Interview with Sarah Skilton, founder of Adventure Accessories

In 2018 Sarah Skilton founded Adventure Accessories, a successful creative handmade business based in Carmarthenshire, South Wales. Combining a passion for adventure with a love of crafts, Adventure Accessories creates unique handcrafted, fun and functional, gifts for outdoor enthusiasts.

What’s your career background?

I left school at 17 with a handful of GCSEs I did the first two terms of my A level studies and decided that path was not for me and entered the world of work.

I have had a varied career as a customs officer, a tyre sales operator, a project control officer, a specialist teaching assistant, a carer and a business owner. 

How did your career change after having children?

Soon after my second son, Ryan, was born I knew something wasn’t quite right, but it took almost eight years to discover he is in fact autistic. After the birth of my first son I finished maternity leave, returned to work and placed Owen in a private day-care in which he thrived.  

I therefore had plans to do the same after Ryan was born but they struggled to cope with him and I was increasingly stressed about working, leaving the boys for long hours and with Ryan having so many difficulties, my husband and I made the decision for me to give up paid employment to look after the Ryan full-time as Owen was now in Nursery school.

Eventually I retrained and completed my degree in inclusive education as a result of Ryan’s diagnosis, and home schooling him for two years when he was expelled from primary school before his autism diagnosis. 

Where did the idea for Adventure Accessories come from?

Fast forward many years and after enjoying 10 years as a specialist speech therapy teaching assistant; Ryan received the devastating diagnosis of a very rare and aggressive lymphoma when he was just 14 years old.

I gave up my career once again to support him through his intensive cancer treatment. My mental health crashed, and I had a breakdown. As part of my therapy I was encouraged to take up my craft making that I have done all my life as a hobby.

My pile of handmade items started to build rapidly as I rediscovered my love for craft making and I could only give so many away as gifts to family and friends. Several people suggested to me I should try selling at some craft markets and the advice was well timed in the run up to Christmas, so I ventured into booking some festive craft fairs.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

The four Christmas craft fairs that I attended were unbelievably successful and I actually had enough orders to see me through until March of the following year.

It was then my husband and I made the decision to perhaps give my handmade business a go full-time. I registered as self-employed and created Adventure Accessories.

I had taken voluntary redundancy from work when Ryan’s was diagnosed with cancer and used my small payout to create my website, pay for a year’s hosting and buy more materials for my products.

I also set up social media accounts and started to build an audience, community and customer base following.

What’s your USP?

The main craft and product that I like to make are handmade notebook journals and when I taught myself to crochet, I started making fingerless gloves and mitts as I suffer from arthritis.

My  husband and I are keen outdoor adventurers and I could not find any gloves that I liked that I could wear but still have my hands free to hold my walking poles, the dog lead, camera or get things out my backpack, so I set about making my own crochet hiking mitts.

It is from this that I had the idea to tailor my products for the outdoors, as reconnecting with nature through hiking is my second love and vital help for my mental health.  

I therefore set about expanding my product range to include ear warmer headbands beanie hats lap blankets. I also make paracord products as my husband still likes to wear paracord bracelets from his army days.

I grew up in scouting as my father was a scout leader and is still involved in his 70s. My husband is ex Territorial Army and our passion for adventure and my creativity brings a unique selling point of handmade gifts for outdoors. 

Who’s your target audience?

My target audience is men and women aged 25 to 55 (but all ages considered and catered for). They work generally in 9-5 office-based jobs and enjoy escaping the rat race to adventure in their spare time.

Adventures can be anything from a local walk or watching your children play sports at the weekend to climbing Ben Nevis, Snowdon, Pen y Fan and everything in between. They appreciate well made, well thought out, products that not only look good but are practical too. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

I am active on social media. I love to engage with other small business owners and my customer base. I featured in my local newspaper on how I turned my hobby into a business.

