Written by Sarah Coull
Emily Shaw, founder and CEO of homewares business Harry & Jane, has always loved working with her hands. Having launched her business in 2014, she designs and creates handcrafted items, from tealight holders to tablet stands, using locally sourced reclaimed timber. Check out the career path Emily has built so far!
Describe your company and how it was founded.
Basically, I started Harry & Jane because I was out of work. My dad’s a builder, so I’ve always spent time plodding around the shed, making things. One Christmas I couldn’t think of what to get my dad, so I made him a tablet stand because his tablet stand always used to collapse. Surprisingly, he loved it, and then all of his friends started asking for one as well, so I started making them. It blossomed from there as something to do – then it kind of got really big!
I tend to create smaller-scale items. But I’ve just released a magazine stand, which has been surprisingly popular! I don’t have a very formal way of deciding what to create; I just go ‘what do I want to have next?’ I try to design things really simply, because I like the way wood can knock together and that’s all it needs. I don’t like overcomplicating things. I don’t think objects need to be that complicated – a lot of things are these days and I think that’s a bit silly. I’ll just be looking at a chair or something, and see how something locks together, and I’ll get an idea and go for it from there.
What does your day-to-day work involve?
I spend about two days a week making products, about a day contacting businesses to stock product – then one day doing publicity, and a day to follow up whatever I haven’t done yet!
What were you most interested in at school?
In VCE I opted for all arts subjects – I did art, media and woodwork, and then I did English because I had to.
I don’t have any formal, tertiary training in woodwork. I went to an all girls’ school that didn’t offer woodwork, so when I did it in Year 12 I went down the road to the boys’ school to do the class. I’ve always preferred working with my hands, which I think is kind of difficult as a girl to be honest, because men dominate all those fields. I’ve always been craftier rather than ‘book smart’.
Did you do any post-school education courses?
I actually really wanted to go down the media path, and when I left school and went straight into a course at NMIT [now Melbourne Polytechnic]. I did the Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media over two years. It was a great course – very practical. I got to play with cameras and work in the studio, and barely had to write anything!
Have you had any other jobs along your career path that helped lead you to your current role?
The really good thing about NMIT was that they had a relationship with Channel Ten offering traineeships to students. I didn’t actually get one of these, but when I applied I seemed to impress the editor of the newsroom. So I worked for Channel Ten for a bit as a video editor in the newsroom. It was quite stressful – you were given a news story and had to edit it while the news was running because it would run at the end of the news! I was in that role for a few months. I think I was too young for it to be honest (I was nineteen).
When I finished at Channel Ten, I travelled for a couple of years, then when I came back I did contract and freelance work as a video editor. I worked on videos for all sorts of different companies and people, from Australian Unity to doing a music video for Clare Bowditch. Whenever I heard of something I applied as a freelancer – camera work and video editing were my specialty areas. I got really anxious in that industry and found myself getting stressed about things that I didn’t need to be stressed about. That’s another reason why I pulled back and started Harry & Jane – I only have to rely on myself, which I really like because in the film industry you have to rely on so many people in your daily work.
Did you take anything from your experience in media as a video editor which you were able to apply to starting the business of Harry & Jane?
It’s a bit of a whole different world but the biggest thing I learnt is how to be organised: how to organise other people, how to collaborate with other people; basically how to manage your time, which was invaluable for starting my own business.
What else has impacted your career path?
I think what I learnt from travelling for a year around Europe, before I started freelancing as a video editor, was how to be independent. I’m the youngest in my family – out of everyone, including cousins – so everyone always did everything for me, as much as I hate to admit it! But going travelling by myself, I had to get everything done myself. I was always really scared – and this sounds silly – of answering phones and calling people. But something like that, especially going to countries where people don’t speak English, you get much better at. I think just learning some of those normal, everyday skills was pretty much the thing that would have been holding me back [from starting my business].
What are the key skills you need in running your own business?
Resilience is hands-down the most important thing. For things like getting knock backs from stockists, finding that products don’t work after you’ve put in heaps of money to get them out, talking to people who don’t seem interested at all, realising you’ve overspent – anything really. Pretty much every day you go, ‘No, I don’t want to do this anymore!’ and then five minutes later you just throw yourself back in and go ‘what can I do’. So you need to be really resilient.
What has been one of the major challenges you’ve had to overcome in launching your own business?
Probably figuring out systems so I don’t constantly feel like I’m chasing my tail. I’ve learnt that staying on top of all the really boring admin stuff is key. I think that was quite hard – and it comes across when you’re talking with stockists and other business associates if you haven’t put in that time. It’s really a part of the job I don’t like doing do! But it’s vital.
What do you enjoy the most about your work and the industry you are in?
It would have to be the mix of sitting there by myself making the products, and doing the promo photo shoots. Because I have the background in film I do all of this by myself. I often use my own flat and my friends’ places, which have great light. I do tend to go to friends’ houses to check out the light – especially when they’ve moved!
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