You know how sometimes you want to express yourself, but you can’t find the words? It’s your special friend’s birthday but you can’t find the right card to let her know how you feel. This was exactly where Georgina Fihosy was… before she decided to do something about it. British born Nigerian Georgina is the clinical pharmacist behind the brand Special Touch Designs.
Making personalised, hand crafted cards with an African touch is the way Georgina decided to fill a gap she noticed. In a chat with BellaNaija, she told us why she got on this path and the profitability of card making (in an era that has gone largely digitalised) We asked her about her career path – from pharmacy to card making.
We hope you find her story as interesting and as inspiring as we did. You can do anything you want to… just like Georgina!
Please tell us a little about yourself
I have always loved science and art; however when it came to choosing my career path, I decided to take the sensible vocational route and become a clinical pharmacist.
I love being a pharmacist and the difference I can make to patients. It can be quite a rewarding role; but the other part of me always wanted to explore and develop my creative side. I was in my element during my wedding preparations and made all of my wedding stationary, from the invitations to the place names, from that moment I knew that I wanted to start a business that enabled me to express my creativity.
How did you transition into card making…from pharmacy?
It was whilst on maternity leave with my second child that the business idea came to me. I remember trying to find a card for a Nigerian friend who had just had a baby. Cards are so personal, so I wanted to give her a unique card that upon opening she could really identify with. I searched for cards that had images of black families or a new born black baby on the front, but could not find anything in the major mainstream card retailers in the UK. I was so disappointed that I decided to make the card myself and that was basically how the business began. I run the business alongside my full time job.
That’s interesting. Always good to have a bird in hand. Please tell us about the seed funding required to go into the card design business?
I don’t have any previous business background so I’ve had to learn as I go along. The business didn’t need a large amount of initial investment to get started. I used a small amount of savings to start and utilised a lot of free
resources. I joined a lot of greeting card related social media groups, which offered support and advice to people entering the industry. I also joined the UK Greeting Card Association, which is a fantastic resource for new publishers.
The world has largely gone digital and greeting cards might be seen as some as vestiges of a time past. How do you keep the business afloat in light of these circumstances?
Even in the fast moving technological and social media age, nothing truly expresses personal sentiment like greeting cards. I don’t think the giving of greeting cards will ever dwindle. Latest reports estimated that the UK greeting
card market is valued at £1.6 billion at retail.
In 2014, 878.8 million single cards were sold with a total value of £1.39 billion. The UK continues to have a strong tradition for sending cards. In order to keep the business afloat I always make sure that I am well prepared for the main card giving seasons: Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. I’ve found that once people find a card style they like, they tend to stick to it across all occasions.
What is the unique selling point that you have above other card makers?
Special Touch Design cards are a true celebration of cultural beauty and ethnic diversity. I personally design and hand finished each card in my home studio. My cards incorporate wax print fabric on to silhouetted art designs. Each fabric has been carefully selected on the basis of its unique pattern and vibrant colour. The cards are fresh, afrocentric and have a distinct urban edge. I ensure that all materials are responsibly sourced from sustained and managed forests by FSC accredited suppliers. You won’t find cards like these anywhere.
Wow! We love the concept. Okay, so in all of this, I’m guessing you have a very busy day on the average. Tell us about how your day is structured.
I wake up at 5am everyday, I have two children less than four years so everything has to be carried out like a military operation. I currently run the business along side my full time job; so, before I set off for work, I start by checking my emails for orders and queries that have come through.
I get all the orders packaged and set off for work. I usually post them during my lunch break. Most of the design aspect of the business is carried out after I have put the children to bed. They are earlier risers, so they’re typically are in bed by 6.30pm. This means I can spend the evenings working on the cards and doing all the business administration.
People always ask me how I do it, and my response is always the same. My mother was a single parent with five children. She worked full time, made sure the house was tidy, that we were fed and watered and ensured that we were never in want of anything. I have no excuses.
Super Moms rock! So far, what’s the high point of running your own business?
Making the move from being a retailer to a trade supplier was a real highlight for me. I knew that I had tapped into an amazing market, but getting my cards into an independent retail store and then hearing that they had sold out within the first few weeks definitely confirmed that I had a unique product that could sell.
I’m also always humbled when I receive feedback from customers saying how well the cards have been received, people really seem to appreciate the time and effort that goes into putting a hand-finished card together.
What’s the coverage area of your business? Do you have any supply streams
outside of the UK?
My customers are mainly UK-based but I ship internationally and have America, Canadian and Australian customers. I would eventually like to have international distributors and that’s a future venture for the business.
That’s quite impressive for a new company. We can’t wait for you to get into the Nigerian space. Tell us, what’s the most difficult part of running Special Touch Designs since you started?
Managing the business alongside a full time career and motherhood is a great challenge. My days are extremely long and involve lots of early mornings and late nights, but I truly enjoy what I do and it really never feels like work.
Where do you see yourself and the business in the next 5 years?
I would like to eventually run Special Touch Designs full-time and expand the trade side of the business. I’d really like the cards to be available from major cards retailers across the globe. My cards add something different to the market and really promote culture and diversity.
How do you balance work and family life?
I try and make sure that I manage my time efficiently and so prioritising workload is key. When you first start out, you can be so overwhelmed with excitement that you may begin to neglect the other important aspects of your life so It’s important to try and find the right balance. My favourite part of the day is the drive home from picking my children from nursery. I love to hear my daughter explain the day in the life of a three year old, whilst my one year old son laughs at the sound of her voice.
As an entrepreneur, what keeps you going?
I want to be a role model for my daughter and show her that she can do and be anything that she sets her mind to. It is that notion that keeps me going. My business is an extension of my personality, and an expression of my creativity. It is one of the marks I hope to leave in this world as the part I played in the promotion of ethnic diversity here in the UK.
It’s always good to have something that helps keep the wheels in motion. Do you have a career role model? What about that person inspires you?
I’d have to say Michelle Obama is a great role model. I love the way she empowers woman, especially young women and although she is the First Lady, she remains real and relatable. However, I have to say that everyday women who strive to live their dreams, whilst building careers, running homes and raising families inspire me greatly.
If you had a super power, what would it be?
I’d love to have the power to shape shift in to another person, just see how the other half lives for a day.
What’s the last book you read?
Creating a successful business from scratch Naturally by Miko branch with Titi Branch – founders of Miss Jessie’s Hair Care Products.
What’s the most exotic place you’ve ever been?
I went to Mauritius for my honeymoon; it was such a beautiful place.
Shoes or bags?
Tough choice, but it has to be shoes.
Which African fashion icon would you raid her wardrobe?
I’d have to say Shingai Shoniwa, her style is so quirky and afrocentric.
Three things you can’t absolutely go anywhere without?
• My brow kit – I was not blessed with thick Beyonce brows
• My mobile phone – It’s my lifeline
• A packet of baby wipes – They are just so versatile.
Thanks so much for this interview Georgina. We can’t wait to see how far Special Touch designs will go. Keep up the good work.