I have flyers printed that I send out with my orders and are also available in local cafes and other shops. I also always have business cards that I carry with me to hand out whenever I talk to anybody and mention my business.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Taking part in Twitter chats has been my most successful marketing strategy. My website traffic has grown from 12% to 48% and I have seen several orders as a result of sharing in chat hours.

I take part in at least one chat out each day and was invited to co-host the #UKGiftHour and #UKGiftAM chats each Saturday and Sunday mornings. Not only have they boosted my business, but they have helped me to gain confidence, overcome some of my imposter syndrome and I have networked with such a supportive creative community.

I have an amazing group of online friends that are all small business owners. We support, share and celebrate each other. Through this group, I have also been invited to collaborate in several opportunities that I am working on now. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Imposter syndrome has been an obstacle to me, in both my making and my outdoor activities. I always enjoyed craft making and giving the things I make away as gifts, but I never dreamed that they would be good enough to sell.

When I first started selling, I was always nervous about the feedback I get for the products. I worried were they good enough, but I’ve been selling now for 18 months and the wonderful feedback I have received has really helped improve my confidence.

I also blog about outdoors adventure to encourage others to reconnect with nature. Again, I was wary at first as I am not an expert or qualified mountain leader, but as I have grown and developed as a blogger and small businesses owner my bouts of imposter syndrome have lessened 

And your proudest moment so far?

My proudest moment so far has been winning my ‘Queen Of’ award. The Royal Connection competition is run by Aqua Design Group and is a fun way to celebrate women in business with the #QueenOf day competition and #KingOf men in business awards. It is run every week and I was crowned Queen of Gifts for Outdoors in September 2018. 

Why is work so important to you?

Being a mother is my calling and is the role that gives me the most satisfaction and pride. Working though is also important to me for my own mental health and wellbeing.

Working gives me another sense of purpose and is something I can build, develop and enjoy long after my boys have grown, left home and started families of their own. 

Who inspires you?

My son Ryan. He has had such a difficult time in his short life, yet his resilience and sense of humour inspires me every day.

He struggled immensely before his diagnosis of Autism aged eight. It took years of support and therapy to get him to a point he had settled in school as was catching up with his peers in terms of academic performance, for that to be cruelly taken from him when we were given the devastating cancer diagnosis when he was aged just 14 years old.

This resulted in him missing the most important GCSE years at school as he faced seven operations, radiotherapy and chemotherapy in the first year and then faced a relapse and immunotherapy in the second and currently third years of treatment. Yet he gets up and fights every day. If he can, so can I.

How do you balance your work with your family?

I sell online so I can run my website and social media from my laptop with is totally mobile and I can often be found working on the hospital ward while Ryan has treatment.

Many of my products are crochet, which is also a mobile craft and I always carry an ‘one the go’ project bag with me too.

My husband has been supportive of my business venture and has converted our conservatory into my craft room and office. It is a wonderful bright, light workspace that I love to spend time in during the day and then in the evenings can close the door and focus on family time. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

1) Start small

Create yourself social media accounts. You do not need to be on every single platform, just start with one or two. Facebook is the biggest social media platform and you can create business page.

I would always recommend having your own website, but they can be expensive to set up and maintain so you can keep costs down by selling on marketplace platform such as Etsy or MyCrafty to begin. They still have associated fees so do your research and decide which is best for you. 

2) Join Facebook groups

Join Facebook groupsin your niche to get help, advice and support as you set yourself up. Twitter chats are a great way to contact with likeminded small business owners and potential customers.

3) Engage with your followers

Respond to comments, share interesting articles and information in your niche that isn’t all your own content. Share others, ask questions and be authentic.

If you have a website start building an email list of subscribers and send out newsletters and offers to keep followers engaged and interested in your business.  

Sarah Skilton is the owner of Adventure Accessories, created in 2018, a successful creative handmade business based in Carmarthenshire, South Wales.

Combining a passion for adventure with a love of crafts, Adventure Accessories creates unique handcrafted, fun and functional, gifts for outdoor enthusiasts. You can follow Sarah on Facebook, Twitter,InstagramandPinterest.