We chatted with Megan Rose Bill Designs about launching her own textile design business, trusting her gut, and ‘doing what you love’
“28 months travelling. Over 15,000 kilometres driven. 2 cars. 1 van. 1 breakdown. 15 tattoos. 3 yoga mats. 2 surf boards. 1 guitar. 11 jobs. 116 beaches. 7 countries. 4 backpacks. 20 books. 4 phones. Invaluable friends made. Endless memories. Trip of a lifetime.”
Megan Rose Bill is the first to admit she’s not a “sit around and do nothing” type of person. After two and a half years of non-stop travel, encapsulated in her final IG post before returning home to the UK, she still didn’t fancy a rest. She wanted to sink her teeth into a career as a textile designer; a craft she’d originally learned studying Arts at University of Bournemouth. And having spent her travels absorbing creative influences around Asia and Australia, she was more than ready for the challenge. Nothing was going to stand in the way of her creative endeavours– least of all a global pandemic, and the ensuing national lockdown.
Now, almost two months on from having started her own online printed textile business, Megan Rose Bill Designs, we got to chat with her about the lessons she’s learned along the way to becoming a limited company, and her growing sense of vision for the brand. Over a green tea and a mug of hot water, FreeBird founder Emma Gaynor sat down with Megan, to hear about that experience in her own words.
I. MEET MEGAN
EG: So Megan, tell us about Megan Rose Bill Designs.
MR: So.. where to start. It came out of me being really ready to get into a career as a textile designer, which is kind of difficult to get into anyway. I was kind of gearing myself up, working on a portfolio, and then we went into lockdown, which was awesome..
EG: It does seem like everyone was planning for 2020 to be the best year of their lives. Everyone I know in their twenties was like ‘I am so career driven this year’ and then all of a sudden it was ‘wallop, never mind’…
MR: I know, it’s just… well, I was going to say it’s a write-off year, but actually it’s turning out to be a good year– somehow! I’d had a couple of [job] interviews, and I was like, ‘ok, things are starting to happen’. I knew it was going to take a while to get a job anyway, and then, yeah, then we went full-lockdown. It wasn’t ideal. But I’m not a ‘sit around and do nothing’ person– I just can’t do it. And my partner, Oscar, has been saying for years, ‘you need to sell your work’. I always draw, and do tattoo designs for people, and he was like, ‘you should be charging for that!’ So once we came to lockdown, I thought, ‘I might as well just go for it.’ And so, I did it, went for it. I love interiors, I love home decor stuff– so I thought it was a great place to start.
MR: I’m so happy I did it, in the end. I don’t have much confidence in terms of my work, so doing it has literally made me so much more confident– it’s amazing.
EG: We’ve had a similar journey, but– just before lockdown I was looking for new opportunities, and on 16th March I was still in discussions with future employers. And, same as you, I got to the point where I was thinking ‘I need something to do, I have literally never been unemployed’. And FreeBird has always been in my head as an idea, but I think it was a lack of confidence that made me think ‘I’m just not gonna do it– someone else will do it, and I’ll join in when they do it.’ But it’s been the time, where, if you’re a maker, and a doer, and you can’t sit still for four months, then– it’s been our year.
MR: Yeah, it’s mad, isn’t it. I’m really interested to see– well, I suppose lockdown is easing now, but Covid isn’t over, is it– but I’d be interested to see if all these new small businesses can keep up the momentum.
EG: We’ve actually got an article launching our twelve-month sustainability program, which will hopefully encourage people to make a small change each month, and we’re starting out with cutting out ‘fast fashion’, which is also why we want to bring in small brands–
EG: –so instead of going to Zara Home, you go to Megan Rose Bill Designs to buy your cushion.
EG: That’s really important to us, and I’m excited to watch people come on that journey with us. Because shops haven’t been open, and it’s also been coming out that some online suppliers haven’t been paying their workers during lockdown–
MR: I mean the thing with Boohoo– that is just.. ugh. Horrendous.
EG: I didn’t realise– for example, Boohoo– how many companies Boohoo own!
MR: I know, me neither! It’s crazy.
EG: But it could potentially be the year for small brands to keep thriving after this, because that is so on the forefront of people’s minds.
MR:People are getting much more conscious of this sort of thing in general, with climate change.
EG: Oh, definitely. Yeah.
