Meet the Maker – Leila and Azalea

It’s been a couple of months since my last Meet the Maker post and so happy to be back and talking about a lovely business with the kind of vintage ethic that is close to my heart.  Leila and Azalea uses pages from vintage books and upcycles them into beautiful pictures with words and pictures that make for completely unique pieces of art.

What is your background and how did you get started with Leila and Azalea?

Originally from South Africa, I moved to Manchester with my parents and sister when I was almost 16.  I’ve always known I wanted to be a teacher, so the decision to do a BEd (Hons) at Manchester Metropolitan University was an easy one.

I taught at a Junior school in Stretford for 16 years, until leaving in July 2018.  It was the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make, especially as I’m a naturally cautious person who hates change!  There were many reasons, but ultimately it boiled down to needing more of a work/life balance.  Life moves fast, my two daughters are growing up and I’ll never get this chance to be with them again while they’re young.

I love my home and have always upcycled.  Over the years I’ve enjoyed making special gifts for family and friends and have been creative with my daughters’ party bags– shunning the usual shop bought plastic for things like personalized wire and beaded spoons and a sundae glass filled with goodies, as an example.  Being creative was a little trickier when I was teaching as I didn’t have a lot of free time, however I used to love being a part of my artist sister-in-law’s open days in her home where she would have a range of creatives selling their makes and products.

My friends and family have always told me I should sell my makes, but I didn’t have the courage to do so as a business.  Making some life changes last year (coincidentally the year I turned 40!) and leaving my permanent job, I decided I would push myself out of my comfort zone and give it a go, creating an Instagram page and booking markets to sell my pictures.  The name ‘Leila and Azalea’ comes from the names of my grandmother’s two cousins.  I grew up listening to my mum telling me about them and the reason for my name being chosen.

What is your work process?

I love old things!  I scour charity shops, car boots and vintage fairs for interesting vintage books.  I particularly love those with a botanical theme as well as maps and dictionaries and then I use a range of nature inspired images on them.  I’m also a bit of a fan of the odd motivational quote!  This comes from my teaching days when I began every day with something on the board to motivate, inspire or provoke thought and discussion for my class.  When I can, I like to frame my prints in vintage/pre-loved frames.  My family get bombarded with images of my pictures and are always brutally honest, which I find very useful.  They’re my quality control team!

Where do you turn to for inspiration for your designs?

Inspiration is all around us these days isn’t it?   Some of my pictures bring back memories from my childhood, the natural elements definitely come from my love of flowers and the walks we enjoy going on as a family.  I suppose, subconsciously, some of it comes from my teaching background – the motivational quotes, the use of dictionaries and of course maps (I was the school’s Geography co-ordinator!)  Instagram is a great source of inspiration, as is Pinterest and interior décor magazines.

How would you describe your own interior style?

I would sum up my style as eclectic as it is a real mixture of old, new, original, upcycled and re-purposed items.  When putting together our first home as a newly married couple, money was tight, so everything had to be done on a budget.  We bought lots of old furniture and items from second hand shops, vintage fairs, charity shops and car boot sales and we’ve continued to do so ever since.  Thrown into the mix are things I’ve made, we’ve collected from holidays or inherited from family.  I love how visitors to my home can’t pin down where things have come from as it’s not a showcase for the usual High Street brands.

What are the challenges and benefits of running your own business?

There are many challenges to running your own business!  I think self-doubt is my biggest challenge, particularly when there are so many amazing businesses out there.  You wonder at times if what you’re doing is good enough as you compare yourself and your success with others on social media!  It can be tricky if you’re not particularly business minded or pushy.  I think one needs to have a thick skin to put themselves out there and work for what they want.  Working when you want, particularly if you have a family, and doing what you love is definitely a huge benefit.  Connecting with others on Instagram has been invaluable for advice, tips and feedback.  The feeling when someone buys one of your products and gets excited about it or commissions something special is just the best.  I burst with pride, and also pinch myself that it’s actually happening!

What advice would you give to others setting up their own business?

Be passionate about what you do.  Don’t create something that you don’t love, just because it might be a good money earner.  You’re the face of your business and it’s a reflection of you.  I could never make and sell things that I wouldn’t have in my own home.  It’s tough going and there will be times you stop and wonder if it’s worth it, but you need to keep putting yourself out there and find your market.  I would definitely recommend trying to find other people who own their own business to connect with.  Their advice is invaluable, as is the support of family and friends.

Tell us a bit about the future for the business

I am looking forward to standing at more markets this year, meeting my customers and getting feedback to help make changes and refinements to what I do.  I am going to be adding more items rather than just focusing on pictures so that there is more diversity for people wanting to buy from me.  I want sustainability to continue to be a focus, so I’ll be aiming to introduce greater use of old frames rather than new and continue to re-use old book pages over using paper or card.  I deliberately chose the name ‘Leila and Azalea’ for its botanical link as it is my dream to work with flowers in a much bigger way.  I am beginning to run wreath making workshops, using mainly foraged or British grown greenery and flowers.  One day, I hope that ‘Leila and Azalea’ will be able to offer weekly blooms, workshops and flowers for events.  Also on my to do list, is to set up a website so that people can buy directly from there as opposed to waiting to see me at a market or buying over Instagram.

If you’d like to find out more about Leila and Azalea visit Leila’s Instagram account @leilaandazalea.

All images courtesy of Leila and Azalea.