Escaping to set up my own vintage homeware business

Clio Wood left recruitment to start Clio the Muse, and supplemented her Escape through starting a successful B&B using her flat. You can see her site here.

I interviewed her on Skype this morning (you can watch other clips here and here):

Clio shares more of her story here… 

I recently attended my school 10-year reunion. Wowser. When did I get that old?

Oddly, I wasn’t nervous. I was proud and excited about telling my former classmates what I do. That would not have happened last year, or even six months ago.

That’s because I took the plunge. I left my office job and started to do what I really love.

It is an experiment, but one that I’m glad I’m trying. There are mistakes, but I’m happy to make them.

Because I know that otherwise I’d be stuck at my desk, staring at dull documents on a computer screen, walking into meetings pretending I cared, and talking to people about things that just don’t make my heart sing.

In the beginning:

There was school. I was a bit of an all-rounder: academic, arty and sporty, and it was always a struggle to pin down exactly what I wanted to do in life.

The most compelling thread for me, although I ended up ignoring it for a good ten years, was creativity.

After school I went to art college, but because I already had a place at Cambridge, I didn’t follow through with art, treating it more as a great learning experience and a good gap year activity.

In the middle:

Four years later, my parents gently told me they’d had enough of paying school and university fees to carry on supporting me any longer. Fair enough.

A friend mentioned search/recruitment which sounded like a good idea. So I became a headhunter for a Mayfair executive search firm and rose quickly to Consultant level, then moved to a large international firm’s Board Practice.

Ultimately I found that the search industry needs a lot of self-interest to succeed, as it’s so greatly relationship-founded. I just didn’t care enough to have that drive.

The decision to escape

My moment of clarity came when I got into the lift one Monday morning with a colleague. She gave a wry grin, raised her eyebrows and said, ‘Here we go again, eh?’

I looked ahead to the rest of the week and knew I was dreading it. My boss had kindly let me move to a four-day week, but how much longer could I feign an interest? Could I see myself here for the next ten years?

When the opportunity came for redundancy, I grabbed it.

I used the redundancy money to renovate our flat so that I could start running what has become a successful little B&B with 75% occupancy rates and 5* reviews. It also paid for me to start setting up Clio the Muse.

And now…

Clio the Muse upcycles vintage pieces of furniture and homeware, re-purposing them and finding them a new beauty where they otherwise might have been thrown away.

I have a small studio in New Cross and an online shop at www.cliothemuse.etsy.com, and I recently got accepted for my first craft stall at Spitalfields Market.

I’m also investigating ways of reaching my audience – online is not always ideal for unique furniture and delivery costs can be an issue. It’s also not an impulse buy, so getting in front of a primed audience is key.

The challenge for me has been marketing myself purposefully and learning to use social media properly. I’m building my Twitter following (@cliowood), have a Tumblr blog that I post to every week, and a soon-to-be weekly newsletter on Mailchimp (sign up here) and of course my boards on Pinterest.

It’s hard with so much information and tools to know where to start, but I’m trying and learning along the way.

The key is connecting

I’ve learned that the key is to connect with everyone who might be of use – they will be happy to have a coffee and give you advice or bounce ideas around.

Connect with your audience, learn how to talk about yourself and whether your product is going to sell.

Connect your online presences, there’s a lot out there and linking everything will reach a bigger audience and make sure that audience knows you better.

Most importantly, connect with yourself to make sure this is the thing that makes you happy, because if it is, then it’s a damn site better than sitting in the office like you used to.

Any questions or advice for Clio? Post in the comments section below… 

  • Florence Snell


    Clio, this is awesome! I’m so glad things are going so well, it looks really exciting.

    Hope you are well,


    • http://www.cliothemuse.etsy.com Clio Wood

      Thank you! Slowly, slowly, but getting there and this is definitely the right thing to do for me.


      • Candice

        Hi Clio
        I loved reading your story & I feel so inspired right now!I’ve been trying to work up the courage to leave my 9-5 & set up a design/home wares company but I feel stuck with how to start. Any advice on just taking that first step to get out of the Rut? I need to stop thinking & start doing!

        Keep up the amazing work :)

  • http://www.inspiredbypeople.org Claudette Dudley

    Hi Clio,

    Love your site, now this might be a bit last minute but the charity I volunter for is have a ChariTEA at Paradise Gastro pub this Saturday
    12-4pm, having afternoon tea, band, jewellery – Would you be interested in having a stall? They hold Vintage fairs there on a regular basis – https://www.facebook.com/#!/events/416754035014174/
    I only live at Surrey Quays so could drop off some information and contacts for you

    • http://www.cliothemuse.etsy.com Clio Wood

      Hi Claudette,

      Thanks for the message! Looks exciting – shall we talk offline?
      You can message me privately through my Etsy page, http://www.cliothemuse.etsy.com, on Twitter @cliowood or through my About Me page http://about.me/cliowood.


  • sarah

    Hi Clio,

    Thank you for this article, it really resonates for me it sounds as though we have gone down a very similar path. I am in the first stages of starting up a textile focused homewares line, with a view to move toward lighting, repurposed furniture and pet accessories in the future. If you have any other advise, I’d love to pick your brain? I guess one big question I have is whether you feel a virtual presence (blog etc.) is imperative before starting production?



    • http://www.cliothemuse.co.uk Clio Wood

      Hi Sarah, Great that you found my story helpful! I guess everyone goes down a slightly different route of setting up their own business. Presence in social media is essential, Twitter, FB page or blog etc, but whether or not you have it well-established before you start production is up to you. You definitely need to be working on it, but I wouldn’t let it hold up production if it’s not mature yet. Just keep communicating with your followers via any of these channels and you’ll build up a presence in time.

      Hope that helps and I’ll drop you an email directly so you can get in touch if you have any other questions!

  • Rehmat Ullah

    such an encouraging article for every body who want to do something good and effective for his life change.i am thinking to start Homeware Shopping services by linking it to the web.