“This has been a huge lesson learnt as a small business owner. Attracting the right customer. Ones that align with you, get as excited as you about ideas…”
Needless to say, this year has been tough for all of us… but especially those in the wedding and event industry. My heart really goes out to them. That’s why I’m especially pleased the last Creative Business feature of the year is a wonderful wedding supplier: designer and stylist, Kirsten Butler of The Little Wedding Helper. Kirsten and I have only fairly recently connected on social media but I was well aware of her creative work long before (going back to when I was still making wedding cakes in my first business). She has such an eye for bringing a couple’s personality into their styling, in an imaginative way, that’s really inspiring. She’s also a lovely woman who seems to care very deeply about her work. I’m really looking forward to this. It’s time to find out more about the woman behind the creative business…
What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity used to mean a hobby, something you can do when you have some time off or often the last thing that you would squeeze into your day (or week!). Growing up, I feel that it was something that was contained, explored or encouraged only in an Art lesson at school or messy play at home.
Now, creativity really does run through everything I do. It is connecting with who you really are, being authentic and bringing a different dimension to how I live my life. That sounds a bit woo but for me, it is about incorporating another level to what you do but without judgement or fear of getting it wrong.
Have you always been creative?
I have. This will have been nurtured by my mum who was a playgroup leader and so there was always something fun to make, to create, to bake that nurtured my imagination. Before working in the wedding industry, I was a Reception Teacher for over 10 years and teaching Early Years meant creativity was everywhere! I was often known for being the glitter queen as my classroom was always full of it as well as colour and detail from the book corner to the wall displays to the reels of stickers ready to pop into work books or proudly stick on a cardigan. Creativity is actively encouraged in the Early Years at school and it is heartbreaking to see it squeezed out of children’s school lives as lessons and timetables take over and the academic pressure grows.
What first got you interested in your field?
I never planned on running my own business or being any part of the wedding industry! I loved teaching and was always going to be surrounded by glitter!
However, when my best friend got engaged in 2006, I witnessed her overwhelm and stress (and this was interestingly pre Instagram & Pinterest!!). The budget was getting out of hand, pressures from family about how they did it, traditions that weren’t so relevant anymore and a large venue with a lot of space to fill. So armed with a bottle of wine, I went round and found myself helping her through these feelings of overwhelm. I could see that the details that had been planned so far were not her… didn’t really reflect the both of them but were a copy of the weddings that were featured in their brochure… of how it ‘should’ look in this stately home. We started imagining the decorations from the front door, not just the tables. What could we add in the entrance hall? What about that mantlepiece that everyone will see and sit round because the fire will be lit? Where do guests naturally mingle in the house? I’m not sure where these questions came from but we slowly started thinking about where and how the house was going to look. We had a new & exciting plan (with a lot of to do lists!).
Why did you decide to start your own business?
The lightbulb moment came right after creating this new & exciting plan! Who exactly was going to turn the plan into a reality on the morning? There was a wedding the day before and guests had their breakfast in the same room that needed to be decorated, let alone the rest of the house as guests were still leaving, saying goodbyes and not out by 10.30am. The wedding was at 1pm. How exactly were we going to do everything on the morning? We had hair appointments in Bath, had to get back to the house, get changed, get to the church AND decorate the house?? We knew the staff there would do so much but there were a lot of details that had been planned, made, created and reassurance was needed for everything to be done exactly how it had been planned (there were a lot of lists remember!).
Venue stylists were not a thing back in 2006! There were wedding planners but my best friend wanted an extra pair of creative hands to look after everything on the morning so there was no stress or worry. So I said I’d do it! I honestly thought it would be a couple of hours, lay things out and get to the church in time. I was so wrong. I got to the church on time but had no idea of how long it took to decorate the hallway, mantlepieces, staircase, cake table, table plan display, all the tables for dinner and sort out sparklers for the evening!! I remember thinking “how do couples do this on the morning?!”
My best friend had lots of comments about how everything looked and so I had two requests from her friends to help with their weddings. They needed help with creative ideas as well as on the actual morning itself so they weren’t rushing around. So The Little Wedding Helper was created.
