To continue our series of interviews with microbusiness owners, we talked to Polly Leonard, the founder of Selvedge, about her career and how it has evolved over time.
Tell me a little bit about your business.
Selvedge the brand is committed to promoting a cerebral and sensual addiction to cloth. We do this through a daily blog, weekly newsletter, bi-monthly magazine, biannual fairs, workshops and events as well as an online retail outlet and a brick-and-mortar store.
When did you go into business, and did you leave a traditional job to do so?
I was the head of an art department in a secondary school when I had my son. Initially, I returned to work but found juggling motherhood and a demanding job stressful. So when he was a year old I left my job and became freelance. I was writing and lecturing for a year or so before I launched Selvedge in 2004.
What were the driving forces behind your setting up Selvedge? How did you make it happen?
I have been passionate about textiles for as long as I can remember. I was a maker, teacher, and writer about textiles so the magazine seems a natural thing to do. I have always been enterprising. I had a handmade greetings card business when I was in my teens.
Selvedge is the result of crowdfunding before there was crowdfunding if you like. I was quite well known in the textile community so I put together an A4 document about the magazine I intended to make, inviting customers at a trade fair to apply for a free copy. I got three thousand names and from that first issue which I distributed for free, I got enough subscription to print the second issue, and so on. We now have an online shop, brick-and-mortar store, do biannual fairs, workshops etc...
What has been your biggest obstacle?
I made a conscious decision not to borrow money to launch or grow my business - I don't want to be beholden to anyone especially editorially. This has meant things have grown very slowly which I find frustrating. But maybe that extra time has allowed me to gain experience as the business has grown.
What has been your greatest achievement?
Perseverance! Selvedge has just published its 72nd issue in an overcrowded market where over 800 magazines are launched each year – 90% don't get past their third issue. So I guess our very existence is out greatest achievement.
Where did you find the most support – financial, mental, in business?
Our customers have supported the magazine since its launch many now have been subscribers for over a decade. Their loyalty and dedication have helped promote the magazine through word of mouth. I am eternally grateful to them and to my talented team who go far beyond the call of duty of each and every issue.
What does being 'small' mean to you? What impact do you want to make and what results do you hope your work will have?
I don't think being small in any way limits the impact a company can have. Small is an advantage; Selvedge is flexible and fluid and can respond quickly to external factors. We can have an idea at 10am and it is put it into practice by noon. Although small our reach is wide with a worldwide customer base. I hope to spread our message to all corners of the globe.
Do you plan to grow Selvedge? If so, what does growth mean for you?
Selvedge's mission is to support and promote the textile community. I plan to continue doing this in as many ways as I can. I have just launched an emporium where makers can sell their work on our site. We plan to grow the fairs and workshops we do, as well as possibly developing tours and maybe a book.
What do events like Small is Beautiful offer for you and your business?
Inspiration. If I can find just one idea that makes me think 'yes I can do that and move my business forward' then it's worthwhile. But also it's great to meet like-minded people who can exchange stories so you feel you are not alone.
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