I met with Craig Maxwell H.B.I.C of Maxwell Makes. Craig explains how lockdown gave him the push he needed to launch his own business, a self-confessed ‘Pop Culture Sponge’ the brand allows him to explore his own passions and creativity away from his day job. Although just starting out his vision for Maxwell Makes is to bring joy to people's lives, give a voice to important issues and become the ‘Go-To’ brand for misfits and pop culture junkies of the world.
Read on to find out which iconic pop star he would love to collaborate with, the inspiration legendary New York Housewife Sonja Morgan’s business acumen plays on Craig’s future plans for his own brand, and the lessons he’s learned in the first few weeks of running his own business.
The Gift Cartel: Introduce yourself who you are and what do you do?
Craig Maxwell: I am Craig Maxwell (AKA Maxwell Makes) My day job is Graphic Designer I design Tour artwork for bands and artists, my passion now turned into a small business.
GC: When did you launch?
CM: I launched MaxwellMakes initially about two years ago as a place where I could post what I was working on at the time - mainly tour artwork for bands and artists. However, I officially launched my business Maxwell Makes as you know if now in June 2020.
GC: Why did you choose greeting cards to launch and do you have any plans to launch other products?
CM: I think greeting cards are a good place for me to start and hopefully build my brand from there. I have got more ranges in mind one being "The Kardashian Kollection'' so keep your eyes peeled for that coming soon! I'd also love to build the product range to cover more than just Greeting Cards and Prints. Essentially I want to be Sonja Morgan ``I'm not anyone's fashion accessory I'm the whole lifestyle brand ;-)"
GC: What inspired you to launch your own brand?
CM: A few reasons, I've wanted to launch my own brand for a while now since I left University. I did little bits here and there but I don't think I was ready, I didn't know the direction I wanted to go in. I'm glad I didn't launch earlier as I don't think I would be as passionate about it as I am now. I've worked in the design industry for a few years now, and as a designer, I feel like I'm creating someone else's vision for them - I'm a cog in a wheel when I'd rather be putting that passion and drive into creating something I own something I'm proud of. I think especially working in London you can get caught up so much in the routine of just churning work out, but lockdown forced me to self examine and be like, "Right, Craig five years from now do you want to still be doing this'' I ran out of excuses essentially I had hours and hours of time now, so what was I going to do with it? As it was always my excuse that I didn't have enough time. So here we are and probably one of the best decisions I've made thus far.
GC: What is your vision for your brand? Has it changed since you started, if so in what way?
CM: My vision for my brand at the moment is to be a bright beam of joy in people's lives. I want to be that “go-to” brand that people know of and be like yes I love their stuff it always brings a smile to my face and makes me laugh. I also want to be a brand that speaks out on important issues and highlight ways that we can all make a small difference. I want Maxwell Makes to be a home for those that love pop culture, those that are misfits in society much like myself.
GC: Has your drive changed since you started MaxwellMakes?
CM: It's probably stepped up a gear if anything, I'm still very much in my infancy as a business, hopefully, that passion keeps on growing!
GC: What role do you play in running your business?
CM: I'm the HBIC, I do it all hunny x
GC: How would you describe MaxwellMakes?
CM: Bright, Humorous, and Happy. MaxwellMakes is inclusive of all, and I want my brand to be a safe haven for those who feel like they don't fit in or have a voice. I want to bring laughter with my range and to those who receive them as gifts. I think my range is quite niche: Drag Queens, Real Housewives So I think that adds a special, unique touch and something you can't just pick up in a lot of stores.
GC: What would you say is the best, most important thing you have learned since starting Maxwell makes?
CM: That I have to wear so many different hats running a small business, and that it's more than ok to ask others for their help and advice. I’ve learned you miss 100% of the chances you don't take ;-)
GC: What would you say is the worst but most important thing you have learned since starting?
CM: How much effort I need to put in to grow my business, I think I'm not alone in thinking I've been a bit naive in how much time I have to put in, but it's my business so it's only going to grow as much I put in.
GC: What do you most enjoy about what you are doing? What's the best thing about running your own business?
CM: Doing what I want to do, not being directed by someone else, also working on my favourite TV Shows, Artists, Musicians, and Reality Stars. I enjoy being in control of the outcome and as a creative, that's a dream. There is nothing worse than putting your heart and soul into something but have it ripped to shreds, or just working on something that you're not passionate about. (I don't sound bitter at all do I?) I promise I do love my day job :)
GC: What do you enjoy doing that you didn't think you would? Has anything surprised you? Have you discovered a hidden talent aptitude for something you didn't think you had? (accountancy, coding)
CM: I actually am enjoying connecting with other small businesses on Instagram there is such an amazing community on there. I thought everyone would be competing but the amount of support and kind messages I’ve received has been amazing!
GC: Have you encountered any stumbling blocks since starting your own business? How did you overcome them and what did you learn?