II. ON COMING UP WITH THE IDEA FOR HER BUSINESS
EG: So, you launched the business in June, and it’s grown rapidly– you’ve achieved so much. But let’s focus on your process of starting. You mentioned that you didn’t have a lot of confidence, and your partner was trying to encourage you. So, how did it properly start?
MR: D’you know, I can’t even remember coming up with the idea of doing cushions and prints– […] The first collection I started with, I already had– because when I first got back from [two and a half years of] travelling, I was like, ‘right, I need to work on my design portfolio, I need to have a really good portfolio to take to interviews’, so I banged out like three projects just for the portfolio, not for anything else. Just prints. And then, when I was thinking about starting something, I looked back over those prints and thought, ‘actually, I really like this collection– maybe I don’t need to add another whole aspect to starting the business. Maybe I’ve already got the artwork to start with.’ So I used that, just changed it up a little bit. I started with thinking all about the product– I’m not a business person, by the way– It’s been kind of fun learning about it, actually– and also, horrible, as well, because I hate numbers!
EG: Oh yeah, I hate numbers too.
MR: Yeah, it’s horrible. So, I definitely starting with thinking all about the product– being a designer, that’s the thing I love. So I started by making up 16 cushions. There was only– I can’t remember how many prints it was, but there were only three of each print. Which, straight away, was a bad idea– because normally people buy cushions in two’s!
EG: But there’s a business lesson; you’ve learned that now– there’s your marketing!
MR: Exactly! Now, I know, ‘Okay when I bring out a collection, I bring out two designs for cushions, or maybe three at the most, rather than seven’. So I did that– I ordered my prints, I outsourced the wall art prints. And then I was like, ‘Ok, I need to take some photos of them’. That was an issue as well– it was a tricky finding somewhere Instagram-worthy to take the photos, during lockdown. That was difficult, so there was a lot of photoshopping, pinning up big blankets– it was another hurdle that I got over.
And then I started to build my own shop, on Wix. I got it all set up, and then a week before I launched it– while I was doing the brand tease, in May– I panicked. I was like, ‘Oh my god, if I set up my own shop, what if someone places an order, and there’s something wrong with how I’ve done it, and I don’t see the order, and they pay!’ I just freaked out, and I was up all night, like, ‘what do I do!?’ So the next day I deleted it, and set up a new shop on Etsy. Because I thought, ‘I’m not liable, then, if something goes wrong’.
EG: That’s not a bad point, though, when you’re starting out– until you’ve learned it all, get it off your desk.
MR: Exactly– because there is so much to think about. […] And when you’re doing it on your own, and you’re the one who has to think of everything, and you don’t really have anyone to bounce the ideas off–
ER: It’s a lot of judgment calls, isn’t it. A lot of decisions to make alone.
III. ON HOW SHE DESCRIBES HERSELF
EG: I wouldn’t say I’m an entrepreneur, from starting FreeBird, because it kind of makes me cringe.
MR: But, you are!
EG: But I am! But, ‘creative entrepreneur’ has got this beautiful ring to it. Do you see yourself as that?
MR: Yeah! I mean, to be honest, I didn’t really think of it until you guys reached out to me. I was like, ‘why do they want to talk to me?’ And I thought about it, and I was like, ‘I am that, actually!’
EG: Yes you are! Yes, you are.
MR: So, yeah! I guess that is what I’d class myself as. But it feels strange because, again, the word ‘entrepreneur’– it makes me cringe, as well. I don’t even know why. It’s because it’s got a real ‘business’ feel to it, and I don’t think I’m that, but.. maybe I am.
EG: You’ll get there though, I bet you’ll look back in two years’ time and you’ll be like ‘Oh my god, actually, I’ve managed to do all the marketing and all the photoshoots by myself, and now I’ve got my own shop’. […] It’s all about growth, definitely.
MR: And the thing is, there’s that phrase about– ‘if you’re not learning, you’re not growing’
IV. ON ‘DOING WHAT YOU LOVE’
EG: Absolutely. In terms of your mindset when you’re making– there’s a huge amount of people who have started something that they love, during lockdown, and then all of a sudden, it’s expanded and it’s become a job. It’s that quote, ‘if you do the job you love, you never have to work a day in your life’. But, I’ve had moments with FreeBird where I’m like, ‘ooh, there’s a lot of pressure with this.’ Followers are coming in, and we’ve got a lot of things to do. And I’m still enjoying it, but it’s a lot of work. So, let’s talk about inspiration, and how you’re finding it.
