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Carrie Lewis reveals how she and her husband James channelled their love of kawaii design and sketchbook characters into Little Moose, their quirky jewellery label

Tell me a bit about how the label was started.
Little Moose is the creative vision shared by me and my husband James. It began as a series of doodled characters in a sketchbook 10 years ago. At the time, James was working in digital marketing and I was a successful bag designer for a UK wholesaler; we'd both studied design at university.
Around this time, the influx of kawaii (Japanese for cute) design - both products and illustrations - was just starting to gain traction, as were the vinyl designer toys (Kidrobot particularly). We were both fans of this character-driven style. We were soon looking for ways to turn our sketchbook characters into products, eventually turning them into laser-cut acrylic jewellery, or Doodllery as we originally called them. From there, Little Moose grew into what it is today.

What was the aim of the label when it was first established?
As it is now, when we started out, Little Moose was about having fun with fashion - to create cute and quirky products that people wouldn't be able to find on the high street. We were inspired by all sorts of character design and had a shared passion for animals and the weird and the wonderful.

How were the initial products developed, and what was the response?
Initially, we really struggled to even find somewhere to help create our acrylic designs. Whilst the notion of laser cutting is commonplace today, when we started out we had to find everything out from scratch.
Doodllery, based on the sketchbook characters, were the first pieces that we produced and it took us three further years to develop our follow-up designs, and then the following year we decided to take all of our collections to a trade show. Our first collections - which included Sloth, Raincloud and Unicorn - were developed over several months, from a pool of dozens of ideas.

What challenges were overcome when the company was starting out?
When we began, we were learning everything - and I mean everything - on the job. It was just two people trying to design, make and market everything. We'd like to say that things were strategically planned down to the nth degree but that simply isn't true. It was a whirlwind of decision making. While it was chaotic, it pushed us along very quickly and that has helped us to make better decisions today, and really understand both Little Moose and the industry. Little Moose blurs lines between fashion and gift so finding our niche was a challenge. We knew that we had a market from doing the larger consumer shows for handmade products - and the reception we got selling directly to customers really spurred us on.
One of the biggest challenges that we faced was reaching the right customers, both wholesale and retail. When we launched our first real collections, our website was in its infancy and we had no brand following, and very few industry contacts. We decided that we needed to attend trade shows, but how do you pick which?
In the beginning, our production process was fragmented, we got our pieces laser cut elsewhere beforehand assembling everything ourselves. This increased production times and with the difficult nature of the designs, it was a lot of pressure to get orders dispatched as quickly as we'd want.
Moving all of our production in house has been a huge benefit, both in fulfilling orders and developing new products

What sets you apart from your competitors?
We think that Little Moose offers creativity and craftsmanship. That is really what it boils down to. We also mix playful products with more fashion-led designs.
Little Moose is very much our vision, we don't tend to look to outside influences or trends. We never feel forced to create a collection to fit in. We want to love all of our products and hopefully this comes through. Naturally, some trends will come through, but we try and make sure that everything we do is recognisably our brand.
We're also always looking to push ourselves and the materials we use. When we started working with acrylic eight to nine years ago, most acrylic jewellery was a lot more two-dimensional; they had single-layered silhouettes for the most part. We had to find a solution that enabled us to mix multiple colours and shapes together to bring our designs to life and create something with extra depth - it's a time-consuming process, which is probably why we're still fairly original in our approach.

How important is the location and history of the company to its success?
We're based near Brighton, which is a fabulously diverse and creative place. It's great for us personally. Customers like that we're based in England and that all of our jewellery is handmade here and internationally; we've seen that there is an even greater element of prestige attached to handmade British products in recent years.

How has the product offering changed over the years and how would you describe your current collection?
Our product offering has grown organically with us, as our interests and influences change but we're still drawn to nature for our main inspiration.
We're always pushing the materials where we can and over the years we've become more skilled and confident in what we and the material can achieve. This has allowed us to create more detailed and intricate pieces over the past 12 months than ever before.
We're always looking to blur the line between fun and fashion, to create one-of-a-kind pieces that will raise a smile and not look out of place in the office or on a night out. Our newest collections reflect this attitude, and our autumn/winter 2016 pieces will continue this trend.

