Around a year or so ago now I stumbled across a brightly coloured van in my local makers market. Emblazoned with the words ‘Meraki Gift’, it was instantly apparent that this was something different and intrigued by the patterned exterior, I rushed in to find an Aladdin’s cave of curated gifts from various other small independent makers. With only room enough for a few, it wasn’t hard to find the lass behind the concept and after an instant connection, we ended up chatting all things product design and all that goes along with it in the world of business.
The lady behind it all you ask? Nadia Flanagan – a whirlwind of positivity, creativity and strength, all with extra sparkles and a whole lotta glamour to boot. Meraki is a Greek word meaning the soul, creativity and love you put into your work. Being Greek Cypriot, meraki is one of Nadia’s favourite words and reminds her of her ‘yiayia’ (meaning grandmother).
Having chatted on Instagram continually since as well as grabbing a cuppa as well as cocktails at Meraki’s first birthday earlier this year, Nadia and I even braced the rain together at Secret Garden Party back in August. Let’s just say that even as a first-timer she made it through the day, and as hardcore attendee back in the day, I didn’t. Running a business from a truck can be hard, cold and wet! Even so, we took the time to get down to an interview and I hope you’ll take the time to read it. This hun is on to great things and her story is an interesting one. Here we go!
Can you tell me the inspiration behind the Meraki Gift truck?
I’ve always known I wanted to create something really different! When friends and family would ask me what, I just wasn’t able to explain in words what exactly it would be because it didn’t exist yet!
The art of gift buying, and I do see it as an art, has always been a passion of mine. I enjoy every aspect of it – from getting lost in beautiful gift shops searching for the perfect gift that fits the recipient, to wrapping it and finally watching their face fill with joy as they open it! But I understand that not everyone feels the same so I wanted to change the way people feel when they shop. I wanted to bridge the gap between high street and online and give consumers a new exciting and inspiring platform to shop from – a fun retail concept.
At the same time I needed it to be realistic and viable as a business so having a truck converted into a small shop was a brilliant way to avoid high rent fees in London, which unfortunately is the reason most small businesses fail.
And what did your friends and family think to that?
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very creative person with crazy ideas. When I first told them, the overall reaction was “here she goes again”! It took them a while to be convinced that it could work and to even understand what I was saying to them.
It wasn’t until 4 months after I had been talking about it over a curry dinner with my friends when I actually rocked up in a fully converted transit van in the back that they started taking me seriously!
What were you doing before Meraki Gift?
I’ve always worked in retail. I dropped out of university after the first term because I wanted to get out into the real world and work. I worked in fashion retail for Karen Millen, Monsoon, and Reiss throughout my 20’s and worked my way up to management. In the meantime, I met my husband, got married and had two boys. Working such demanding hours in such a high-intensity job made me realise I was missing out on spending time with my children. This is what led me to start thinking about starting my own business.
When I first met you, you told me how you were literally living out your dream. How did you overcome the hurdles of fear, procrastination and the other struggles when setting up the business?
It’s such a scary thing to take a massive risk and do something where there are no guarantees! I think it has a lot to do with the type of person I am. I am very positive and always see the bright side and I’m not afraid of hard work.
If ever I have small doubts or pangs of fear (which is normal and I get them very often), I just use all my strength to turn it into positive energy and hustle on. I never allow myself to give into the struggle, I just look back at what I’ve achieved so far and I listen to my gut because it’s always right! It also helps that I have amazing friends and family around who support and believe in me endlessly!
And how did you set up funding your dream job?
My husband and my mum are the two most supportive people in my life, they always believe in me. So when I came to them with my idea my mum agreed to lend me the money I needed and my husband also gave me his blessing to use our savings! I was very lucky to be able to start this venture without owing a bank money which has led me to be able to continue without monthly repayments hanging over me, allowing me to enjoy every second of what I am doing! I am not driven by money at all, it’s pure passion and I believe that is why everyone who has visited Meraki Gift agrees that it is such a special experience and why it has such potential to be successful.
How do you curate the products you feature in the van? Is there a secret to the kind of product pitches that you’ll go for or is it just unique items that you’re into?
Sourcing products for the van is literally the most fun thing I do! I spend a very long time finding the right products but as soon as I see it I know if it’s a must. I have a very keen eye for what I know will do well in Meraki. It’s also very important to me that once I’ve fallen in love with a brand or product that I take the time to get to know the story and people behind it. I love to tell my customers a lot about each product and I find it helps inspire them more and fall in love with it the same way I did!
As well as running Meraki Gift, you’re also a mum. How do you find the time to balance your work and personal life and what tips would you offer others out there juggling multiple pursuits? The term GIRL BOSS definitely springs to mind.
Again I’m very lucky to have such a strong support system around me and my husband is amazing he really takes charge at home to allow me time to focus on making Meraki Gift be successful! My mum also gives me the best advice and whenever I feel overwhelmed she will be the first to remind me that it’s ok to be feeling that way and it will all be worth it one day.
The best tips I can offer are being as organised as possible by having your goals clearly set out and managing your time accordingly. Multitasking is a must – you’ll often find me cooking dinner and stamping bags at the same time or I take a lot of my work calls whilst walking the dog! It’s amazing what you can fit into a day and I always remember a quote I saw once saying ‘you have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyoncé’ and it kind of stuck in the back of my mind!
You celebrated Meraki’s 1st birthday earlier this year, what are your plans for Meraki for this last part of 2017 and beyond?
I just launched my online shop in October so I’m currently focusing on growing that. I’m also planning on touring the UK with the truck next summer! I want to get it seen by as many people as possible.When I started this business I thought the main thing I wanted to do was franchise it, which is still a possibility, but I also I can’t wait to open a second Meraki that is super unique… I’m not entirely sure what but I’m thinking along the lines of a tree house gift shop or something!