SPOTLIGHT: ELLA JAMES
Ashley from Ella James on the beautiful online gifts and interiors store she set up with sister Alison
Sisters Ashley and Alison launched Ellajames.co.uk together in 2009, fulfilling their lifelong ambition to leave London and their City careers to create an online store for elegant interiors accessories and gifts. Realising they both had a passion for interior design projects and sourcing pieces for their homes, they have brought together a carefully curated collection of stylish items, many of which are handmade or from small UK manufacturers and designers. The range also now includes the gorgeous children’s line Little Ella James. We caught up with Ashley to find out how the business came about and how the busy mums juggle it with motherhood.
What was the inspiration behind setting up the business?
I had always worked in retail and we have both always enjoyed sourcing home accessories for our own interior design projects. Between us, Alison and I have six children – three boys and three girls, so over the years we have had lots of gifts to buy and birthday parties to plan! For Ella James we source toys, gifts and home accessories that we would buy for our own homes and for our own children.
You both worked in London before launching the site. What were your original jobs before you took on EJ?
I was a fashion buyer in central London and Alison was a doctor.
And the business is named after both your eldest children. How old were they when you started out?
When we started with a small stall on Northcote Road in Clapham, London, Ella was three years old and James was two.
As well as gifts and homeware, you added the Little Ella James line to your collection in 2011. Tell us more about it and how you source brands and products
We grew up in France and our taste is influenced by that, I think. European companies make beautiful, classic toys that never date and can be handed down over the years. We attend trade fairs in the UK and Europe to source new brands and are always looking for innovative companies with great design.
We featured your floral print wigwam in our dens feature The Ultimate Hideout. What’s been your most successful children’s product so far and which children’s brands/designers do you love?
Our floral wigwam has definitely been our most successful product to date. It is a fantastic gift as it’s very pretty – a real treat for a little girl. It is also versatile, as you can use it inside or outside, and is easy to store away and it’s a great price for the quality of the product.
We love Children’s Salon, as the website is beautifully laid out and features gorgeous children’s clothes. It is designer-led, but still a great place to find a really beautiful outfits for a special occasion.
We imagine your children’s rooms must be stylish, imaginative little caverns filled with beautifully made products and unique designs. Or do they insist on decorating them with stickers and cartoon characters?
Alison’s girls Sophie and Lucy (eight and nine years old) have bedrooms that are definitely beautiful little pink caverns filled with gorgeous pieces, and my nephews have wall murals of the New York Subway and a world map, which Alison painstakingly put up and then decorated the rest of their rooms to match.
On the other hand, my daughter Ella is now 16 and very much into art, so her bedroom changes every week and I don’t have a say anymore! There are photographs of her friends all over the walls and she paints her own murals… I just pick the clothes off the floor and mutter about the Blu Tack on the walls!
What are the challenges of combining a business like this with motherhood?
Running your own business is hard, as it can be seven days a week and at times it is exhausting. However, I do have flexibility as I don’t have to clock in and out of an office and I can get to watch the odd rugby or hockey match, which I enjoy. I am happier being busy and it teaches the children to be independent and organise themselves when I am away travelling. I think in the long run it will stand us all in good stead.
Describe an average day
We check the orders in the office first thing and send them over by email to our warehouse for packing, then we deal with customer queries and general admin. We then plan out which new products we have coming in and decide how we are going to photograph and market them. Alison is now a seasoned photographer and does lots of shoots with various children in her house. I work with different photographers, mainly on the home-wares side, either shooting in my house, in studios or outdoor locations. There is a lot of variety to the week, but my favourite days are when I’m out meeting new suppliers and buying new stock.
What’s been the hardest part since you set up Ella James? And the best?
The hardest part has been keeping up with the speed of development in e-commerce retailing and getting to grips with all the IT systems. It is a constant learning curve and, as a creative person, I would much rather be looking at new products than computer data! But it is a crucial part of how our business works, so you have to be disciplined and pay attention to the detail.
The best part is seeing our products being featured in magazines and credited to Ella James – I love that!
Glad to be of service! Who or what inspires you in business and life?
I am inspired by energetic people who are not afraid of hard work and who have open minds. My husband is one of those people. Despite having a very busy job, he is always on the lookout for a new project and nothing daunts him. I am also inspired by people who take pride in doing a good job, even though they maybe don’t get paid a lot of money or get much recognition for what they do. They always seem like happy people!
Visit the beautiful online store at ellajames.co.uk (but don’t say we didn’t warn you – you’ll be adding to basket before you know it…)
We talk to Teresa Roviras about her retro-inspired family lifestyle boutique
We chat to the mamas behind the new online boutique for cool kids
Friends Emilie and Ruth share the mighty magic behind their superhero portraits
The founder of British brand Anorak on the great outdoors and taking the kids to work...