The second edition in our series of lockdown success stories belongs to Vanity Edit. After the temporary closure of their existing Aberdeen salon, Vanity Studio’s sisters Aimee and Ashleigh Gill refused to let the pandemic restrictions stifle their hard work ethic and creativity. They used the time that lockdown gave them to finally launch their idea of creating a hair accessory brand, and Vanity Edit was born.
We recently caught up with Ashleigh to find out how they managed to innovate and launch a new business during a pandemic, what their biggest challenges and accomplishments have been, and how they feel lockdown has benefitted this new venture.
Tell us a little bit about Vanity Edit and the inspiration behind it.
“Vanity Edit is focused on offering fashion-forward accessories which also look after your hair. A common issue we noticed from running our salon was that a lot of our clients were suffering from hair breakage and coming to us asking ‘why is this happening?’. But, generally speaking, most people tend to go to a salon for their treatment and then end up getting cheap shampoo and hair care products from the supermarket in between their visits, which leads to the hair becoming more damaged.
“We would explain the importance of hair care and recommend certain brands to our clients, but Aimee and I came up with the idea one night of creating our own hair accessories brand that incorporates materials that are kinder to your hair and won’t cause so much breakage. We had also been struggling to find cool, trendy products on the market that we wanted to wear, so we thought why not do something different and create our own products that are fashionable but also help to look after our customers’ hair.
“That’s where the idea came from; we really wanted to solve a problem our clients were having and create something we would actually want to wear too! We now sell a mix of Mulberry Silk scrunchies, Eco Bamboo scrunchies, as well as very current hair accessories like hair claws, snap clips and vegan leather hair straps.”
How have you found the past year, starting a new business during the pandemic?
“It’s been really good actually! We’ve become more focused on our social media presence and have had the time to really dedicate ourselves to it and bring in new products, which has really helped us. I think we’re probably getting a lot of our sales during lockdown because so many people have been at home and not able to go out like they used to, so they’re getting a bit more screen time and seeing us on social media. Also, those that have been working during lockdown still have the money to spend but nowhere to go, so we’ve actually kept ourselves quite busy because of the pandemic.
“We’ve managed to reach a wider audience as well. When we were initially looking to start selling our own accessories, we expected that we would just do that through the salon where a lot of our sales had been customers based in and around Aberdeen. But when lockdown started, we had no choice but to take the business online and sell purely through our website and social media channel, so we’ve been able to sell to more people who are further afield which has been amazing!”
What has been your biggest challenge as a local business owner during lockdown?
“I would say the costs and logistics of actually setting things up has been a big challenge. The products we’re selling aren’t exactly the cheapest to make, especially the hair claws, but we wanted them to be really high quality. So we’re doing everything from scratch - from the designing of the products, to sourcing our manufacturers and suppliers, then getting the products engraved with our branding. It’s been a lot of hard work and expense during a very uncertain time.
“Our leather hair wraps, for example, were made solely in Scotland which we’re really proud of, but actually finding suppliers who were still open and able to bring our design concept to life was hard, especially when we couldn’t actually meet in person with the social distancing restrictions.”
What has been your biggest accomplishment during lockdown?
“Since starting Vanity Edit less than a year ago, we’ve really gotten our name out there through influencer marketing. We’ve seen bloggers with quite a big social media following actually start to wear our products and promote them, which has been amazing because I think social media can be really hard to crack right now with the way the algorithms are set up.
“We’ve sent our products to quite well known influencers in the industry, such as Lauren Pack, Tanya Maynard, Yasmin Arabella and Miss Galbraith who’s a local blogger. I think one of the biggest accomplishments for us so far was when Jess Amy Stodart, an actress in Hollyoaks, actually found us on Instagram and messaged to say she loves our scrunchies, so we sent her a pack of them.
“Just seeing people wearing our products has been a highlight. I actually saw someone in the supermarket the other day wearing one of our claws and it just makes me realise that people like what we’re doing and that we’re doing something right! We choose all the acetates and the colours, how we want it engraved, how we want the products to look, so it’s lovely seeing other people enjoying the ideas that you’ve worked so hard at and taken the time to design. I wouldn’t say we’ve reached where we want to be yet, but we will get there through hard work!”
How do you think you’ve managed to turn such a negative situation into a positive for your business?
“Aimee and I are very dedicated people, we can’t just sit on our bums and do nothing - we always have to be doing something! I think that mentality has kept us going. We could have quite easily just closed the shop and felt helpless with the whole situation but we didn’t. We decided to focus on a new direction and turned it into Vanity Edit.
“This had been something we spoke about before but just never had the time to actually do it because we were running the salon. I feel like lockdown gave us the time we needed to get the business going and once we started, it all kind of fell into place - so I guess that’s been a really positive thing to come out of the pandemic.”
How have you managed to stay connected with your customers during the pandemic?
“Social media has definitely helped us stay connected. Our clients are so loyal anyway and a lot of them would message me personally if they had a question or were looking for some advice, even before lockdown. We’ve always had that relationship with them which is really nice, but we’ve made even more of an effort to create content that’s interactive, like posting polls or question boxes on our Instagram stories to see what people are liking, keeping them engaged, and finding out what people want to see from us in our content and our product. It’s good for us because it’s free feedback, so why wouldn’t you take it?!
“As I mentioned, we’ve sent our accessories to bloggers who are on a national level, but we’ve also sent products to some of our existing customers from the salon who are aspiring bloggers or influencers. At the end of the day, regardless of whether they have a big social media following or not, they’re the reason we were able to start this new venture and have been our main support since we opened the salon. We relied on those people who actually wanted to come to us at the salon and they’ve been loyal to us, so we really felt that it was important to show how much we appreciate that.”
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business, especially during such an uncertain time?
“On the one hand I would say you have to be smart about it, especially if you’re like us and have another business to keep afloat during these times. Aimee and I were lucky enough to have money set aside for starting this new venture, so that helped to tie us over. But if you have a pot of savings that you’re able to spend to get something started, then just go for it!
“Everyone always says ‘what if it doesn’t work out?’, but I would say to anyone that if you’ve got an idea and you want to run with it, just run with it. The worst thing that could happen is it’s not going to work out, but that’s fine - just try something different.
“When we first opened the salon, it was a bit of a situation where we were thinking ‘oh god I hope this works’, and I think that’s the way it is with anything in life. You have to just go with it and see how it works out, otherwise you’ll never know.”
What are some of your favourite local businesses at the moment and why?
“One business who has been really helpful all throughout lockdown is Rooted in Scotland. She’s been amazing - we sent her a photo of a shelf of ours and she basically filled it with all her custom made plants and really took the time to do that for us.
“Another one would be Scents by Miss C - Caroline is a client of ours at Vanity studios and we love using her lovely fragrances in the salon and at home. They’re handmade and smell absolutely lovely!
“We also love Forest Farm. They have a really cool vending machine for milk and ice cream which is the first one in Scotland - I think that’s so innovative and forward thinking, and we love the concept!”
Why do you think it’s so important for people to support local businesses, especially during a pandemic?
“Supporting the local businesses around you really does help to sustain people’s livelihood. It’s been so tough for a lot of self-employed people to actually continue their work during lockdown. Although the Government has been helping, it’s almost not enough to overcome the financial burden of it all so as a community, we have to step in too.
“It’s so important for everything you’re buying, whether it’s your local butcher, plants, homeware - it would have been so easy for me to go online to a big retailer and buy plants from there, but it doesn’t seem right to me when there’s amazing local businesses right here. If local businesses thrive then it makes our community more affluent, and it makes Aberdeen an even nicer place to be.”