Tuesday 30 April 2013

2Inspire Business Profile: Arhinarmah Luxury Furniture and interior accessories

In this 2Inspire Business Profile we meet Catherine Yaa Arhin  the founder of Arhinamah and find out about this wonderfully creative and successful luxury interiors brand. This interview is a must-read for all of you who believe in your ideas and your dreams! Catherine's story is sure to inspire you!
Please tell us what is a typical business day for you?
Arhinarmah (pronounced AH – HIN – ARM – AH) is an independent London based label which creates luxury pieces of furniture and soft furnishing items with an African accent.
I set my business up in April 2013 so it’s still in its infancy. At this point I can hand on heart say that no two days are the same. Sometimes my schedule is taxing, it’s almost always punishing – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The ability to dictate my own schedule and the variety that my role brings is a definite plus but more importantly, as a ‘creative’ having the ability to ‘create’ beautiful pieces and bring my imagination to fruition is what really drives me.
My day normally starts at 9.00am with a double soya cappuccino, (I know, I should really kick the habit). I check emails, the performance over Arhinarmah’s social media accounts and make follow up calls around this time. If any orders have been placed a member of the team will arrange for the goods to be packaged and sent out.
Using yesterday as an example, I travelled to Waterloo to meet one of our stockists and introduce her to some of the cushions from our new collection over lunch. Cultivating good relationships with all my vendors is a large component of the job.
Around 1pm, I headed to our studio in North West London (where we produce most of our images). I spent a few hours there with our photographer trying to perfect them. Quality is everything to me; having consistency across the brand and everything that I put out to the public is very important to me. This transcends from first contact, through our website, right down to the speed in which we deliver.
On leaving the studio, (with just enough time for a sarnie on the way home), it was 7pm when I got back. I spent an hour or so doing homework with my son and fixed him a meal for the following day (gotta look after number one). I held a late conference call with two members of my team where we discussed events that we’re interested in participating in and our strategic plan for the next 3 months. If I wasn’t on the call I would have been conceptualising new products, engaging with our followers on social media or looking up potential stockists. It’s never ending!

What made you start the business and how did you get started?

I’d spent over 10 years working in the city in a variety of roles. I had firsthand experience in everything from marketing, public speaking, project management, team building, HR and recruitment. I spent many years shadowing CEOs, Directors and Board level committees in companies that ranged from FTSE 100 to small start ups. I excelled in each of my roles and to a large extent was pretty comfortable. In Board meetings I was often the only female (definitely the only black female in the room) but this never fazed me at all. I have always exercised my right to have an opinion and was always valued for my observations and contributions.
When I hit 30, I realised I didn’t want to be ‘comfortable’ anymore. I’ve lost count of the number of times colleagues and managers urged me to apply for The Apprentice. I knew I wanted to utilise the business skills that I had gained while working in the city. At the same time I’ve always been creative and I wanted to go back and explore this aspect of my character.
Being of Ghanaian descent (born and bred in the UK), I wanted to create a label that reflected both sides of my heritage. Arhinarmah exists to fuse African fabrics and symbols with the quality and workmanship that’s synonymous with British craftsmanship and design.

As a child, one of my greatest role models was my Grandfather. His name was Joseph C Armah and he was employed as a Barrister at Ghana’s High Court. Quality was everything to him. He was a man who everyone held in high regard, at the time of passing he had built up a nice little empire for himself. I recently received copies of his will and found he had several properties, numerous plots of land in and around of Accra and a stake in two companies. He held shares and bonds – and he built this all up between the 1950‘s to 1970’s.
I remember staying at his main house in the centre of Accra as a child, which was a 4 storey building (virtually unheard of back then). I can vividly remember the custom leather furniture in his living room, the marble flooring, the pieces he had imported in from all around the world – and I knew I wanted to create something in his honour. With my granddad in mind, Arhin (my surname) Armah (his surname) was born.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the business world to date?
Receiving the Blue Butterfly mark by Award winning organisation Positive Luxury. We sit alongside established luxury brands such as Balenciaga, Valentino and Boucheron on account of our ethics in business which is fantastic. Check us out under brands at:  http://www.positiveluxury.com/brands/
Secondly, I was approached by three separate investors within the first 3 months of the business going live. Again, I think this is a testament to the brand and the fact that people are becoming more open minded to inviting ethnicity into their lives, be it through fashion, food or accessories. It’s a beautiful thing.

What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
Spreading myself too thin. I have a fantastic team working with me, and I also employ several contractors however, as the ‘creative genius’ behind the brand I’m still involved in every aspect of the business. With Arhinarmah expanding at the rate that it is, delegation is becoming the rule – there literally aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do everything that I’d like.

In addition to my business I’m also a mother & fiancée. Chuck in the workaholic aspect of my personality and you wonder how I manage to apportion enough of my time to everyone.  It’s a delicate juggling act and a challenge to say the least.

What are your future plans for the business?
I don’t want to divulge too much at this stage – but the future’s looking very bright.
We’re about to launch a range of customised furniture which will include chaise lounges, free standing armchairs and custom dining room furniture.

Much of our focus for the remainder of the year is on the delivery and development of our signature line. You can visit us on Facebook (Arhinarmah.London), Instagram (arhinarmah), Twitter (@arhinarmah) or Pinterest (arhinarmah). If you love what we do these platforms are a good way to stay abreast of our latest developments.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. It was the right time for me. Any earlier and I was too comfortable. Any later and I might never have done it. Every day is a blessing, I’m living the life I was supposed to and I’m doing something I love. I’m pretty sure JC Armah is looking down on me with pride right now.

Why is it so important to inspire young women in particular to follow their dreams?
As women we’re conditioned to believe that our primary function is to be a carer. We naturally assume responsibility for caring for our children, our partners, our friends and our relatives. While this is admirable there comes a time in our lives when we sit back and assess our pasts and look at what we’ve done for ourselves. When the kids have up and flown the nest, women often find themselves looking back in regret on dreams that they pushed aside on account of their families.

I believe everyone has the power to shape their own destiny and fulfil their potential. All too often we forget about following our dreams and later on live to regret it, women more so than men so take your life in both hands and carve out the future you deserve for yourself. Don’t let anyone or anything hold you back.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry?
Do your research - it’s a tough industry so understand that you’ll need to be in it for the long haul (and not necessarily to make a quick buck). Secondly, ensure you’ve clarified what it is about you that makes you different from everyone else.

What or who inspires you in business and why?
Brand wise I’m inspired by London based House of Hackney, Versace Home and Missoni.
Personality wise my grandfather, Deborah Meadon and Peter Jones. In terms of  innovation – Anita Quansah. There are several Directors and CEOs that I’ve worked with over the years who have definitely helped to shape my personality by believing in me and putting me in positions of responsibility. I won’t do shout out’s here but they know who they are.

What is your favourite inspirational quote?
‘It’s better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation’

The full collection can be found at www.arhinarmah.co.uk


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