Interview with Vanessa Owen, founder of Rudi designs

Find out how Vanessa Owens established her business Rudi Designs via charity fairs and later Instagram.

What’s your career background?

When I left school I went straight to secretarial college because I didn’t know what to study at university and wanted to have independence as quickly as possible.

It was the right decision – I found myself getting work easily in London as a PA. I loved the flexibility – being able to do temp work or take up more permanent positions enabled me to fulfill my travel goals. I spent 18 months travelling around the world in the late 80s and seven months in South America in the late 90s.

As a board level PA, I loved the variety of working in exciting businesses and meeting very interesting people. Amongst others, I worked for one of the directors of British Satellite Broadcasting (from its inception and through its sale to Sky), a leading broker in the diamond industry and as PA to Tricia Guild of Designers Guild.

How did your career change after having children?

I stopped working when we had our first child. We moved out of London, two more children quickly followed and we took the decision that it wasn’t practical for me to return to the full time jobs I had been used to. Plus, and I think more importantly, we felt I should be a ‘mum’ at home when the children were little.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

There wasn’t a plan or a lightbulb moment. Being at home with the children I was always tinkering with making things and started by creating personalised greetings cards.

This evolved into accessories when I decided the bits and bobs I was using were so pretty they should be worn instead of being stuck on a card. I began with my rose hair clips years ago and they are still a best seller. 

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I started doing the rounds of charity fairs which was a good training ground. Initially, I felt shy about selling something I had made, but I found that I really enjoyed selling directly to people and getting positive feedback helped me gain confidence in my products.

I didn’t have a website at this stage but came to realise that I could either continue as I was or take my ‘hobby’ (as I saw it then) that bit further. So between all the rigours of family life I slowly built a website, got to grips with Instagram and then gradually stopped having to attend lots of fairs.

What’s your USP?

I design and hand make everything I sell. I use components of the highest quality and test everything for comfort and sturdiness so I can sell them with absolute confidence. 

Who’s your target audience?

Anyone who loves a unique fashion accessory! My range starts with hair clips and velvet alice bands suitable for little girls (and big ones depending on personal style) and goes up to glitzy party showstoppers for any age and lots in between.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Primarily through social media (Instagram) supported by word-of-mouth and I have also been exhibiting annually at The Spirit of Christmas Fair, London for the last five years.

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

Getting to grips with numbers by which I mean seeing the value in what I make versus costs and learning to curb my enthusiasm to hoard lovely components before I know whether they will work out and/or sell.

And your proudest moment so far?

I am always thrilled when I spot someone wearing something I’ve made; I have to resist the temptation to tap them on the shoulder and tell them.

Why is work so important to you?

It keeps me on my toes creatively which I really enjoy. The opportunity for ongoing expansion in whichever way you choose is very exhilarating. I am definitely no longer in ‘hobby’ status but I wouldn’t describe what I do as a full time business – yet!  

Perhaps ‘thriving cottage industry with potential’ would cover it. I mainly focus on the winter season and am already thinking ahead to 2020, adding to the existing range of chokers and shoe clips in response to popular demand. 

Who inspires you?

I am consistently inspired by classic designers who continue to re-invent and hold their status for example Chanel, Valentino….I could go on. More recently, designers who have come to the fore, like Emilia Wickstead and Roksanda, inspire me because I love their modern take on classic style. 

How do you balance your work with your family?

I am lucky enough to have an office at home plus all our children are now young adults and not around as much!

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

  1. Enjoy whatever you do wholeheartedly.
  2. Build the confidence to trust your instincts. 
  3. When you have a set back don’t dwell on it – learn, move on. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

You can find out more about Vanessa Owen on her website.