MR: So, so far– good, still! There was one time when I had to really stock up on my cushion covers, so I ordered loads of fabric, and I had to make, like, fifty cushions in two days. And I did not enjoy it!
EG: That’s exactly what I’m talking about.
MR: I was doing it, and the whole time, I was like, ‘why am I doing this, why am I doing this, why am I doing this’. But, apart from that, I’ve loved everything. The other day I was filming a tutorial for one of the markets I’m going to be doing– and I just had to make the one cushion cover. And I was like, ‘Hey, I do love sewing! I do love it!’ It’s just when you have to make fifty all at once..
EG: Fifty of them, yeah.
MR: The design side, as well. That, I still love– but I only design when I want to, basically, which is the nice thing about having it as my business rather than working for someone else. If I don’t want to bring out a collection for a year, I won’t do it. If I’m not feeling– it’s like writers with writers’ block– I can get creative block. And if I’m not feeling it, I just don’t do it. Which is quite nice. I mean obviously there’s parts of it where you don’t really have a choice– things like all the marketing, which I’ve been trying to do, which I am actually really enjoying– with that sort of stuff you do still have a choice, but your business isn’t going to go very well if you neglect it. But that side, I don’t find stressful. I was forced to be like, ‘you have to do this many designs by this day, even if you can’t think of anything’, that would be stressful.
EG: Yeah, it would make it stale, wouldn’t it.
MR: That’s exactly it. I’m only doing it when I have an idea, and so it hasn’t been stressful. I don’t know how, but I’ve been working maybe ten, twelve-hour days, every day, because there’s no one telling me to stop. I know at some point that’s going to have to stop, because I will burn out. But for now, while I’m just growing and building momentum, I’m just going for it and loving it.
V. ON FEMINISM
EG: So, part of the core ethos and values of FreeBird is supporting women in business and leadership. […] That’s what I love about what we’re doing. We’re going to do a week on Sustainable Periods, with Sea and Flow—
MR: –yeah, I bought their products a few weeks ago! I love their little cotton bags!
EG: It’s such a good incentive.
MR: It really is! And, the fact that the cups are black as well– my other cup is clear, and it stains– so then I feel like it looks dirty, even though it’s not. So I bought the big bag, the little pouch, and the cups.
EG: Yeah, I got mine and I loved it. That’s how we found you, actually– they shared something of yours on her Instagram stories.
But back to my first question– Is feminism a part of your life? You didn’t realise you were an entrepreneur until we reached out– but do you have that ownership? Do you own that title of ‘female business owner’?
MR: I think, again, only recently. I think any person that’s not a feminist is ridiculous. Male or female. So definitely– it’s part of my life. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m an activist, although, I should be. But yeah, it’s definitely really important to me. And again, I hadn’t thought of it, but– a week ago, I was listening to a podcast that Holly Tucker did. You know, the owner of NotOnTheHighStreet.com?
EG: Yes, very good!
MR: It was on Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place podcast–
EG: Oh god, I love it so much
MR: –yeah. And at the end, they were talking about doing something to empower young women and girls, and make sure they know that actually they can do whatever they want. And with social media, there’s so much emphasis on how you look, and they were saying how important it is to bring up girls to know that actually it’s not about how they look, and actually that they can achieve anything. And I was like, ‘hang on a minute, I’m doing that!’
MR: And I’ve always, always thought, I cannot wait to have, hopefully, a little girl one day– to bring her up empowered, and knowing that the world is her oyster. So when I listened to that podcast a week ago, that’s what made me think, ‘Oh my god, this is actually really amazing, what I’m doing’. Like, it’s more than just me and my business. It’s showing other people that you can do it.
EG: Exactly, exactly. I’ve had the same moment. My partner has a daughter, and on our first core-team Zoom meeting for FreeBird, she was in the background, listening and watching. She’s eight years old and she’s already a feminist. She’s so cool. When I came off the call, she was like, ‘So what is FreeBird?’ And I told her really loosely, and she was like, ‘That’s really wonderful. That’s really cool.’ That’s what this is all about! […] So yes– ‘female business owner’– we recognize the weight of it, we know it’s got loads of importance. I loved what you said about potentially having a daughter, that’s so sweet.