How often do you launch new lines?
We look to release collections twice a year, for the spring/summer and autumn/winter seasons but sometimes we'll release smaller collections mid-season as well.
We're lucky enough to be able to realise ideas fairly quickly. As everything is produced in house, we don't have long lead times on waiting for samples that some companies might have, we can come up with an idea and have a prototype to work from within a couple of hours.

What are the current bestselling designs?
Our Alice in Wonderland collection has been hugely successful for us - the story is so recognisable and was a perfect blend of quirkiness and heritage for us to explore and play with. It was just such a lovely, natural fit for us. Our Raincloud range seems to sit perfectly between age groups and fashion styles. We always try and have some line which are a bit more easy-to-wear alongside the more eccentric designs - the rainclouds reflect this approach perfectly. Our Sloth collection, which is a couple of years old now, remains popular as sloths have had a bit of a renaissance. We've even got some new stud earrings on the way due to the demand!

Which trade shows do you attend and which one works best for you?
Trade shows have been an important part of our growth and over the past few years we've probably attended most! Currently, Top Drawer and Pure London are the shows that we find work the best. The slightly different markets work well for us as we sit somewhere between gift and fashion.
We'll be attending Premiere Classe in Paris for the second time in September, having really enjoyed the experience in January. It's a very different atmosphere to the British shows, but hugely inspiring and opens Little Moose up to a far more global audience.

When was the website launched and how does it support the business?
The website was launched in 2010 and is a vital part of our business - it's the only place where you can pick up all of our collections, so for customers, it provides the biggest window into our brand and style.
Stockists only pick a selection of our products to sell in their shops: usually the newer collections, so we have so much more to show them online. Anyone visiting our website can see the full depth of our design range and get the complete Little Moose experience.
The website is also great for setting your brand's tone of voice and acts as the hub for social media; as a growing business, we rely on social media to direct people to the website rather than waiting for people to stumble across us via Google searches.

What have been the key milestones in the business?
As a small business, there are so many milestones - they seem to come along every couple of months!
Certainly our first trade show, which was an edition of Top Drawer Autumn, was a huge moment because it legitimised what we were doing. We were able to pick up some good customers - who are still working with us - and gauge reactions to our initial product lines. There's a real art to trade show set-ups and, although we're still finessing every show, the lessons learnt at the first show were hugely important.
Last year's Alice in Wonderland collection was also vital for us; not only was it a privilege to be asked by the British Library to come up with the collection for the 150th anniversary, it really opened us up to a huge audience due to the prominence of their pop-up shop, media coverage and large visitor numbers. The range has been one of our most successful and has really allowed us to scale up our business.

What trends, both in product and in business, do you see emerging in the jewellery industry?
Collaboration is something that appears to be growing rapidly - particularly across mediums. Jewellery designers collaborating with clothing brands or illustrators, even jewellery brands working together with other jewellery brands to create new collections or even one-off products. This is definitely something that we're seeing more and more.
In light of Brexit, it's hard to predict what and where things are going to go within the market. We would hope that the (already popular) Made in Britain marque will see increased interest both domestically and internationally.
There has definitely been growth in the more colourful and character driven style, alongside nods to pop culture amongst premium fashion labels over the past 18 months which we certainly see continuing. Moschino and Anya Hindmarch have been leading that charge wonderfully. Oh, and lastly, metal badges and pins are a huge trend in jewellery design right now!

What are your future plans for the business?
We want to grow internationally, particularly looking towards the Asian markets: we're heavily influenced by the fashion and design of the region and would really like to have a presence in Japan and South Korea within the next 12 months.
We're at a point where we need to increase our production capacity, so we'll be looking at taking on some additional staff in the coming months, which will probably necessitate new premises. It'd be great to have a flagship store of our own as well, but that's a longer term plan - we've got lots of other areas to focus on beforehand.