Updated: Mar 1
Emily is founder of Stib: crayon and colouring sets that spark positivity and mindfulness in children. Here, we talk to her about her journey to create this award-winning local brand with purpose at its core.
Tell us a little about your background
I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and to have a career that ‘did good’. My sister and I would sell juice made from orange squash and crushed blackberries to reluctant passers-by in the village we lived in and at eight years old, I wrote to throat lozenge company Tunes to suggest that they make a chewing version called Tuning Gum, which they politely declined. It’s so hard to articulate without sounding like a worthy do-gooder, but I have always been driven by a desire ‘to do’ good in the world.
I followed a more traditional path of University at Bristol followed by a path in Media and Communications at Bristol and then in Sydney, Australia. After returning to the UK, I joined the Virgin Group in London... It was there I met the truly inspiring Jean Olewang; a passionate champion of social justice – on a quest to bring the Virgin Group together around the vision of Business as a Force for Good, with an entrepreneurial approach to tackling tough social challenges. I joined Jean and worked as Europe Director; liaising with each of the Virgin Businesses to co-develop their environmental and social strategies, working with grassroots charitable organisations. I tried to return to the Virgin Group when my daughter, Ella was nine months old, but found that the juggle defeated me...
What made you decide to start your creative business?
Like so many mothers I know, I found myself wanting to be there for my children at school pick-up and realised that going back to full-time work wasn't going to allow me to do this.
A big driver for launching a brand that helps support young people was based on bringing up my own children: seeing the pressures they are under, reading about the youth mental health crisis, and being aware of their privilege in comparison to other children around the world. I wanted to create something that kept the work I’d done for 15 years alive, and harnessed the sense of kindness and positivity abundant in childhood. I decided to start with chunky, easy to hold, high-quality colouring pencils as they are such a staple of young people’s creative tool boxes.
Adding the Spark Words encourages children to express their thoughts, making colouring a great time to chat to children and get them thinking about their wellbeing and the world they live in. A product that brings colour, fun and positivity into the world. I believe the many valuable ways that children see the world which somehow get lost as they grow. I want to celebrate their energy, their ability to be pure Joy Finders, their automatic kindness and sense of adventure.
We forget sometimes how much children have to teach us, how much the world needs them to be creative and adaptable Big Thinkers as we face the challenges predicted in the years ahead. The more we can do to bring up our children to have emotional wellbeing, to have transferable skills, to find their passions, be able to spot opportunities and think laterally about their skills - the more we are setting them up to thrive.
Where do you find inspiration?
I feel you can take nuggets of inspiration from most people. You can listen to a podcast, read a book, have a chat with a taxi driver, connect with a news story that sends a shiver down your back, read an insta post that can seep into your decision making... I think that’s how we grow the most – from paying attention to a wide range of people, not just the obvious candidates, like Michelle Obama or Ken Robinson (whom I adore).
I love listening to Ted Talks, Podcasts and Hay on Wye lectures and think, although there is clearly a down-side to social media, there’s a lot of inspiration and feel-good to be found in the Instagram community, which has been a big source of support for me in growing Stib.
Describe your typical working day (in the new normal)
Rather sadly, it is not actually very different from the old normal ; ) After the school run, I take my dog Gil for a walk, which always gets my head in a good space. I vary every day a bit to avoid the dreary feeling that can set in when you work from home alone, so I try and fit in going to the gym, calling a friend, meeting other businesses, in between building Stib from my workspace at home.
What has been the biggest highlight and biggest challenge to date?
The biggest highlight has been being nominated as one of 20 independent brands in The Independent Awards run by Holly Tucker in the Passion & Purpose category. The idea of building a brand that has purpose within its DNA has always been my driver and to be recognised for that is amazing. The biggest challenge has been working on my own and keeping the faith on those days when the doubts creep in.
Best nugget of wisdom to share with your fellow Creative Ducks?
Sometimes the stinging comments that keep you awake at night are the ones that move you forward the most. Try to separate yourself from the brand, so that you are able to look at it with a critical eye and take on board feedback and grow from it.
Look at the networks that you have and don’t be afraid to ask for help, but – with a word of warning - be careful who you ask. Negative voices can get into your head, so focus on the voices that you value.
Learn to walk alongside doubt. If you wait for the doubt to pass, you’ll stand still. Even on the bad days, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Don’t invest too much up front. Test the market with a Minimum Viable Product before ploughing ahead with endless stock. See it as a journey.
Accept you’ll make some whooping mistakes.