We’re focusing on the cool Scottish company Eat Haggis and their CEO Allistair kindly answers some of our questions.
How did you come up with idea for Eat Haggis?
I was asked to create a St Andrews Day poster for a friend’s event. It was a few years after the original ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster had been rediscovered in an old bookshop but before it had been pounced upon by other retailers and had been memed across the internet.
We had one of the original reprints and I’d always rather liked it so I decided to do something along the same lines. We played with a few different variations, like ‘Eat Haggis and Keep Calm’ etc. but then ‘Ceilidh On’ fell into place and it just worked.
What sort of stuff does Eat Haggis do?
We design and make high end contemporary Scottish cards and gifts with a twist of humour. Everything we make is a celebration of Scotland and all the wonderful things that it has and does. Our products range includes greetings cards, mugs, aprons, tea towels, t-shirts and art prints.
Eat Haggis has been a great success. Is it hard to come up with ideas for new stuff?
Coming up with new ideas is sometimes the easiest and most fun part of my day. There are so many brilliant things to play with in Scotland, from the mountains and locks, through our famous inventors, fictional characters and tasty food. Trying to restrain ourselves and just launch one or two products at a time is the tricky part. I try to spend at least part of each day just drawing for the fun and pleasure of drawing and this can trigger new ideas which I would never have been able to sit down and come up with directly.
Are you 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration type of person?
I think you have to be. I’d love to spend all my day sketching up and developing new ideas but there are always admin tasks to be done or orders to be parcelled up and posted.
Inspiration plays a huge part but you need to put in the time and work through ideas even when they don’t feel like they are working.
When developing a new product you can have the kernel of the idea but it can take a long time and a lot of development work to get it just right. I’ve found myself working on a new range before, playing with different art styles and colours when something just clicks and suddenly I need to throw out everything I’ve made that morning and start again in the new style. It can be a lot of fun.
Do you eat haggis every day?
Sadly no we don’t eat haggis every day. We do have it quite often and if it’s on a breakfast menu I’ll always have it added to my plate. We actually eat veggie haggis more often than the original as my wife is vegetarian and it’s quite a bit lighter. I did a project with McSweens Haggis a few years ago which was good fun and as a thank you they sent me 20 different packets of haggis. We were eating it for weeks.
Scotland has a long history of international trade – where do you send you good to?
Selling directly through our website we’ve sent parcels to customers all around the world which is really exciting. We’ve also have some lovely photos from customers wearing our products in interesting places, from the tops of mountains in Japan, to boat rides in the south of Italy, road trips across California or playing in a ceilidh band in Australia. Seeing people wearing our products in all these great places makes me wish we had a hand deliver policy, our t-shirts have been to way more places than we have.
Through my other brand Hole in my Pocket I supply retailer stores in New Zealand, America, Korea, Germany and Japan.
How ethical / green are you?
I try to produce all my products from as close and as ethical a source as I can. Everything we make is made in the UK with most products made in Scotland or the North of England. We follow all the way back with the supply trail where possible and always choose the fsc approved paper stock, recycled envelopes or fair trade cotton when there are options. The companies we work with are also all small family businesses and the positive impact they can have on the world is hugely important to them too.
We try not to waste anything either, if products get misprinted or there are marks on them we either offer them in our annual seconds sale or donate them to a couple of brilliant local charities, including the rather wonderfully named Refuweegie which helps refuges coming to Scotland to get started in their new lives.
You’ve got a lot of products now, what have you learned in growing the business?
You need to trial ideas with customer focus groups and that sometimes, even your best ideas just don’t work. There have been a couple of tshirts I’ve developed which I was so pleased with and which I was sure would be huge hits and then they just didn’t sell. We’ve got some brilliant customers on our mailing list and we will occasionally email round a products in development and get their thoughts. They are usually extremely honest and their suggestions have helped to shape new lines. Who knows better what your customers likes than your customers!
What was your hardest time?
The hardest time in the business was the first few years. I kind of accidently stumbled into developing products through some exhibition work that I was doing, which itself was on the side of my actual day job as an architect.
From when I first graduated and started working as an Architect in Glasgow I also started a little design business in my free time called Hole in my Pocket, taking on art and film work and entering design competitions. I won the first couple of competitions that I entered which gave me a pot of money to put on my own exhibitions and run my own art projects. Through one of these exhibitions I made a short run of products which proved really popular and a couple of local shops started stocking them. After a year or so of that one of these shops asked if I had any birthday cards and so I decided to create my first ‘retail’ collection. This was around the same time as I created the first Eat Haggis poster for sale and so the Scottish collection quickly followed. I soon had a number of new stockists and built my first online shops.
As a result, for a few years I was working as an Architect for a large commercial practice with giant projects all around the UK whilst also running two web shops, stocking around 30 retailers and still taking on illustration
work and putting on art exhibitions under the banner of Hole in my Pocket. I think I’m just lucky I was a functional insomniac so got a few more hours each day than most normal people.
About a year ago, I decided that it was time to focus on my product development and gave my 4 months’ notice. Its been a packed 12months and I’ve learned a lot and I’ve finally had time to develop new work for some larger retailers which should hopefully be popping up before the end of the year.
We hear from the newspapers that small business owners work 25 hours a day, 8 days a week. Do you manage to take time off? If so what do you do.
I’m not great at taking time off to be honest, I never really have been. Drawing and creating is my ‘fun’ and was what I did for ‘time off’ from my day job. When I get a chance to be away from the admin desk and once all the orders are gone for the day then you are very likely to find me with paints or pencil in hand working on a new illustration. I’d love to get more work in that field and to one day produce my own Children’s book.
Away from all pens and paper then I play football every week, collect illustration books and we like to go on trips. We used to save our holidays up and go on a longer 3 week trip somewhere interesting every couple of years like India, Japan or Russia. More recently, now that we are both our own bosses, we tend to go on a lot more very short little breaks in and around Scotland.
Other than haggis what is your favourite Scottish dish (if you cook something at home then please give a short recipe)
My most Scottish dish is my Tunnock’s caramel wafer ice-cream which I will admit is extremely tasty. In fact I recommend it so much that we have the recipe on our website.
You are based in Glasgow, any insider tips for a good coffee or a good night out?
Glasgow has a lot to offer. It’s a really vibrant city with a great art and music scene. We are pretty spoiled that one of the best venue (Scottish performing arts venue of the year 2016) is right beside us in the heart of the Southside. The Glad Café is a social enterprise company which uses its profits to provide free music lessons for kids. The Southside in general is a very community orientated place and the Glad fits into this well. They have an excellent gourmet menu all day, do brilliant cake and coffee and then host an interesting range of talks, films, exhibitions and music. We really don’t need to go anywhere else!
You can find out more about Eat Haggis and their wonderful products by checking out their website
If you are looking for Burns night to eat your own haggis then the Ceilidh Club is running several nights in January annd February. You can find details of them here