We were delighted to have a coffee and chat with Flora Mountford, who runs online lifestyle store and magazine, Violet & Percy.
As a female founder and stylist, we were keen to learn more about her inspiring business journey.
Here she chats to our Course Director, Anne about how she started Violet & Percy and what advice she has for our students, who may want to follow in her footsteps.
Anne: Hello Flora, can you tell us more about your background
Flora: Even though I don’t have an art background, I have always had a strong sense of aesthetic and am passionate about interiors and fashion.
My home and the space around me has always been really important to me.
When I moved into my first flat (above an Indian take-away in Reading) over 25 years ago, I persuaded the landlord to let me strip all the floors and decorate on a very limited budget. My passion for changing spaces and styling interiors has just carried on from there.
“I’m passionate about interiors and fashion”
To be honest, I can’t believe it’s now my job. Selling beautiful homewares, gifts and blogging about interiors, fashion and travel. It’s my dream career!
“That’s still my mantra today”
Anne: How did Violet & Percy start?
Flora: My daughter, Ruby inspired me. She was selling a few items on a site called Tictail and so when my son, Stan started secondary school 6 years ago and I had a bit more time on my hands, I thought I would have a go too.
I had inherited £500 from my step-grandmother and I wanted to invest it into something I was passionate about.
My business model was to never go below that first investment.
I already had a substantial Instagram following (that has always been my main source of sales) and decided to sell items I would have in my own home or would gift to a best friend. It’s still my mantra today!
It was thrilling to see those first items sell out. Before I even realised it, I was running my own business.
“I’m not sure what a psychologist would say!”
Anne: Where do the names Violet & Percy come from?
Flora: Ha! thought you would ask me that!
They are the names I would have given my children – if I’d had two more. So my son Stan would have been Violet if he’d been a girl. I’m not sure what a psychologist would say about that!
Anne: What does your normal working day look like?
Flora: Well, my determination to make the business work and not lose that £500, meant learning to do everything myself. Even teaching myself how to launch my own website, sourcing the items for my online shop, taking photos for Instagram, doing all the orders and going to the Post Office numerous times per week!
My husband, Giles, who works in marketing and branding thought I was nuts to do it all when his company could have helped out but it meant that I have kept control of how the business has evolved.
Doing it this way, on my own and slowly, means that Violet & Percy has grown organically. I know everything about my business, including the names of my most loyal clients, so I feel in control and happy with the balance of my business and home life.
6 years on I now fine-tune the business, to make the most of my (limited) time. Now that I’m considered an ‘influencer’ (not a term I would ever use to describe myself!), I work with other companies in joint-ventures as well.
“It’s my business sanctuary”
Anne: Where do you work?
Flora: I’m really lucky to have a studio in the garden, so I can store and package all my stock, take photographs, write the blog and run the office side of things there.
I am quite introverted and enjoy my own company, so most of the time, I love being there, it’s my business sanctuary. Obviously, I have styled it so I feel inspired – and warm, even on the coldest, grey days!
Anne: Where do you get your inspiration (for designs / ideas):
Flora: Travelling is a great way to be inspired and see trends. I’ve had some fantastic city breaks recently, where I make a point of visiting lifestyle stores, boutique hotels, restaurants and galleries so I come back feeling refreshed, energised and motivated to try new things for the business.
Anne: What does the future look like for Violet & Percy?
Flora: I am looking to increase the portfolio of my own brand products, so new t-shirt ranges, more prints and posters, candles and gifts, which my customers seem to like.
Anne: What advice can you give to our students who may be thinking about starting their own businesses?
Flora: Be brave!
When I first started out, I remember visiting a shop in Brighton. I loved some of the things they stocked and wondered whether I would ever be in a position to approach the companies.
Not knowing much about retail or wholesale, pricing, deliveries and returns gave me that terrible ‘imposter syndrome’. But I thought “they can only say ‘no’”. So I just took the plunge and emailed them, they said ‘yes’ and that gave me the confidence to approach lots of brands and designers; large and small.
Anne: What’s the worst thing about your job?
Flora: Social media and posting is so vital to my business success; it means I can rarely ‘switch off’. So even on holiday, I feel as though I should be updating my feed and taking fabulous photos.
But I am so passionate about my business, it rarely feels like a chore.
The up-side is that I am lucky enough to be asked to review some amazing places – I’m off to Lefkas in May to write a blog for a travel company.
Anne: Who inspires you?
Flora: I love many accounts and shops on Instagram. Favourites are Tea & Kate, Young Double and Donna Howell.
Anne: Whose house would you like to be invited to?
Flora: Any in Palm Springs. I’m a big fan of California and Palm Springs exudes that mid-century cool that I can’t get enough of. It’s such a magical, inspirational place.
“The Lie In”
Anne: What does your perfect weekend look like?
Flora: Waking up slowly with a cup of tea in bed and then writing my newsletter, The Lie In. It’s a regular round up of all my favourite podcasts, books, clothes, TV, etc and it arrives in subscribers’ inboxes on Sunday mornings (hence the name). I love a dog walk combined with a pub lunch somewhere in the Cotswolds and if we’re not out with friends in the evening, I’m quite happy curled up on the sofa watching a box set.
Anne: Tell us something unusual about you
Flora: I’m a Guinness World Record holder, believe it or not! A couple of years ago, my kettle bell class set the world record for the heaviest team swing of a kettle bell in one hour. Not bad for a group of women in their forties!
We say ….. thank you Flora for sharing your inspiring story.
We think Flora has style in abundance.
We love her beautiful Instagram posts, her website and how authentic her brand feels. Her choice of affordable, stylish items for the home, her fashion advice and newsletter with her top tips from anything from podcasts to books and culture is a great source of inspiration too.
We’re sure her step-grandmother will be really proud of the investment Flora has made into her business. As an inspiring female founder, Flora has given her time, hard-work and dedication to make Violet & Percy the lifestyle brand it is today.
You can follow Violet & Percy on Instagram, shop at the online store and sign up for Flora’s newsletter, ‘The Lie In’ via the links below: