We Took THE PLUNGE

IN RECOG­NI­TION OF GLOBAL EN­TREPRENEUR­SHIP WEEK IN NO­VEM­BER, WE CEL­E­BRATE SOUTH AFRICAN WOMEN WHO HAVE CRE­ATED AN IN­COME THROUGH THEIR OWN CLEVER START-UPS

Your Family - - Create A Second Income - Lovemilo.com

‘At the time of quit­ting my 9-5 in 2010, I’d just found out I was preg­nant with my son Milo, the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the com­pany. I knew I was tak­ing a big risk be­cause I didn’t have a plan for what would come next, but I knew I was tired of cre­at­ing for oth­ers. I wanted to play by my own rules and do some­thing in­spi­ra­tional for my kids,’ says the mother of three. With no idea of what she would cre­ate, Nicki started us­ing her de­sign and pho­tog­ra­phy skills to make na­ture-in­spired, hand­crafted and eco-con­scious ce­ramic, wooden, glass, and tex­tile home­ware.

‘I be­lieve beau­ti­ful art in­spires ev­ery­one, so in­stead of putting these pieces on walls to only ad­mire from a dis­tance, I thought why not make it a part of ev­ery­thing we do? When we drink our cof­fee in the morn­ing, why not in­cor­po­rate beauty into it?’

This cu­rios­ity, plus a fas­ci­na­tion with the im­per­fec­tion of na­ture, pushed Nicki to cre­ate ce­ram­ics such as milk jugs and ta­pas sets, home fab­rics that in­clude cush­ions and pic­nic blan­kets, metal and brass prod­ucts, and leather bags. Fast-for­ward a few years and Love Milo has be­come a fruit­ful e-com­merce busi­ness, sup­ply­ing lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional whole­sale and re­tail stores.

Nicki’s ex­pe­ri­ence in ad­ver­tis­ing and cin­e­matog­ra­phy as a colour cor­rec­tor came in handy: through her work with im­ages, and a good un­der­stand­ing of colour, con­trast and edit­ing, she was able to cut down on costs that would have gone into hir­ing pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers and stylists for the Love Milo brand. ‘I did this all by my­self and saved a lot of money in the process. Given the qual­ity of the im­ages we use for our mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als, we’ve had great in­ter­est from pop­u­lar me­dia pub­li­ca­tions to fea­ture our prod­ucts, which has helped to cre­ate fur­ther ex­po­sure and aware­ness of our brand.’

Within a few years, Love Milo grew from a startup to sup­ply­ing decor items to whole­salers glob­ally, work­ing with re­tail­ers on cus­tom de­signs, and run­ning an on­line store. ‘I started by sell­ing at a few mar­kets like Kamers/mak­ers and De­sign Ind­aba, where my range caught the at­ten­tion of re­tail­ers. My first big or­der was with Po­etry for my mes­sage mugs. It was an ex­cit­ing sale, but I ended up tak­ing a mas­sive loss in profit. This taught me so much about how busi­ness works, specif­i­cally in terms of get­ting my mar­gins down and avoid­ing losses by not un­der-pric­ing my prod­ucts. This process also taught me a lot about pro­duc­ing and manag­ing large quan­tity or­ders.’

In 2013 and 2014 Love Milo was in­vited to ex­hibit in New York, Paris, and Tokyo, which was a sub­stan­tial boost for Nicki’s work. ‘Our prod­ucts re­ceived huge in­ter­est in Paris and we ended up do­ing the show there three times. The French re­ally seem to res­onate with our de­signs and we’ve ac­quired many Euro­pean cus­tomers through this.’ As a re­sult of the ex­po­sure, Love Milo now sup­plies Nicki’s or­na­ments to in­ter­na­tional stores such as SARZA in New York, La­trette in Paris, Eco­home Store in Cyprus, Loft in Switzer­land, Buk & Nola in Canada, and Joba in Dubai. Lo­cally, the brand dis­trib­utes prod­ucts to Po­etry, Su­per­bal­ist, Yup­piechef, Faith­ful to Na­ture, Present Space, and a range of in­de­pen­dent stores.

‘Our lo­cal client base has only re­ally been built up in the last few years. We re­alised most of our work was be­ing ex­ported, and wanted to spend more time fo­cus­ing on sup­ply­ing lo­cally.’

Love Milo tries to keep the man­u­fac­tur­ing of prod­ucts in-stu­dio, with the help of two in­house seam­stresses and two ce­ram­i­cists. Where they can’t, prod­ucts are out­sourced to lo­cal busi­nesses. ‘This way we con­trib­ute to the growth of the coun­try’s econ­omy and up­lift our lo­cal com­mu­nity at the same time.’

How­ever, mar­ket­ing her prod­ucts to whole­salers hasn’t been an easy ride, cut­ting deep into prof­its, and Nicki has learned many lessons since her first or­der. ‘Mar­ket­ing my prod­ucts to re­tail­ers was very costly at first. In try­ing to mark the prod­uct at a price re­tail­ers could sell for, I sac­ri­ficed profit for recog­ni­tion. In hind­sight, it was prob­a­bly an ex­tremely risky move, but it helped spread the Love Milo name across the globe, and ev­ery­thing worked out in the end. Although I’ve reached a global au­di­ence, my big­gest achieve­ment is def­i­nitely sup­ply­ing the restau­rant at the Zeitz MOCAA mu­seum in Cape Town, sim­ply be­cause it’s such a beau­ti­ful mu­seum and it was such a priv­i­lege to have been ap­proached.’

As na­ture lovers, Nicki and her part­ner Matt, who hopped on board as the com­pany’s busi­ness and op­er­a­tions man­ager in 2015, spend a lot of time out­doors with their chil­dren, where Nicki draws in­spi­ra­tion for her de­signs. ‘Milo is al­ways bring­ing me in­ter­est­ing crea­tures he’s found in our back­yard, like drag­on­flies and but­ter­flies. I fo­cus on the small­est de­tails, like the wings of the dragon­fly or the pat­tern of a branch, pho­to­graph them and in­cor­po­rate them into my de­signs.’

The French re­ally seem to res­onate with our de­signs and we`ve ac­quired many Euro­pean cus­tomers through this

Love Milo, a bou­tique home­ware and decor stu­dio, has en­joyed lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional whole­sale and re­tail suc­cess. Cre­ator of the brand, NICKI EL­LIS, chats to us about how she built it up from scratch.

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