New indie Fiona Meakin takes bricks-and-mortar leap to expand brand and inspire daughters
Having built an illustration brand during difficult economic times, Fiona Meakin has no qualms about launching her first independent greeting card and gift store as the current cost-of-living crisis looms.
With Fi & Me opening its doors in New Mills in Derbyshire on Saturday, 22 October, Fiona is determined to show her young daughters what’s possible – “they can make money from their unique talents and don’t have to follow a completely conventional path,” she told PG Buzz. “Art is important and, to quote the amazing Lilla Rogers, ‘art is a feminist issue’.”
Kicking back at the doom and gloom over the current economic climate and with recent research showing customers are returning to bricks-and-mortar shopping, the store is the result of three years of planning and dreaming as Fiona looked to expand her online Fiona Meakin Illustration business, where she creates character-led illustrations and surface pattern design as well as teaching people to draw.
After studying drama at university Fiona then gained an MA in fine art before starting to exhibit at craft fairs in 2009 in the midst of that deep recession while also working as a teaching assistant, crafting with her sister Lucy as Fi & Me –hence the shop name.
She added: “Building up my brand during difficult economic times meant I had to be resourceful with my time, money and energy. It’s a strange coincidence that again, I’m taking a leap during a tricky economic time but, what I’ve found is, the knock-on effect of putting creative work into the world is that it can really improve your well-being and make you more resilient.
“There’s a compound effect if you keep going, plus people always want to show their love for others through purchasing gifts. Also, if your work is making people feel happy there’s immense value in that.”
Fiona believes that supporting small, female-founded businesses is supporting a dream and helping to empower future generations like daughters Charlotte, 13, and nine-year-Fern: “It’s important to me to show my daughters what is possible, that’s why they were guests of honour at the shop opening on Saturday and I asked them to cut the ribbon.
“I’m doing this for them, as well as for myself and wider family. I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my close friends and family so I want to say a huge thank you to them.
Fiona has been planning the shop seriously since June when she went to view the premises, but it was three years ago that she began to think it could be a reality while working at nearby Bele Bakery.
“Kate Ledger, the owner, is also a very close friend and business mentor,” she explained, “and gave me the push to start looking for somewhere to expand my online business into. But it’s always been a dream of mine since childhood to own a shop like this. I was always inspired by holiday gift shops!
“Working with others an important part of my ethos. What has struck me is the similar conversations I’m having with the artists and stockists that come through the door – primarily we are creative women, juggling busy lives, maybe motherhood or other caring responsibilities, with an important need to keep creating, because it fulfils us, but confidence around visibility and pricing plus self-worth can really get in the way.”
Fi & Me offers an expansive range of greeting cards from smaller publishers, including its own brand, plus Rocklesnock Designs, Flossy Teacake, Pink Pen Studio, Palm & Wild, Pipsy Puffin Art, Aisle Studio, My Lovely Thing, The Butterfly & Toadstool, and Lisa Jones Studio, many of which have a handmade and eco-friendly bent, and there’s also sister Jenny’s book The Little Liger, which Fiona illustrated.
Fiona added: “Many of the pin badges and cards have empowering messages and promote diversity and inclusion. I do want people to find something a little bit different when they come in. I love to feel a connection when I make a purchase, which is why I encourage the artists I stock to tell us a bit about their story.”
Early top sellers are the cards by Rocklesnock – plastic-free collage – and the Cosy Candle local brand the shop is currently the exclusive stockist for, plus hand-painted Christmas decorations, handmade toadstool sets by Kymbery Krafts. The Santa Keys and toadstool pin badges by Flossy Teacake have been a big hit too, and anything sausage dog-related has flown out.
With plans to host other artists’ workshops and grow her own online courses, Fiona said: “A big driver for me opening a space was that, during lockdown, I began teaching online draw-along sessions for home-schooling parents. I don’t think the shop would exist without me having started to share my love of drawing, because it gave me the confidence and self-belief to go for it.
“My mum likes to say it’s more than a gift shop, because I’m focusing on supporting independent UK makers, and many from Stockport, Greater Manchester and the High Peak. There’s a vibrant creative community in New Mills, who are very eco-conscious. It’s become a hub for music and cultural events, hosting a yearly arts festival.
“So, even though there is doom and gloom in the media, this isn’t a true representation of what’s happening culturally in towns across the UK.”
Top: It’s a family affair as Fiona Meakin and daughters Charlotte and Fern cut the ribbon at Fi & Me