Why i’ d like my de­signs to ri­val ca th kids ton

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY LISA SMYTH

A FOR­MER mar­ket­ing boss who left her job to be­come an artist has said she dreams of her home­ware de­signs help­ing her be­come the new Cath Kid­ston.

Kathryn Cal­laghan, who lives in Co Down, said she would love to build a home­wares brand to ri­val the suc­cess of the UK en­tre­pre­neur.

Kid­ston’s pat­terns, many with a flo­ral or spot­ted mo­tif, have be­come a well-loved de­sign fea­ture around the world, grac­ing ev­ery­thing from suit­cases to nap­kins and mugs. The busi­ness she founded now has an­nual sales of up to £200m.

In to­day’s Small Busi­ness Can, featuring two busi­ness­peo­ple who took part in Global En­trepreneur­ship Week, Kathryn de­scribes work­ing from a con­verted cow- shed near her home in Lis­bane.

And while start­ing out as a painter, she has launched a home­ware range with images cre­ated es­pe­cially for the pieces, which range from cush­ions to coast­ers.

“I am try­ing to make the busi­ness more sus­tain­able so that it doesn’t de­pend en­tirely on me paint­ing be­cause there are only so many hours in the day,” she says.

Artist Kathryn Cal­laghan is in the en­vi­able po­si­tion of mak­ing a liv­ing from her passion. Kathryn Cal­laghan Fine Art started out in the spare room of her house but the mother-of-two now works in a stu­dio in Lis­bane, Co Down, and her paint­ings are dis­played and sold in gal­leries as far afield as Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio.

It is an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment given the fact that she only re­turned to paint­ing five years ago when her sec­ond child was three.

“As a child grow­ing up I was very into art and I did it up to A-lev­els, but it was at that stage that I de­cided ‘no more’,” said Kathryn (40).

“I think I had done too much of it to be hon­est and I ac­tu­ally went on to study com­mu­ni­ca­tions, ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing at Ul­ster Univer­sity and I went on to work in mar­ket­ing and then prod­uct de­vel­op­ment.

“I re­ally en­joyed my de­gree, I spent my third year in Alaska and it was amaz­ing and then I came back and did my fi­nal year at home.

“I al­ways en­joyed my job, it was never about not en­joy­ing my job, but I’d al­ways wanted to start my own busi­ness.

“I was ac­tu­ally on ma­ter­nity leave in 2009 when I went back and started a Higher Na­tional Diploma (HND) in Fine Art at Belfast Metropoli­tan.

“At the same time I did a course in make-up artistry be­cause I thought if the paint­ing didn’t work out then I could maybe make a busi­ness out of do­ing make-up.”

Kathryn — mum to 11-year-old Matthew and El­iz­a­beth (9) — was able to jug­gle the de­mands of work, a young fam­ily and her stud­ies and af­ter com­plet­ing her HND, she took some time to de­velop her own unique style.

Draw­ing upon her time liv­ing in Alaska to the shores of Strang­ford Lough where she now lives, much of the in­spi­ra­tion of her work comes from the nat­u­ral world around her.

Each piece is cap­ti­vat­ing so it is lit­tle won­der that her first at­tempt to move into sell­ing her work was such a suc­cess.

“I spent a year ex­plor­ing my style and then I ap­proached a cou­ple of lo­cal gal­leries,” she ex­plains.

“I spoke to one gallery with two pieces and they orig­i­nally said they didn’t have room but when the gallery man­ager looked at them, she said they were nice.

“She said they would take one and put it some­where.

“I got a phone call half an hour later to say it had been sold and ask­ing if I would bring in an­other paint­ing.

“It was such an amaz­ing feel­ing, it felt so good.”

And Kathryn hasn’t looked back since. She typ­i­cally spends three to four days on a paint­ing and works on a com­bi­na­tion of per­sonal com­mis­sions and her own cre­ations.

Her work is also dis­played in numer­ous art gal­leries in North­ern Ire­land, Eng­land and the US, as well as ho­tels, Druids Glen Re­sort in Wick­low, and the Bush­mills Inn.

“I think I have been quite lucky be­cause in North­ern Ire­land it seems to be okay to walk in to a gallery off the street and they are will­ing to talk to you.”

At that point, she was still work­ing in mar­ket­ing as mar­ket­ing and prod­uct de­vel­op­ment man­ager at Out­door Recre­ation North­ern Ire­land. But the time had come to change course. She made the de­ci­sion to look for premises and found the per­fect stu­dio close to the fam­ily home.

“It’s an old cow shed and it’s beau­ti­ful and close to home which is very con­ve­nient,” she says.

But “it was a mas­sive de­ci­sion to leave my job and it took me a long time to make it be­cause you’re walk­ing away from the se­cu­rity and you won­der whether you’re be­ing a bit reck­less,” she says.

“Look­ing back I think I prob­a­bly took too long to make the de­ci­sion, but then I’m say­ing that with hind­sight.”

She orig­i­nally started out with the goal of sim­ply mak­ing a liv­ing from paint­ing, but she now wants to de­velop the brand. She has launched a home­ware range with images cre­ated es­pe­cially for the pieces, which range from cush­ions to coast­ers.

“I am try­ing to make the busi­ness more sus­tain­able so that it doesn’t de­pend en­tirely on me paint­ing be­cause there are only so many hours in the day,” she says.

This has brought with it a whole range of chal­lenges, from sourc­ing sup­pli­ers, pric­ing the items she is sell­ing and or­der­ing the cor­rect amount of stock, but Kathryn is ex­cited for what the fu­ture holds.

Over time, she plans to trans­form the busi­ness from Kathryn Cal­laghan Fine Art to Kathryn Cal­laghan, much like Cath Kid­ston and Laura Ash­ley, and she also wants to grow her on­line sales through her web­site.

Look­ing back, she has no re­grets. “I am re­ally grate­ful for the ca­reer I had be­fore be­cause I learnt so much but I’m not sorry that I left,” she says.

I am re­ally grate­ful for the ca­reer I had be­fore... but I’m not sorry that I left

Home­ware de­signer and artist Kathryn Cal­laghan from Lis­bane, Co Down

Kathryn Cal­laghan in her Lis­bane stu­dio with ex­am­ples of her art and (below left) at work

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