VI. ON PRICING
EG: So, the products. We’ve touched on this, but let’s expand. I love the scrunchies, I’m dying to get a scrunchie. I love them. And we’re currently looking for cushions for our couch, but we want silver– so as soon as you’ve got anything silver, let me know and we’ll definitely be on there. But I think the prices are so affordable, they’re brilliant.
MR: I’m really really glad you said that, because pricing has been something that– actually, going back to the stressful bit– that’s been the most stressful bit for me. Until a week ago, the cushions were only £20. And I’ve been speaking with a shop, about maybe stocking some of my work. We had a phone call, and they were like, ‘Look, you can put your prices at whatever you want, that’s absolutely fine, but your prices are really low.’ And I was like, ‘Really?’ And they were like, ‘You make them yourself, and it’s your designs on them– they’re very low!’
And then I worked out my wholesale price– if I was to sell to them– and I hadn’t factored in my time. And that’s probably something a lot of creative people do. But actually, if you want to grow, you can’t do that, because you won’t ever have enough hours in the day to make enough to make a living. So I put the prices up–
EG: I think that’s really reasonable.
MR: –yeah, it’s still low, for what it is. But I’m glad that you said that.
EG: And the other thing is, like what we said earlier about momentum behind supporting small brands; people know that what they’re paying for is hand-made, and they know it’s really good quality. And, like what you said, it’s your time.
MR: The thing is, it depends who you’re talking to, as well. Because there’s some people who– I think my boyfriend said, ‘Oh, I think she might sell them for £30’, and I hadn’t even put a price on them yet, but he wants to be my business manager. He’s my little cheerleader, he’s always like, ‘Let’s make it more expensive! Let’s do this!’ And people were all like, ‘£30! You wouldn’t pay that for a cushion!’ And then I panicked. But those people weren’t my target audience. It’s not for everyone, and that’s fine. Some people want to spend £5 on a cushion– they can go to Ikea. But, that’s not what my product is. There is a market for my products out there, I just have to remember who they are, and that some people are going to look at it and think ‘That’s too much’.
EG: This is the great thing about social media, you can connect with your audience and say ‘What do you think of these prices?’ You should definitely trust your gut with all of that.
MR: That’s the other thing– trusting your gut has been huge, for me. I want to be taking people’s advice, but, at the same time– I think I didn’t realise how much of a strong idea I’ve got about what I want to do. I’ve had people saying, ‘You should start thinking about making Christmas-themed products, to be sold in Christmas markets’. But that doesn’t go with my brand! Colour is a massive part of my designs — Christmas colours wouldn’t look right with it. And they’re like, ‘Oh but Christmas things sell.’ But to me, that’s not important.
EG: But then maybe you’re onto another wavelength there, though– Christmas could also be your orange and black-speckled cushion. If I saw Christmas decorations, and Santa had a cool jacket like in your designs, I would be so down.
MR: Yeah, maybe! Re-brand Christmas!
EG: Yeah, re-brand Christmas, by Megan! And maybe your brand isn’t into Christmas– maybe you’re not going to tailor yourself that way.
MR: Well, my thing is– hopefully my things will sell more as gifts for Christmas. I don’t need to do decorations for Christmas because.. yeah. […] It’s not that that’s not a good thing, but it’s nothing to do with my company.
EG: Exactly, exactly. They can go set up their own, if they want to. […] For instance, I didn’t want FreeBird to be– in terms of tone, and how we speak, I don’t want us to be ‘Girl bosses’, I don’t want us to be ‘galdem’, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I see us as more structured and business-focused, rather than being focused on ‘gal empowerment’.
MR: D’you know– most people will probably disagree with this, but I actually find that whole thing a bit intimidating. Because it’s a group– and are you in it, or not? That’s how it feels, to me. I mean, if you’re someone who’s like that already, maybe you just instantly feel a part of it. But, me, I’m quite an introvert, so for me, when I see that sort of thing on social media, I’m like, ‘I’m not like that, so…’
EG: It’s like the ‘good vibes only’ quote, isn’t it. And I used to go, ‘but, I’m not in a good vibe today, so does that mean I don’t get involved?’
MR: Whereas what you’re doing is sort of open to everyone, I think.
EG: Yeah. And then in terms of branding, I made a document for our Marketing person and our Artistic Development Manager, and I was like, ‘we’re kind of like, squiggly lines and we’re like, outlines of girls, we’re not like, sparkles and champagne glasses’. And they were really disappointed, because they wanted it to be original photographs of them, drinking champagne all day long. And I was like, ‘no, no, no.’