What is your favourite thing about your work?
Oooo this is hard but I’m going with first instinct which is the first consultation with a couple. Often goes over time, lots of scribbling and sketching with ideas evolving as I get to know them. It’s often about creating a look and feel that isn’t like all the other weddings that have been at their venue. There may be similarities because they like my previous styling there but often I will source new props and decor for them or have an idea that I can collaborate with other suppliers on. It really is wonderful to hear at the end of a consultation ‘We feel really excited about it all now. We were feeling overwhelmed and not really knowing where to start and I know I can see it all” It’s also great to then do a venue visit altogether so we can walk through all the ideas, change things, add elements and make the whole process exciting and memorable.
What is a ‘reality’ of your work that other people don’t realise?
The physical aspects of the job. There’s a lot of prep work from picking up items, sourcing decor, washing lanterns (candle wax is the worst to clean!!) as well as the actual styling on the day itself & picking everything up the following morning. Three years ago, I found that the packing up the van, moving heavy boxes of decor, leaning over tables etc really affected my back. When you are styling 4 weddings in a week during Summer season, it takes its toll as you don’t have time to rest up. You just keep going to create the perfect day but one day I could hardly get out the car in my Tesco car park as I had stiffened up so much! I felt about 80 years old and so started seeing a chiropractor as well as having regular deep tissue massages and this has been amazing.
How do you handle creative ‘blocks’ in work?
I feel lucky that I don’t really have ‘blocks’ as such. There will be some consultations where I feel that I’m probably not the right stylist for them as I don’t feel as creative with ideas. This has been a huge lesson learnt as a small business owner. Attracting the right customer. Ones that align with you, get as excited as you about ideas and work with you to create the most amazing celebration.
This year has been challenging in so many ways as I haven’t been able to get as creative as I normally do! I have been struggling to know what to share on social media and this is when it is better to step away and do something completely different. Get outside, go for walks, connect with friends and other wedding suppliers. We all go through ups and downs as creatives, chuck in a global pandemic and connection with others is more important than ever.
Do you have any other creative interests?
My ideal day off from work would be a wander down my local high street which is full of independents and brilliant charity shops! (if you’re in Bristol then check out Gloucester Road). Soaking up others’ creativity is always wonderful and the charity shops always get my creativity flowing as I spot things that I can use at weddings and even upcycle to create something different. Car boot sales are also my passion as I spot things that I can use!!
I am determined to start practising calligraphy again! I went on a course, loved it and bought nibs, inks, paper and all the kit and then it sort of fell by the wayside. Why do we often put activities like this at the bottom of the pile when life gets busy?! It’s needed more than ever so I need to listen to my own advice, put on an inspiring podcast in the background and get those inks back out!
What one thing would you say to someone dreaming of starting their own creative business?
Get a notebook and start scribbling down ideas. Let your thoughts and creativity out. Often seeing your business idea on paper can make it more real. I literally shared my idea for helping at weddings with friends of mine who had just got engaged. I let them know my idea and asked them if they would find an extra pair of creative hands on their wedding day a good idea. They all said YES! and so I helped them, for free, to see if it was viable. This gave me confidence and I started researching styling and realised that there were no stylists. It wasn’t a thing yet. This was exciting and daunting at the same time!! Now there is so much information online, social media and podcasts. Soak up as much as you can and then share your ideas with a human being. Someone you trust and will support you. You don’t need to have it all figured out. At all. Be brave. Think big and go for it!
I hope you loved hearing Kirsten’s story as much as I did. So many lovely details in how The Little Wedding Helper came about. Also, her last sentence ‘Think big and go for it!’ actually feels like a lovely message for all of us and a great way to end this year’s series. 2021 isn’t going to be easy, I’m sure there will be many challenges ahead for everyone but, if you’ve got dreams and aspirations, keep trying to move forward. Even little steps at a time can make a difference.
As always I’ll finish the post with our feature’s self-portrait. Technically, I suppose this one is a portrait rather than a self-portrait, as it was created by Kirsten’s daughter. However, it’s a really sweet drawing and feels very appropriate for a woman inspired by colour, personality, and feel-good celebrations.
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