, my worst moment came at the start of the pandemic and the first lockdown. All of the opportunities I had secured for 2020 - which I had been working towards since 2018 - were cancelled. I was particularly disappointed at missing out on showcasing my products at the Craft Scotland Summer Show, which is highly competitive to get into. At first, I thought it was game over, and the momentum that had built up the year before was likely to fizzle out. However, with my little family unit and a great support system in the creative industry surrounding me, I realised I was still in a good position to keep going. I could thrive.

I launched online workshops after getting advice from Business Gateway.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Creating new designs and sharing the development process with others. I love holding workshops to share these skills and seeing people fall in love with stitching or sharing a video of my making process and geeking out in conversations about the technical aspects of it.

What do you least enjoy?

The admin side of running a business, like many creatives, I’m sure! I’ve been working on it by making it a routine and seeing how important admin is for my business to keep moving forward.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To continue to grow sustainably and create a textiles hub in Aberdeenshire to skill-share and support other creatives. On the product side, I’m really enjoying considering how people will use our products and what they bring to their lives, their homes and their spaces.

I’m also really keen to keep working with amazing charities as my brand grows. In 2020, I worked with three other women creatives and over 50 makers and businesses to organise a raffle, which raised over £10,000 for Grampian Women’s Aid. From late 2020, I’ve been donating 15 per cent of workshop sales to The Make Bank, who are tackling creative poverty in schools through supporting students.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

To highlight the creative industries as a key growth industry for our economy - because it is - and to show it as a viable career path for the next generation.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

To trust in myself that I know what’s best for my business, but equally to ask for help when I need it.

How do you relax?

Wanders, music, cups of tea and pastries and of course stitching and sketching.