Founder & Creative Director
Arhinarmah is a London based label that specialises in creating luxury home decor, handmade cushions and items of furniture for the home.
Launched last year, the independent label intelligently fuses African fabrics and symbols with British craftsmanship and design to produce high quality statement pieces that appeal to individuals of all ethnicities.
Why did you decide to start your own company?
I’ve always been a creative at heart. As a child I had aspirations of becoming a clothes designer, an interior designer, an artist, a graphic designer, in short anything that involved colour and the use of my imagination.
I put my design ambitions on hold after the birth of my son but later established Arhinarmah because I wanted re explore my creative roots, become my own boss and create a brand that was relevant to me and my heritage. I knew that I didn’t want to start a Company for the sake of it. I wanted to create something I could emotionally connect with.
I have too many people around me who have seen my creative and leadership ability and won’t allow me to let it go to waste. I also have a decent amount of experience in business which I knew I could capitalise on.
What was your career path prior to starting your own business?
For eight years I worked as an executive assistant to a number of CEOs, directors and board level committees.
My experience was gained in a mixture of private and public organisations which ranged in size from six people in one office to businesses with in excess of 10,000 people worldwide.
In time my ability was recognised by my seniors and I was put in positions of authority and appointed to manage projects, short term initiatives or introduce policies and procedures.
I’ve enjoyed brief stints at both Middlesex and Birkbeck Universities. Academically I did well but I knew that university wasn’t for me. I’ve also completed a number of courses with the London College of Fashion which were very insightful prior to launching the label.
I’m a self-taught designer which I’m proud of. The advantage of being self-taught is that I have no preconceptions or imposed opinions about how I should create my products. My creativity comes from within. Being an outsider is my raison d’être.
Did you always know that you would start your own business?
Not at all. For many years I was happy being “the power behind the throne.” I’ve been privileged enough in all my placements to have worked with individuals who have seen the leadership ability in me and continuously encouraged both my personal and professional development, so prior to starting the business I was fulfilled and felt comfortable.
Then the recession hit, and while I’m lucky to have never been hit with redundancy it made question whether I wanted my destiny to be left in the hands of an external body. When starting a new business timing is everything. I thought about what I wanted to do for a good two years, then as my son entered his teens I decided I was in the right stage of life to strike out on my own.
By this time I knew I had built up enough experience, both small start up and large multinational, to make a success of my own venture.
What steps did you take to create your brand?
I spent six months researching the market, my competitors my unique proposition then took time to develop my initial designs.
We arranged a professional business plan as the brand attracted investor interest quite early on. I went to business seminars and made contacts with industry insiders.
Considerable time was spent on developing the brand ethos, our vision and what we stand for. I took care of the basics such as incorporating the Company, creating our social media platforms, trade marking the brand, building up a good circle of suppliers.
I organised legal and copyright protection. This isn’t even half of what went into the business before I put it out there. Arhinarmah was 11 months in the making before our website went live in December 2012 but I’m glad I did the required legwork beforehand. All those years of sitting in on board meetings paid off, I knew exactly what needed to be done and in what order.
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
Seeing my creations come to reality and receiving positive affirmation for what we’re trying to do with the brand.
I’d like to take African prints to a whole new level and I think this is reflected through our marketing, the quality of our products and our unique proposition.
To date, everything has been positive, from customers, potential stockists and investors. Another highlight was receiving offers of investment from three potential investors within a month of going live. People are really excited about what we’re trying to do and are really receptive to it.
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
Spreading yourself too thin. I’m a mother, fiancée and business woman. Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day.
When you’re doing something you love it doesn’t feel like hard work so I can unconsciously work for hours on end without even thinking about it. I have to be mindful to set aside enough quality time with my loved ones each week.
What or who inspires or motivates you?
My Grandfather was, and still is, my biggest source of inspiration. Joseph Armah was a man who started out with nothing. At the time of him passing he had earned himself a small fortune. He enjoyed a long and successful career as a prominent lawyer at in the High Court of Ghana. He also had a formidable reputation for being a man who wasn’t to be trifled with.
I recently received a copy of his will and I was so impressed with what he had achieved in his lifetime, he did very well for himself. As a man of high social standing, he also had a penchant for the finer things in life. I can remember visiting his house in Accra as a young girl and marvelling at the sheer size of it. The house still stands there to this day.
When I create each Arhinarmah piece, I keep my Grandfather in mind and try to combine his love of quality and the traditional with my love of the colour. In the here and now I’m inspired by modern day brands such as Versace Home, House of Hackney and Missoni.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own home decor brand?
Do your research as it’s a tough market. Ensure you have significant financial backing before launching your venture and be true to yourself.
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Arhinarmah’s signature furniture line encompassing free standing armchairs, chaise lounges, dining room furniture and custom made sofas will be available from Autumn 2013.
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Catherine Arhin was interviewed by Octavia Goredema MBE, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.
Do you have a question for Catherine? If so, please feel free to post a comment below: