Jinny Ngui is a freelance product designer based in East London who graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2005 with a degree in ceramic design. Having freelanced for high street brands and luxury labels, Jinny started to miss the hands-on element of making ceramics and bought herself a kiln so she could produce her own ceramic tableware, which she sells online, at markets and craft fairs. She uses patterns, bold graphics and colour in her work, drawing inspiration from nature, galleries, museums, architecture and the rich cultural mix of London.
“…Having a support network is invaluable, especially when you feel you’ve hit a wall. Going to my first meet-up was really daunting, but I’ve realised by holding back I was only holding myself back…”
Becoming an entrepreneur
After studying ceramic design, I fell into more general product design after doing a few internships. I really enjoyed working with a team and working with different materials, but I missed working on my own ideas. After six years, I was made redundant in 2012. I had already bought a kiln which I used in my spare time, so I thought why not focus more on my own designs and see what happens? Four years down the line and I have been selling my tableware online and at various markets and craft fairs.
My typical day
In August 2016, I finally moved into a studio in Hackney Wick. It’s been amazing creating a dedicated workspace, not only for me but for my home life too. Working from home does have its advantages but it was very difficult to separate from work.
On a general day, I first check my emails and see if I have any new orders. This gives me an idea of how to plan my day before I leave for the studio. Before I do anything else I walk my little partner in crime, Ham, my Border Terrier. He’s been with me since I started my business four years ago, he’s great company and he comes with me to the studio. When I get to studio I always start with a cup of tea. My daily work varies from researching ideas and working on new designs, decorating whiteware and scheduling my firings, fulfilling outstanding orders and general admin.
Running your own business: Perception versus the reality
I think the general perception is you have less stress when you have your own business and you can go off on holiday whenever you wish. Yes, I don’t have to get my holidays signed off, I don’t have to deal with office politics or commuting, but I have to wear every ‘hat’ in the business.
I have to chase invoices, which I absolutely hate doing and sometimes there is no money coming in. If I do go on holiday I don’t get any holiday pay and there is no-one to cover my work, so my laptop often comes with me, making switching off very hard. I do put a lot of added pressure on myself, which I imagine most small business owners must do. The main difficulty of owning your own business is there isn’t a standard linear path to follow, so you have to feel your way through and make decisions based on your own intuition.
‘Putting myself out there’
When you study, you are taught to think critically about your work as it can be very easy to have tunnel vision. Essentially to have a successful business you need products that sell, this is always in my mind when I think about creating a new design.
I use digital ceramic printing, which means I can sample my designs before committing to them. The hardest balance is looking at trends and taking inspiration from them. It can be tempting to follow trends and take advantage of them, but you need to put your own stamp on it to make an authentic design.
My Chinese heritage isn’t a conscious influence on my design style – it’s more in the background. Growing up in a multicultural country and living in London I have been exposed to so many influences, but over the past few years I have taken more of an active interest in my Chinese heritage.
An extended network of enterprising friends
Having a dog has really helped me avoid feelings of isolation when I’m working alone, as I have to maintain a routine for Ham with regular walks and you always meet other dog owners or bump into neighbours. But it’s always great to meet like-minded people.
Being an Etsy seller there are lots of community forums you can join and I joined the London Local Team in Summer 2015. The team is led by Emma Barnes of Wild Fawn Jewellery and Melodie Telliez of Slinky Links Jewellery, and the team are very active, hosting monthly meet-ups, workshops and markets. If you have an Etsy or business question you can guarantee someone in the team will know the answer or push you in the right direction.
My confidence has really grown since joining the team and I have made some great new friends. Having a support network is invaluable, especially when you feel you’ve hit a wall. Going to my first meet-up was really daunting, but I’ve realised by holding back I was only holding myself back. I am now one of the leaders of the team.
If you want to get ahead, get social
Twitter and social media in general are great free tools for a small business. They do take time to work out and find what works best for you, but it’s worth it. Even if you pay someone to do it for you, it’s so important to have an online presence as people spend more and more time on mobile devices and the Internet.
Joining in Twitter hours is a fantastic way to promote your products and business – for example #CraftHour and #HandmadeHour. By promoting and supporting each other, you reach a wider audience. I also discover new products for myself or for gift ideas, so it’s nice to shop small where I can rather than on the high street.
One of my goals for 2017 was to start approaching shops. I was really fortunate to meet new shop owner Jane West of All Original in Ealing, at one of my Christmas markets. All Original is a lovely gift shop on Ealing Green which actively supports designer makers and I have just rented a shelf space to sell my tableware. I have been wanting to supply shops for a long time but it’s taken time for me to get myself there. I also want to wholesale some of my designs this year. You can keep up with my progress by connecting on social media – details below. I’d love to hear from you.