Thursday, 27 October 2022
With her hallmark bold use of colour, screen printer and co-founder of design agency Bryson Loxley, Gail Bryson has brightened up everything from soft furnishings and packaging to brand identities for names including Space NK, Jamie Oliver and John Lewis, as well as creating products for her own personal design business. We talk to her about the value of creativity and the power of starting a business as a way of putting your vision out into the world.
What in your routine is essential for success?
Making sure that I do exercise every day because it destresses me and helps me to focus and sleep better. I do a lot of exercise with my dog Olive and I also row at a rowing club, so I have a training plan that includes weight training, which I do three times a week in the mornings. In terms of my productivity, it’s vital I have that time to think before I start working; that pause between sleep and work to go through what I've got on that day, organise myself and process things. If you don't put that into your routine I think it’s quite easy almost to tumble through the days and not really take stock. Feeling strong and healthy helps me tackle the hurdles of working for myself.
Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit from?
My family are all medics or teachers, so I think I probably got most of my entrepreneurial inspiration at least from the creative people that I met when I moved to London. I graduated from art college in Edinburgh and was exhibiting my final show in London at the Business Design Centre when the Conran Shop offered me a work placement — I didn’t plan to move to London, it just kind of ‘happened’ and I worked there for three years, and then for five years at an agency my boss then set up before setting up on my own. My partner Tamsin and I founded Bryson Loxley a few years after that, then eight years ago I decided to start doing my own print and textile designs alongside and Gail Bryson designs was born. I don't really think of myself as an entrepreneur — rather ‘someone who works for themselves’. My goal was just to create the kind life that I wanted. After working hard at design agencies on other people’s brands I wanted to do the same for myself — and to create a vision that was mine.
What sacrifices have you had to make to become a successful entrepreneur?
Security — because running your own business never feels very secure. You can have good months and bad months, and even good years and bad years and you have to be prepared for that. You also have to be prepared for unexpected hurdles such as COVID — expect the unexpected, which keeps you constantly alert. I’d say the biggest sacrifices though are the work ‘perks’, such as holidays, because work and life are quite indivisible when you run your own business. I seem to go on a lot of ‘working holidays’, where I run workshops in beautiful places. And are you ever really on holiday if you have to take your laptop with you to check emails? I guess that's a sacrifice as well — that sense of being able to disconnect. You’re always ‘on’ when you work for yourself because everything stops with you.
What changes have you made in response to the pandemic?
My working day didn't change hugely because I'm used to working at home or on my own in the studio. The main thing was I had more time to print, and I found it quite a creative time — I didn’t have a manic sense of ‘I've got to make some money or boost my sales’, it was more that I just needed to do something that would take my mind off what was going on around me. Most of our big corporate clients put a break on things, but work was still coming in from small independent businesses. And I found consumers too had a renewed focus on small local businesses which was heartening. My Gail Bryson website sales were good; lots of people bought things because they would pass my shop window on their daily walks and I actually hand-delivered all my orders in the first lockdown in London mainly because I wanted to connect with people. I also printed a rainbow to put in my studio window and put a photograph on Instagram which led to loads of orders and donated a percentage of the sales to the NHS Together charity. The other big addition to my product range was a range of mini prints and rainbow tea towels which people bought for friends and family to say, ‘hello we're thinking of you’.
How do you stay focused?
Focus is not one of my strengths — I have to work at it. I find more natural focus in the morning, so I have to plan my energy and time wisely if I need to do something difficult or really concentrate. I try to turn my phone and emails off, put on some music and just get going with a strong coffee. It’s better when there's no one in the studio as well because I get distracted by chatting. And if I need to do some writing or thinking, then getting out of the studio and sitting in a cafe is good, rather than sitting at my desk thinking, ‘oh I need to tidy the sample drawer or empty the bins’. Admin and printing require different types of focus. Weirdly, I sometimes find the admin easier to do because you have to just switch your brain off and do it. I have to be in the right creative mood to print as it can sometimes be a frustrating process for me if I’m not.
What's your top tip for staying on top of finances practically emotionally or strategically?
Stay calm. Every good decision comes from a place of calm. And make sure you save some money every time an invoice gets paid. I pay myself a set amount each month out of my business, and any extra stays in the bank. A lot of the work that I do for my own designs requires upfront costs and if I can't buy the materials then I can't actually do the work, so I have to know I can cover that. My other tip is to remember a lot of things are out of your control — such as when people are going to pay an invoice for example. You need to anticipate these things and build in a buffer so that you don’t feel that you are at the mercy of other people’s decisions and cut out any potential knock-on effects.
What makes you feel out of your comfort zone and how do you handle that?
Even after 15 years I still find talking about money uncomfortable, especially if the person I am talking to doesn’t agree with what I’m saying. Working in a creative industry, I sometimes find that clients don't understand the value of what you do, or what you bring to the table. Also, a lot of start-up businesses don't have a big budget or really realise that the design of their business is such a huge part of their brand. A business needs products, but you also need to be able to make the proposition attractive for people to want to buy them. I try to put money conversations in an email at first, which makes it easier as well as creating a paper trail, and always follow up. Making that rule to follow up, regardless, gets rid of all the mental deliberation of ‘should I chase them?’ and ‘how long should I leave it?’