CM: I've had misprints which were extremely annoying when it's something out of your control, but my supplier is absolutely fantastic and they reprinted for me FOC. I think the biggest struggle I am currently having is getting people from Instagram to visit my website - so I haven't worked that one out yet!
GC: What's your favourite design from your collection? Why?
CM: Probably the Britney one, as I absolutely adore Miss Spears - a lot of the Britney gifts out there are either from the ‘90s or her during her breakdown, I wanted to do a design that brought her into the here and now!
GC: How has Corona impacted your business? Did you see an uplift in online sales? Did you learn anything from this?
CM: I started my business in the middle of Corona - if it's taught me anything it's that there is always a market for greetings cards that add a special touch. From social media (perhaps I’m in my own little bubble) but I feel like people are seeing the benefit in supporting small businesses more and more. For example the butchers down the street from where I live, I've never seen it as busy! So I think small businesses are on the rise at the moment and people are finally exploring their passions which is great to see!
GC: Aside from launching Maxwell Makes what has been your biggest achievement career-wise? What are you most proud of?
CM: One of my biggest career accomplishments was winning the very first Nescafé Azera design competition where my design was picked to go on the packaging as a limited edition design, it also directly led to my first job out of University. I now work as a Graphic Designer in the Music Industry, so more recently doing the world tour artwork for Rita Ora and national artwork for Little Mix and Anne-Marie - it is so surreal to work on your favourite artists and design their Tour Artwork, and to then see it in publications and billboards!
GC: What do you think has been your biggest failure, what did you learn from it?
CM: I think not starting sooner, I wish I had gone with my gut and started my business sooner as who knows where I could be now, however, I'm a big believer in everything happens for a reason so you will learn from it, so perhaps I wasn't ready.
GC: What do you enjoy the least about what you do and why? (if anything)
CM: I can't stand anything financial, trying to add profits up, etc. I'm also severely dyslexic so I am always spelling things incorrectly and writing sentences that make zero sense, so any written aspect takes me a lot longer…
GC: What's the biggest thing you have learned about yourself since you started?
CM: I kind of knew this already having a dyslexic brain. I have a very limited attention span, I'll start one thing, start another, I start a lot of things and finish nothing so I really need to get better at that!
GC: What are your favourite free resources? What do you use them for and why?
CM: I love youtube, does that count as a resource? I love watching Katnipp and seeing behind the scenes of her business, seeing other people live their dream and make their business a success. Anything you want to learn about chances are someone has done a video on it!
GC: What are your favourite paid for resources? What do you use them for and why? Any you would recommend that you couldn't live without?
CM: The Creative Cloud - I just fundamentally couldn't do without it. I wish I could say my iPadPro, but I can't because I don't have one - if anyone would like to buy one that would be incredible, k thanks x
GC: How important has having a budget/money been to starting your brand?
CM: Really useful I use an app called Wave - it's free you simply upload your receipt and it keeps it on a database of you, that way you can easily keep a track of your expenditure. You can also take photos of receipts and it literally does all the work for you working how much it is etc etc.
GC: What is the main inspiration behind your designs?
CM: Pop-Culture and Reality TV - my two favourite things. My brain is a massive cluster of niche meme references that I often drop into the conversation and then instantly remember that a 50-year-old man has no idea what "Get That Fire Exit Door" means.
GC: When are you most productive?
CM: When I've worked out in the morning and I've been organised the previous day it normally has a knock-on effect.
GC: How would you describe your creative process?
CM: Idea's come to me wherever I am, the trouble I have is I don't write them down when I think of them and then they are gone forever they usually come from conversations with others, sometimes randomly when I'm watching TV or a film. Then I normally sketch that idea, or write it down, do some research if it's a card idea as I don't want to start on an idea that countless people have already done as there would be no point. Then I start drawing on illustrator, then bring into InDesign and play with fonts and colours.
GC: How do you decide when a design is right for your collection?
CM: It has to be bright, bold, and happy. If it's an Illustration it has to resemble the person's likeness. I’ve abandoned quite a few designs as I think the references are way too niche and I also wasn’t happy with the quality of my illustration
GC: When are you most creative?
CM: When I'm in a creative zone these spurts come and go, where I'm like boom idea, boom, another - so I try to write them all down as I’m severely dyslexic (have I mentioned??) so if I don't write it down immediately it's gone... Forever...
GC: How do you deal with a creative block?
CM: I usually take a day or two off and try not to put pressure on myself to come up with an idea. I will then draw something completely unrelated to what I'm doing, then after a while, I come back to what I was working on and fingers crossed I will have a bit of a spark back!
GC: How important is it to you to have a structure and routine when running your own business?
