I have a lot of tea towels (probably the understatement of the year); when people ask me what my favourite tea towel is, I can honestly say that I don’t have an ‘individual favourite’ but I do know what I like. I like tea towels with a ‘style’, a USP, that you can recognise as belonging to a ‘maker’, that are unusual, unique and feel like fun.
My adventure on Instagram has introduced me to some great tea towels; MollyMac is one. About 18 months ago, I thought “Must try and get them on In Conversation With…” so with finger on iPad, I invited them and they accepted. I was excited but, immediately after that invitation, unexpected, and sad events took place in my life. Sending the questions to them went out of my mind. At the end of November 2019, my cousin Amanda, gave me the ‘Merry Christmas’ tea towel (at the top of the page) and thought “I must get in contact with MollyMac and explain. Maybe they will forgive me and agree to be interviewed”. Their response was positive, and forgiving. I sent the questions, and waited. Nothing happened. But this was the Christmas build-up and that has to be the busiest time for tea towel sellers. I contacted them after the Christmas holiday and the answers came. As I was about to write the article, my iPad seized up. I was beginning to think that this article was destined not to be printed. I am not one to give up; switch it off and leave it for a day. This is the story of MollyMac:
I wanted to know How MollyMac started. “MollyMac is run by Joanne Preston and Lisa MacDonald. Jo and I met at a Craft Fair – she bought a bag off me. I was making and selling bags at the time. We kept bumping into each other. I taught at Jersey’s Art School, at that time, and she came and did some design workshops for students. I was also running community arts projects and she came along with her son, a cute two year old, if I remember rightly! We then both started working at a print shop, running projects and we really just clicked. MollyMac grew out of that really. There were a few stops and starts but about 10 years ago MollyMac was born”.
What about your backgrounds? “Jo is a graphic designer; she went into that job after school and worked for many years as a commercial designer, for Ad Agencies and the like. My route was more roundabout. I have a fine art degree which I studied for, part-time, when I was an adult with kids. I taught art at Youth Clubs, via Community Projects at schools and the Art School. I loved teaching. However, I continuously told my students to get out there, be an artist or run a creative business. Finally, I decided to do it myself. Jo joined me once I started.
Our roles are pretty fluid. Jo is the designer and I do the drawing….. usually; sometimes, Jo does some drawing. Jo works out pricing, does the ordering and looks after some local accounts. Jo looks after Amazon and our website and I look after Etsy and Folksy. I tend to do the marketing, write the newsletter and handle the wholesale accounts. We halve the week, taking turns in sending out our online orders, which we do every week day”.
How do you sell your goods? “We sell online via Etsy, Amazon, Amazon Handmade, our website and Folksy; we do have some wholesale accounts but these days we are mainly an online business. We have done Craft Fairs and Trade Shows, but we don’t now. We just concentrate on being online”.
I am always interested in the popularity of tea towels! “Without doubt, our most popular item is our tea towels; we have several designs that sell well. We have designed over 100 tea towels, and counting, but I don’t know which is my favourite. Jo says she likes the ‘Bird on the Wire’ design but I think we both keep changing our minds. I like the ‘Wildflower’ design and the ‘Elephants Parade’; but I also like the ‘Collective Nouns’ for animals.”
What about the future? “I think we both hope that we will survive the next five years, and keep on keeping on. We are both worried about the Brexit effect. Jo is more optimistic about this generally than I am; we just keep on going, heads down, hopeful we will weather any storm, dealing with problems as they occur. We are both in our fifties so we are just going to see what happens”.
I am fascinated by how their distinctive style came about. “Our style came out of pure luck. When we started the business I was stitching everything onto cotton, using different fabrics. We decided to print some elements of the design, to improve our turnover. We created a print to see how the fabrics looked and realised, by mixing and matching patterns, we gave our designs a really unique feel. We then started creating our own patterns and just ran with the idea”.
What about work-life balance? “At the end of 2018, we realised we were working too hard. I was really questioning how hard you can work, and for how long. I think we were both doing about 70 hours a week. So at the beginning of 2019, we made some changes. Now we only work 3 days a week each, crossing over for one day. We stopped doing Craft Fairs and Trade Shows and took a good look at the business: we now work smarter, not longer.
Jo now takes on other design projects from time to time; she is a skilled interior designer so has been doing a little of that for herself and friends and I am painting. I paint three days a week and am hoping to have an exhibition later in the year and will no doubt be selling my work via social media.
We feel pretty good about the balance we have managed to create; it makes running MollyMac much more fun and, weirdly, I think we are being more level headed about the business aspect. We had to learn about business and it was a sharp learning curve!
Big advice to other aspiring creatives: Get the numbers right!”
Thank you to Jo and Lisa. That was a great interview. Perhaps the only thing I missed out asking was how the name MollyMac came about; maybe I’ll just leave that to the Readers imagination.
PS: My favourite tea towel is the ‘Merry Christmas’ that I was given, a present from my cousin.