Meet Jayne, owner of I Am Not A Brand Gifts who is a qualified graphic designer and photographer. She found a spark for selling online after being advised to ‘brand yourself’ at an event where CEO’s of large branding and advertising companies were speaking. Having not been keen on branding herself and becoming a commodity to be sold, she decided to take matters into her own hands and now works with her sister Anna and has created an online shop where fellow talented artists could sell their work online.
Introduce yourself and I Am Not A Brand, what was your motivation behind starting the business and what do you sell?
I am Jayne Walsh, founder of iamnotabrand.gifts. I live in a small village in Lancashire with my husband Peter and have two grown-up sons who have flown the nest. To be honest I was dreading the day my children would leave home and I think my business is my replacement baby.
I grew up in Leicestershire and always wanted to be an artist. My sister Anna and I painted and drew all the time as children. Our father and grandfather were signwriters, we are a family full of creative people.
When a friend told me she was putting her art on to products and selling them online I felt an emotional reaction and just knew that I had to do something similar. I asked Anna if she would like to help and she said yes straight away.
Our skill sets work well together as Anna trained with our father and can do amazing things with paint and I am a qualified photographer and graphic designer.
Tell us more about your products
All our designs and artwork are unique, you won’t find them on any other website or in high street shops.
Our products are all about celebrating what it means to be human. They are about self-expression, travel, nature, improving self-worth and home or office environment.
We create art and then print it on to high-quality homeware and gifts. At the moment that includes canvas prints, porcelain mugs, handmade cushions, coasters and placemats. We also offer some of our designs on more personalised gifts.
What motivated you to create such an ethical brand?
I volunteered one day a week for a year at an eating disorder charity. The experience strengthened my understanding of mental health and I wanted my business to help raise awareness.
The name I Am Not A Brand was an idea I had when I was studying ethics in graphic design for my dissertation. I enjoyed researching manifestos and like the idea that artists can make a statement of intent.
I attended an event for student designers in London and we listened to four successful CEOs of large branding and advertising organisations imparting their wisdom and experience. We were hanging on their every word as if they were teaching us magic potions.
When a young student in the audience asked what their advice would be for newly graduated graphic designers, the shocking answer was “brand yourself”. As a society we love brands and logos, they have the power to make us choose one product over another without even thinking about it.
Whilst I understand that branding is part of something that a designer can do, I do not want to be branded myself. What I object to is the idea that an individual becomes a commodity and their self-worth can be demeaned. The word ‘brand’ has some troubling connotations. It was first used in connection with branding cattle to claim ownership, these days it is associated with commodities to be sold.
So when a speaker at the Four Designers conference suggested that students brand themselves in order to find work as a designer, I felt that was a suitable subject for my own manifesto.
The images are of a book I made using a series of typographic lino prints. It is a concertina construction and the design is reminiscent of the Russian Constructivists who invented graphic design for idealistic purposes.
I realise that by doing this I inadvertently branded myself and now I have created a brand that claims not to be a brand.
Did you have any experience in selling online before starting your business?
No. Selling online is a new challenge.
How did you earn your first sale?
My first sales have been friends and family. I believe in marketing close to home and gradually building from there.
What do you love most about running your own business?
Working with my sister Anna and more recently my friend Diane. They are both very supportive offering practical help and inspiration.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since starting your business?
The amount of work involved and the feeling of isolation has been a huge challenge. Everything happens at a slow pace because if there is something that needs doing that is not my area of expertise, I have to educate myself first.
Anna creates much of the art but she lives miles away in Leicestershire and can’t help with the technical side of things.
What advice would you give to new shop owners just starting out?
It’s early days for my business and I hardly feel qualified to advise anyone, I have a long way to go. However, I felt compelled to give my business idea a go and would encourage anyone to do the same.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to empower more artists to sell their work online through my website. There are a lot of very talented artists who don’t know how to bring their work to market and it would be satisfying to enable emerging artists to reach their audience.
Why did you choose EKM?
I want to support local business as much as possible. A friend recommended EKM. I heard Antony Chesworth talking at a business event at UCLAN and like that the head office is based in Preston.