But I think it’s easier to listen to those people who have opinions about your business if you’re not clear on what it’s not.
MR: Yeah, I definitely agree.
VII. ON HER CURRENT AND UPCOMING PRODUCTS
EG: So tell us about the scrunchies, the prints, and then is there anything new coming up?
MR: There is. So, the scrunchies kind of came from a sustainable point of view. I was getting scraps from my cushions, and I was keeping them all because I didn’t want to just put them in the bin. And I kept looking at them thinking, ‘they’re such small scraps– I don’t know what to do!’ And then, I had this idea of doing scrunchies. So I made up a couple and thought, ‘I actually love these for myself’. So I put them on an Instagram story, and I had so many people being like, ‘Yes! We want to see these!’ And I actually ended up ordering fabric specifically for them. So it didn’t quite work, but I mean, I still use all my wasteage for them, so it still helps!
They’re also kind of just meant to be a little add-on thing. Because there are a lot of people who maybe want to support small businesses, but don’t have the money to spend on it, or maybe they don’t have their own house to decorate. So it’s a nice little thing that people can buy, without having to really splash out.
The wall prints– that was another learning curve. I was outsourcing them originally, and I liked the quality of them, but something didn’t feel quite right. So then, I decided to get my own art printer, and this really nice, 100% cotton paper. I put the first one in, and it came out, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so nice!’ It sounds ridiculous, because it’s just a bit of paper with a print on it. But the quality of it– I was embarrassed that I’d sent any other ones out! So I’m really pleased with them– they’re glicée, which means they’re archive-standard. The print is going to last eighty to a hundred years without losing any colour. And quality, in a print, is so important. When you’re getting something handmade, that’s what you’re expecting– really high-quality. So I’m really happy with them.
And at the end of the month, I’m going to be launching Affirmation Card packs. I’m big on personal growth and development stuff. My sister had a baby four weeks ago, and she did hypno-birthing for that. She had all these positive birth affirmations. And she was like, ‘Do you think you can make these a bit pretty for me, so that I can stick them up around the house?’– because you’re meant to be able to see them all the time, wherever you are, and the more you repeat them to yourself, the more you believe it. So I did that, and then she had another friend who was pregnant, and my sister was like, ‘I’d really like to get her a nice gift, would you mind making some up for her as well?’ She really really loved them, and I thought, ‘Maybe this is something more people would like.’ So I’m going to be doing two packs– one aimed at Mums-to-be, using birth affirmations, and one that’s just normal affirmations. And then I’ll be doing customizable packs, so people can either have the standard pack, or tell me their own affirmations and I’ll make them specifically for them.
EG: Wow, I love that. That’s really exciting!
MR: Yeah, I’m looking forward to that. And that’s kind of moving into a slightly different market as well, because, while it’s still kind of home-ish things, it’s putting a bit more of me in there.
EG: Very nice. Maybe for Christmas, I’ve just had this thought, you could do hampers– like, buy a pillow, and a scrunchie, and the cards.
MR: That’s a really nice idea, actually. It’s like a little Christmas gift bag.
EG: I’m really excited about that product launch, I’m going to keep my eye out for that.
VIII. ON WHERE TO FIND HER
EG: So, how do we find you and how do we buy your products?
MR: Probably the best place to find me is on Instagram, that’s where I’m most active. I do have a Facebook business page but I don’t like it, it’s confusing. So my Instagram handle is @MeganRoseBill.Design, and my Etsy shop is Megan Rose Bill Designs. It’s confusing, because on all different platforms, my name is slightly different. And this morning I took a really big step and registered as a limited company– I feel like a grown-up now.
EG: Congratulations! That’s huge!
MR: Yeah, that was really exciting. I just kept having it in my head– I was like, ‘Is it illegal that I haven’t done it yet? I don’t even know!’ I don’t think so, I think you have to register within three months of trading.
MR: And obviously, the amount I’ve earned is nowhere near enough to pay tax, so I think it’s fine.
EG: Well this has been super wonderful.
MR: Yeah, this has been so nice!
EG: It would be great to keep in touch– anything you need, you know, if you’ve got any good promotions or incentives you want us to feature, we will absolutely help you get it out there, all the way.
MR: Yeah, amazing.
EG: Megan, thank you.
MR: Thank you so much!