Over a dozen years have passed since businesswoman Danielle Plowman completed her Art Foundation course at City College and she describes her subsequent career as “…a very long and winding road, full of knockbacks and failures, all of which led me to what I’m doing now. I was rejected over and over again which was hard to take emotionally but it just made me even stronger and more stubborn to succeed.” As Managing Director of lifestyle brand Ellie Ellie Ltd, Danielle is the creative force behind a thriving company offering unique and personalised gifts, jewellery and homeware items. Many of these are handmade in the company’s Hove workshop using vintage, upcycled, recycled or sustainable materials. Since its launch in 2012, Ellie Ellie has been taking the online market by storm and its products have featured in Vogue, been worn by celebs such as Pixie Lott, Jessie J and Jimmy Carr and won praise from famed entrepreneur Theo Paphitis.
So how much of an influence was City College on this impressive local success story? “Studying Art Foundation at the College was one of the best years of my life, “says Danielle. “It was challenging, fast-paced but very rewarding. When I was doing the course, I wanted to be a fashion designer, having always made my own clothes and had a love of design. After trying out all the disciplines, I found that fashion and textiles was my strength so I specialised in that area before doing a fashion degree at Kingston University. I’d never have guessed back then that I would have ended up running my own business!”
After graduating from Kingston, Danielle had an eclectic career path during which she worked as a shop assistant, ran her own childrenswear shop for two years, perfected her menswear tailoring skills thanks to a friendship with a veteran local tailor (she later became the recommended tailor for her local Marks and Spencer!) and worked in Chichester Festival Theatre’s wardrobe department. Then, in 2009, Danielle decided to travel the world. When she reached Australia, she managed to secure an exciting role as Sales & Marketing Manager of a new childrenswear company in Melbourne who were so impressed with Danielle that they offered to sponsor her to stay and get residency. Unfortunately, Australia’s skilled migration criteria changed and she ended up returning to the UK with no funds or immediate job prospects.
It was during this demoralising period in 2010, however, that Danielle came across an old note book where she’d scribbled down a reference to the notonthehighstreet.com website which had been recommended to her by a customer a few years previously. She promptly went onto the website, applied to be a partner to sell her jewellery and had her first order within 3 hours – Ellie Ellie was officially underway! By 2012, the business had become a limited company and Danielle had employed her first member of staff. Fast forward 4 years and they are now a team of 13 creative, young and ambitious staff, working in the heart of Hove with a turnover of £1.2 million.
So what have been the most exciting or rewarding moments of Danielle’s career so far? “There have been loads!” she says. “When I first realised that people would buy my products and designs, that was an amazing and very powerful moment. Since then, winning Sussex Online Business of the Year in 2014 and Entrepreneur of the Year at the Notonthehighstreet.com awards felt like really special achievements after all my hard work. As a designer you‘re constantly wondering whether anyone else is going to love your new designs as much as you do, so when you see that first sale it is so rewarding! I also love building my company and constantly learning new things. Every day is a challenge and I love being able to create my own path and future. “
Danielle’s ambitions for Ellie Ellie know no bounds and as well as developing the wholesale side of the company to get its products into large department stores, she also has plans for Elllie Ellie to have its own flagship store in Brighton within the next few years. So what ‘top tips’ for success would Danielle offer City College’s current generation of budding young artists, designers and entrepreneurs? “Building a career is really about finding opportunities and you don’t know what they’ll be until you’re out there actively looking,” she says. “I’m now on the other side of the interview table and I’m always looking for positive and hardworking attitudes alongside skills and qualifications. I am also looking for people who’ve got themselves out there gaining work experience while studying. That really shows dedication and ambition.”