Passion, energy, drive and commitment. It’s tough out there for small businesses but 21-year-old Eva Malley from Brighton, UK has proved she, and her designs have got what it takes to not only survive but thrive. An eco-conscious brand with a distinctive identity and ultra-trendy print, tote, earring, and even sweatshirt designs. Eva Malley Art has caught the eye of thousands after multiple videos of her unique illustrations went viral on TikTok during the first UK lockdown.
Malley discovered her love of drawing from an early age and discusses how she decided to transform her hobby into a business. “I wanted to start selling my designs for so many years, but I didn’t have enough confidence to commit to it.”
“I was constantly designing things for fun and my friends said they wanted one of my designs on a tote bag, so in 2018 I ordered 20 and sold half to my friends and listed the other half online. It took months until I started selling them. Even then it was one sale every month but I wasn’t bothered about the amount of sales. I was just excited that someone wanted to own my work.”
Things soon turned around as Malley’s TikToks racked up a huge engagement, shooting her weekly order numbers up from one hundred to one thousand. Malley recalls the moment she knew her business was going to take off. “Halfway through 2020, a TikTok of mine got really high views and I got 100 orders in a week – I thought it was definitely a one-off.”
“Then the following week it went even further to 200 a week. After a month of daily consistent sales, I realised it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. For the past 6 months, my sales virtually double each month which is absolutely insane and I’m so incredibly lucky.”
According to Forbes, users that use a combination of entertaining, informative, and aesthetically-pleasing content in a 15-60 second video have the potential to see almost immediate results. “The majority of customers found me through TikTok – it’s definitely the best platform for me to get my work seen. You can post a video with zero followers and it could go viral,” explains Malley.
With her growing 78.1k following on the platform, Eva knows how to connect with her customers, not just from her illustrations but by posting a range of personable content. From Day in the Life videos, tours of her studio, and packing orders for customers – her transparency goes a long way.
Art inspiration and best-sellers
Although Eva Malley Art has a growing brand image and product range, her designs stem from her classic, retro black and white illustrations that have a modern twist. Animal prints, adorable smiling flowers that give off Takashi Murakami’s flower vibes, funky house plant galore and intricate facial features are Malley’s forte. She lets us in on where she gets her inspiration from: “I tend to base my work on how I’m feeling or who I’m surrounded by – a lot of it is based on my friends and women in my life,”
“I love capturing everyday moments and finding beauty in simple scenes like sitting with friends or relaxing in your bedroom. When I put less pressure on myself to create designs with a strong meaning and begin drawing just how I feel or what I experience, that’s what helped develop my style into what it is today,” explains Malley.
Aside from her extraordinary talent, Malley’s designs have a relatable aspect that draws people into the brand. Her best-selling print is her Housemate design which took several hours to complete. She tells us why this one is her favourite: “it’s the most special to me because of the number of messages I get from customers saying it reminds them of their friends. I love the idea of people looking at my work and saying, ‘omg that’s us!’”
Starting a small business is all a balancing act
As a second-year student studying Illustration at Brighton University, who’s also running every part of a growing brand every day, Malley tells me she’s yet to master the balancing act between the two. “I have such a long list of future ideas for the next few years that I’m really excited about making a reality,” Malley says.
But, with any business there comes times of frustration and stress which Eva discovered in the last six months. Almost daily she was sent new illustration accounts on TikTok that were heavily influenced by her designs and content. “They change very small details so it’s not an identical copy but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s really upsetting to see as a creative. My work feels like an extension of myself, so to have that ripped off like it’s nothing can really hurt,” expresses Malley.
When she first began her small business journey and started to grow her social media presence, Malley explains how she used to share more than she should have. “This has made me feel a lot more wary about how much I share about my business. When I bring out a new products, I have to brace myself for the replicas popping up weeks later,”
“I have to remind myself that people will always appreciate the original creator more as you’re the one coming up with the new ideas!” says Malley.
Eco is the way to go
As the world becomes more conscious of our daily impact on the planet, eco-friendly packaging and sustainability are now a consumer must-have when they look to purchase a product. Malley believes that all business, big and small, have a part to play: “I think everyone who is shipping orders should assess how they’re doing so and try to make improvements. I made my packaging 100% recyclable and biodegradable in early 2020 but that was highly down to more sales, therefore having more money to spend on eco-friendly resources.”
A study by Université de Lille about consumers’ perceptions of eco-designed packaging, suggests that brands who promote eco-conscious products and packaging are more likely to see higher customer return and positive reinforcement from customers. Malley is proud of the journey she has taken with her packaging: “when you’re first starting out there’s lots of upfront costs to consider – good quality, eco-conscious packaging can cost a lot.”
“I was made aware of my own packaging flaws as my customers grew. I sat down and spent two weeks researching all the aspects of my packaging to find eco-friendly alternatives – I feel much more confident sending orders knowing there’s no waste that comes with them.”
It’s fair to say that TikTok certainly helped launch Eva Malley Art into places a small business owner could only imagine.
Words by Chloe Martin
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