CM: I wouldn't know as I don't have one hahaha! I think this is something I desperately need to implement, at the moment I just have a massive to-do list - somehow I'm managing to stay on top of it. I never realised as a small business owner you're being pulled in so many directions. Once you're finished one job, you've had a knock-on effect that you then need to do another - so I’m hoping once I’m more established I’ll have a better process, at the moment I’m just learning.
GC: How do you deal with failures?
CM: Thankfully I’ve got quite an optimistic attitude most of the time so I never see anything I’ve done as a failure, I try to look at it objectively or discuss it with someone else and normally I come to a conclusion as to why it didn't work out the way it did.
GC: Is there anything you wish you knew before you started? What would be your advice to you now?
CM: That I would have received as much positive feedback as I have done!
GC: If you could collaborate with anyone (ANYONE) who and why?
CM: I would LOVE to collaborate with Britney Spears and do a massive throwback merch range and new school Britney range - that would be an absolute dream.
GC: What would be your top tip for anyone starting their own business?
CM: Stop making up excuses and just do it, don't wait till you have everything perfect, as there will never ever be a perfect time. You'll react, and learn on the job and it adds to the fun.
GC: How important is social media to your brand? Do you have any and what is your preferred one and why?
CM: I love Instagram - well I say, love, I do have a love-hate relationship with it, and the falseness it portrays. However, it's vital to my business and communicating with my customers. I've actually really enjoyed launching Maxwell Makes on Instagram - there is such a lovely community of creatives that really come together and support each other. I've had such lovely messages, people reposting my work, so I've seen a really positive community side to Instagram that I hadn't seen before.
GC: What's next for Maxwell Makes Any sneak peeks you can share?
CM: Well I do have a few very exciting collections coming very soon - I have The Real Housewives collection that's just launched. Then I'm going to launch a few TV Series / Movie quote posters which are still in the works. Just finalising a few more collections including a throwback Big Brother one as its this time of year I would've been absolutely engrossed.
GC: The Gift Cartel is all about Gifting so with this in mind what's the best gift you have ever received and why? What was it? Who was it from?
CM: Best gift I’ve ever received, that’s a hard one - but i'd have to say my doggies, Diesel or Cody, Diesel was an 18th birthday present and Cody was a Christmas present from my parents, unfortunately, Cody has to stay home in Northern Ireland but he keeps my mum and dad company!
GC: What's the worst gift you have ever received and why? What was it? Who was it from?
CM: An unofficial Cheryl Cole calendar as a Christmas present when I spent £50 on the person I got it from... I was NOT impressed.
GC: Do you enjoy buying gifts for other people? What do you enjoy/hate about it?
CM: I love it - I love trying to find a gift that someone will love and really make their day. However I do get a bit OCD and end up getting pretty peeved off if I can't find anything, I probably put too much pressure on myself to find something
GC: Do you have a least favourite person to buy for? Who and why?
CM: Probably any male family member - it's just always so hard as when men get over a certain age they tend to have minimal interests. So you end up buying them something and then open a drawer at home and see the gift you bought a year ago still in its original packaging, so maybe it's actually me and I’m not as good at buying gifts as I think I am haha!
GC: What's the best gift you have ever bought yourself?
CM: I think the best gifts I've bought myself are holidays? Trips away, as the older I get, the more I realise I have most of the materialistic things that I want - creating memories and exploring is invaluable
GC: Is the value of the gift more important than the thought?
CM: The thought that went into the gift is much more important
GC: What gift do you remember most? What was it and why do remember it? How did you feel?
CM: I think it has to be something Nostalgic from my childhood. I remember getting an Action Man and a box of lego - and I really thought I had hit the big time with this box of Lego!
GC: How important are gifts to you? (honestly)
CM: In the grand scheme of things I guess gifts aren't that important, I think during this whole pandemic of COVID it made us all put things into perspective really. However, in saying that seeing people receive postcards - personalised gifts, etc, it's really made people come together
GC: One big gift or lots of tiny gifts?
CM: Lots of tiny gifts - my mum does this every Christmas I love having loads of things to open!
GC: What's the least you have ever spent on a gift?
CM: Nothing, Well you count paper and paints as a cost? As I've done a painting for someone as a present before
GC: If you could only have Christmas Presents or Birthday presents what would you choose? Why?
CM: Christmas presents as I don't think I could possibly deal with the FOMO and there is something magical about that time of year and giving the ones you love gifts
GC: What does a gift mean to you?
CM: A gift means picking an item that will make another feel special
GC: Do you prefer surprise gifts or do you like to know what you are getting?
CM: As I get older I like to know what I'm getting because I feel awful if someone has bought me something and I don't like it - however if it's a surprise gift and I love it then that trumps everything else.
GC: If I was to give you a gift right now, anything at all, what would you want it to be? (it can't be world peace)
CM: An iPadPro so I can take my illustration game to the next level and boot my Wacom tablet!
GC: Finally is it better to give or to receive?
CM: Receive obviously - or does this make me super duper selfish?