Tell us about your business?
Alexander Hay Design is a furniture design and make practice that offers services on three levels: high end bespoke design for private clients and interior designers, our own range of furniture sold through the website and contract design for major retailers such as made.com. My style is driven by a love of the British countryside and many of my designs are heavily influenced by the landscapes surrounding me. This has inspired me to work in a way that is environmentally sympathetic, choosing the best of materials that are sourced both responsibly and locally to minimise our footprint and stand the test of time.
What inspired you to take the plunge and set up your own enterprise?
I have always had a desire to create my own business. From a young age, I’ve always had a love of designing and making, it started a school with design technology and was further in studying product and furniture design at Northumbria University where I gained skills in both design and making before going on to work for Benchmark, a powerhouse of British craft. I have noticed how furniture has become increasingly part of a throwaway culture, there is a distinct lack of value to most our furniture now and I aim to combat this by creating contemporary design-led pieces.
What have you found most challenging about being an independent business?
Perhaps the most challenging aspect is to get my message and brand out there. It’s been an incredibly exciting first year but has also been a steep learning curve in undertaking everything else that comes with starting a business. I’m lucky enough that I have had huge support from the Northumbria Business Enterprise team, alongside Santander’s support and various business mentors who have guided me through the first stages of my business.
And what has been the most rewarding thing?
There’s a whole number of things that have felt incredibly rewarding so far, every step is exciting. Winning the Country Living award was a definite high point and becoming a finalist at the Santander Entrepreneurship Awards 2019 was both flattering and hugely informative. I remember soon after graduating from Northumbria, picking up my first design contract with made.com for a final year project, that was so exciting to see a project come to life and be available to purchase from a major retailer that has begun as a university project.
Where do you fit into the industry you’re part of?
My business is slightly split into two areas. The bespoke work I do combined with my own range of furniture really is designed to be beautiful and made to last for generations. In this area I aim to get to a point where I’m seen as competing with top British design brands that are known for their level of craftsmanship. The second aspect of my business is more of a design studio in which I design for retailers like made.com. My work often combines materials such as oak and powder coated steel in a colourful, contemporary and playful aesthetic.
How do you see the future of the industry?
I think with the environment at the centre of the news at the moment, businesses are under increasing pressures to act in a way that is seen as being more sustainable and caring for the world around us. Customers are also becoming far more interested in buying into brands that stand for something and as such this is putting a shift on the way that business act. I also think there is beginning to be a movement where people are looking for more independent designers and makers, with a care for craft and well-made and designed objects.
What is it like being based in the North East?
A lot of my inspiration comes from a love of the British Countryside. The North East has been a great source of new inspiration, some of my favourites being Kielder, Allen Banks and Staward gorge, the Cheviots, Craster and Embleton Bay. It’s a place that has a great deal to offer in varying landscapes. I’ve also started to find an increasing network of designers and makers and am looking to develop some exciting collaborations over the next year.
What are your plans for the future?
Currently, I am on a designer in residence scheme at Northumbria University which has given me a studio space and use of the workshops to begin my business. The real aim in the next year or two would be to open my own studio and shop front, so that I have a physical presence and a place that clients can come and view my work. Further down the line the dream would be to open a workshop producing more and more of my furniture from my own workshop.
What is the most important part of your business and why?
My business is about providing exceptional contemporary design and of a very high level of craftsmanship. When I’m working on a bespoke project it’s really important that I have good communication with the client to fully understand their needs. I also find it really important to source great materials for my projects, I tend to use local sawmills and hand pick these timbers for bespoke projects.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs thinking of setting up on their own?
I would say the key thing I have learnt is to take as much advice as you can off people in the industry that you are planning on entering. Networking is key, meeting as many people and reaching out to people that have been through that is absolutely invaluable. You’ll learn things that you may not have considered. Don’t be afraid to approach people with a fear that they may not want to help you. I think you need a clear aim of where you want to be, and to set yourself regular targets and review them holding yourself accountable to them.
Alexander Hay Design