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Lessons from Running a Creative Small Business

During her work placement at Crafts Council, Young Craft Citizens member Atiya wanted to share the lessons she has learned from helping her aunt run her tote bag design business, and how this has shaped her aspirations for her own career:

Helping and watching my aunt’s business grow throughout the years has really inspired me to create my own brand. Not only was I taught business ethics but how to create something more out of the things I am good at.

BYKI Designs is a small-family run bespoke tote bag business, specialising in custom orders. Everything down to the designing, pressing of the bags, website design and management is down to one woman, the brand’s creator Alia Mabrouk. The business started up in 2014 and with help from family members took a fun road of trying new things to get where it is today.

However, BYKI designs was not my Aunt Alia’s first business venture. Before creating her very own brand, which she named BYKI Designs she had a side business selling belly dance wear. Travelling overseas, she would buy stock and sell them on her own website. It was not until a couple years after she decided to start her own brand with her own products. 

In her spare time, she was always making and trying new things, such as textiles and jewellery making. She attended textiles classes at our local community centre and even bought her own sewing machine. At first it was a hobby, making clothes and soft toys for family members, occasionally selling the jewellery she had made at school fairs. It was not until 2014 she decided that she wanted to turn her interests into something else. In 2014 she started up her own tote bag business. Being a close family and no stranger to her business ideas, we were pleased, having a business mind-set and a passion for making, we knew she would put nothing but one hundred percent into it.

At first, she created her own designs by hand and using digital software, which she printed on tote bags and tea towels. She tried to sell these at market stalls and shop spaces but the cost of pitches ended up costing more than she was making on the day. She decided to make her main focus selling online, and that was when she began picking up momentum. Coming from an IT background, she was able to create and manage her own websites and online shops. She used Etsy (and later Amazon) to sell her bags, which allowed more international sales to come through. 

My aunt invested in her own equipment buying a heat press and cutting printer, teaching herself how to use the equipment and software she needed as well as way to expand her brand. As someone from a younger generation, I was able to introduce her to social media such as Instagram, giving her tips on how to use hashtags and other marketing tools. It felt like the best way for me to help her and the business.My aunt would always be trying the next thing, sampling different sized bags and materials trying new design ideas. However, she taught me and would always keep in mind that keeping it simple is key. Not having too many options and sticking to a theme that is recognisable for customers is not only a smart plan but easier to manage. 

Later, she added a customization tool to her website, where customers can completely personalise bags or customize pre-existing designs. The customization aspect was a turning point as it allowed customers to make bulk orders for special occasions such as weddings and led to opportunities such as sponsoring TEDx Square Mile in which she made bags for their event in 2017. 

There will always be hiccups in life and this is no expectation to running a self-made businesses. There will always be stressful moments and slow periods, there could be a period of where there are no orders and then a flood of orders the next, however in the end you can be proud of something you have developed on your own. When you receive positive feedback for your hard work, it feels more rewarding than the paycheque you receive. BYKI designs has become a part of the family and a nice legacy to have whether or not my Aunt continues it in the distant future. It has not only inspired me creatively but also given me valuable life experiences to use in my professional career.