Tell us a little bit about yourself…
Hum London is the hand-painted lampshade company my sister and I launched last summer. We came up with the idea during the first lockdown, while we were riding it out back at our Mum’s house.
Employee-wise, it's just the two of us.
How did your journey initially begin with Hum London?
I guess like most people during lockdown - we were looking for something to fill our time with. We exhausted all other paintable surfaces when we moved back to our Mum's in March - after painting her kitchen and dining room, got a bit bored halfway through a bathroom so moved onto soft furnishings instead!
Hermione had been looking for a while to buy some new lampshades for her flat, but was having no luck - which is why some plain old lampshades found themselves next on the painting hit list.
What was your initial idea for Hum London and what you wanted to offer? How has this evolved since then?
To be honest, we didn't have huge plans because we didn't know what sort of response it was going to have. It's definitely come a long way from where we started. One thing we wanted to do but haven’t achieved is to sell lamp bases along with the hand painted shades. Hoping we will have more luck and time to find a supplier in 2021!
So, you had the concept, what steps did you take to turn it into a viable business? Did you have a mentor, use a business plan etc?
Hermione spoke to an interior designer for some advice, and her main tip was to allow the brand to grow organically and just see what happened when we launched, rather than making any concrete commitments before finding out if people actually like the products. This was a lot easier for us than other sellers, as each shade is painted to order so we could start out with minimal stock.
How was the process of making your first shades? Did you have a few prototypes, or did it work from the beginning?
Once I had painted my first pair of lampshades, I set about creating new designs - they took a long time to develop. My initial drawings were in watercolour, which wasn't suitable for lampshades - but I loved the effect it created when painted onto fabric. I went down a wormhole and eventually connected with a woman who had been painting lampshades for decades and kindly offered some great advice. The next challenge was finding the right colours and tone of paint. We wanted the lampshades to look amazing regardless of whether they were switched on or off, particularly for the depth of colour to still be strong when the lamp was on - this took a lot longer than anticipated but we wanted to get it right!
What were the hardest parts of setting up Hum London and what advice would you offer other entrepreneurs looking to start their own online store?
We found it really hard! We had no experience with anything like this before. Our advice would be - everyone probably finds it really tough and you just have to persevere. We found it helpful to set short-term achievable goals so there are still wins - even if they’re small!
Creating your own business can come with many challenges along the way. What have your greatest lessons been along the way?
(Hermione) The biggest lesson I have found is to have more confidence in what I’m doing.
We learnt that it's really worth taking time to allow the company to develop, and not to just do things just for the sake of doing them. Take a second and ask yourself how it's helping you get closer to achieving your goal.
There is so much that goes into running an E-com. From buying, to storing, to sorting out figures, to keeping customers happy – what does your day in life look like?
- Weekends are spent trying to do lots of brainstorming and planning - more bigger picture stuff.
- During the week Ellie works full time for a sustainable fashion platform, so our days look very different!
- (Hermione) I’m in charge of painting the lampshades. I’ve recently started a new routine where I try and get a couple of hours in my studio before breakfast. This is mostly because I am very productive in the mornings, but also because I have a stomach problem which means I’m in increasing pain throughout the day - so often afternoons are a write-off.
What inspires you in your beautiful designs?
Before launching the brand we collated a lot of images of people’s work that we thought were inspiring - ranging from colourful architecture to vintage couture. We both come from fashion / textiles backgrounds (Ellie works for a fashion tech company and Hermione has a foundation degree in Fashion Design) so we both draw inspiration from there, with lots of our colour combinations coming from garments.
Tell us how it works (if I were a customer interested in shopping with you)
The best way to choose a lampshade is to head to our website - www.humlondon.com. Here you'll find 9 different designs, in multiple colour-ways After you’ve chosen your favourite design, pick the style and size of your lampshade from our 7 options, and I will then paint it up for you!
Do you offer bespoke services?
We often have customers asking us if we can slightly alter one of the designs to work with their scheme in a particular room or to suit the lamp they have. Being able to create custom colourways is a really fun part of the experience and sometimes we love them so much that they’re added to our permanent collection!
Now more than ever, there’s a focus on making our homes happy places. We are investing in their appearances for our own comfort and, with a focus on supporting small businesses, I’m interested in learning just how the pandemic has affected your company?
The silver lining of this crazy last year was spending the first lockdown at our Mum’s house. Hum London definitely wouldn’t have otherwise come to fruition. The majority of the first lockdown was spent trying to figure out if it could be a business rather than a lockdown project - we spent months and months trying to find the right lampshade supplier. This bit was really difficult and we nearly gave up - there were so many delays due to covid and not being able to visit the makers caused so many issues!
Trust is an integral part of any business. What is your best advice to gain this with your customers and community?
We love having a dialogue with our customers and this is possible because we don’t have a conventional online shop - all of our products are on our website but orders themselves are taken over email/dm. It allows us to build up a relationship with the customers - often resulting in wonderful exchanges. It means the world to us when a client sends us pictures of our shades in their homes - often with such kind words. Instagram is such an incredible tool for this too.
In a sentence, what’s the best piece of advice you could give to another who needs some encouragement on pursuing their dreams, whether it be a business, a life change or forming a new company?
Think about what you want to do, not what others want you to do. Of course it’s so helpful to ask people for advice and we definitely have done it along the way but sometimes it is helpful to work through the process alone. Asking lots of people for some piece advice can sometimes lead to more confusion!