Dorothy Koomson has 15 published books, one of which (The Ice Cream Girls) was adapted into an ITV drama series. Born to Ghanaian parents she grew up in London as the second-born out of four children and had an international life that still shapes her writing until this day. She went to college in Leeds in the north of England, worked in Australia and now lives in Brighton, UK. On top of all that she’s also been nominated for a Black British Business Award (BBBAward) and challenges what it means to write about the ‘black British experience’.
I was standing in a book shop when… When I got a call saying I had been shortlisted as a finalist for a BBBAward and I thought, oh wow!
I do my job of writing books and… Being nominated for awards is like the icing on a fantastic cake because I never expect anything.
I started writing books at… Thirteen and always loved writing stories. When I worked as a journalist, I would write chapters for my books on the train into work and on weekends.
I did have books when I was younger but… We didn’t have much money and we’re reliant on the library.
I read all sorts of books… Including Jackie Collins’ books, sci-fi and comics!
Hustle & Heels (H&H) was founded nearly five years ago by Jen Scott and Jamie (Jay) Tavares when they were 27. The success of the business has led to a rising star nomination at the Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards) which takes place in London on Thursday.
Jen and Jay met over 15 years ago when they attended a Saturday school for high-achieving students and attended the same college. They separated and went to different universities but remained friends and started their first business after finishing university. Both convinced their families that becoming an entrepreneur was a viable career path for two black girls from east London. Jen’s dad is from Barbados, her mum is from Anguilla and Jay’s parents are from Jamaica.
According to the UK Greeting Card Association, in 2015 we spent around £1.7 billion on greeting cards. We sent £564 million worth of birthday cards to each other, with Christmas Single Cards accounting for more than 10% of total retail value for all cards.
Cards are definitely popular in the UK; they’re a personal way to communicate a message. But is it always easy to find the right greeting card?
It was my sister’s birthday and I was looking for a card with a young black female on it. After trawling most of the big high street card shops, I couldn’t find one, Says Nicola Lespeare of www.nicolalespeare.com. There are cards out there for black people, but they’re not always easy to find and can sometimes look a little old fashioned. So, I decided to create a solution to my own problem!
Tell us about your latest business venture
Nicola Lespeare is a new greetings card brand, showcasing illustrations designed by me, of mainly black women. However, my Christmas collection, launching on 14th November, does include a black Santa and kids…Santa’s little helpers!
I’ve already had people ask, “What about the black guys?!” I’m open to designing male illustrations and other family members but as I’m at the experimental stage with designs, I’m paying attention to what customers like before creating new designs.
When did you start your business?
From inception of the idea in July this year, I officially launched on 4th September 2016, it was a crazy 6 weeks!
You’re originally from Nottingham why did you move to London?
After the recession, job opportunities were few and far between in the property industry. I came to London 5 years ago for new opportunities.
How did you start your business?
Although I have a background in fashion illustration, I was a little daunted. I’ve never run a business before. I designed my first collection of cards, emailed my friends to spread the word, and received fantastic feedback!
What is fashion illustration?
Sketching garments on models, using personal drawing techniques to make the outfit look stylish. I can also pattern cut and make garments too, but I’ve been there, done that and ready to try something new.
How did you get started as an illustrator?
After graduating in Fashion Design a while back, I freelanced for a few years before working full time in a variety of office based roles to support myself. I’ve been in Operations Management for a few years but now want to return to my creative roots. I have no intention of going back to fashion design, but started drawing again. I didn’t foresee designing cards so it’s been a brilliant discovery for me.
I read a book called, ‘Be a Free Range Human’, which talks about remembering the passions of your younger self. Mine was drawing, so I went to a stationary shop got some pens and started drawing again.
The most challenging thing about running your business?
Setting up a website! I didn’t know anything about buying a domain name, finding a host etc. When first designing the cards, I realised that water colours didn’t photograph or print well. I had to work out how to make the illustrations pop and look great, which involved a lot of trial and error. Working full time while setting up a business is never easy, but I’m determined to make the business a success.
I went on a steep learning curve; I wasn’t even on social media at the time!
The main highlight of running your business?
Selling my first card! I was so excited when I got my first order via social media. Overall, the whole journey has been a highlight, especially as I set it up in a short space of time and the response has been amazing reaching all the way to NYC!
What’s the nicolalespeare.com ethos?
To design memorable celebration cards reflecting aspects of black culture, characteristics and trends. My vision is to become a brand synonymous with high quality black celebration cards, where people of African/Caribbean heritage can choose from a diverse collection of cards & gifts for every occasion.
Do you do bespoke cards?
Not yet, but I’m considering doing personalised cards in the future.
Any exciting developments?
There’s a wedding and Valentine’s Day collection coming in the New Year, which I can’t wait to start working on.
Where can we get your cards?
On my website nicolalespeare.com. Cards are posted within 24hrs all over the world; prices start at £2.49.
Any other card illustrators that inspire you?
I try not to look at what other card designers are doing, I want to maintain my own creative style. I’m inspired by anything around me…a piece of fabric, a person’s hairstyle that I’ll see on the bus, hot air balloons – which helped inspire the first collection.
Do you have any tips on starting a business?
Your social media game needs to be on point! It’s easy to become insular and paranoid that someone will steal your idea if you put it out there, but share it with friends and family because you need feedback. Most ideas are alterations of what’s been done in the past, but only you can put your own unique spin on it. What’s most important is that you act and keep progressing to reach your goals.