People in design: Yvonne Samaranayake, Avalo Home

In Real Homes’ new online series, Real People in Design, we meet Yvonne Samaranayake, owner of new start up cushion company Avalo Home

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What was the defining moment in deciding to change career?

I got home from my job in IT at a London investment bank one evening from a busy day in the office and my youngest daughter Lois, three, was upset. She told me she wished I was there in the morning when she woke up and to collect her after preschool. I then asked my eldest daughter Ava, five, how she felt and she said she wished we had more time to play in the evenings. Hearing how my children felt pulled on my heart strings.

It was at that moment I started to think about the possibility of changing my career. I always dreamt of using my creative skills and I love restoring furniture in my spare time and it was while on holiday in Devon in 2013 that inspiration struck. Ava and Lois were complaining that they didn’t have anywhere comfortable to sit in our holiday cottage. I thought what the children needed was a comfortable floor cushion, one which not only looked modern and fun but could also be tidied away easily. 

Was it daunting stating a business with little design experience?

Starting a new business is a bit like being a new mother: a constant learning curve. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally so I read a lot of books and magazines and had to ask for others for help at times too. I have always had an interest in home design and developing a new product has been loads of fun.

During my research, I was fortunate to come across Alison an illustrative designer and mother who was able to translate my ideas and turn them into tangible looks that could work in the home. This allowed me to focus on developing product specifications and work with factories to produce the Avalo Home range.

When starting up a new business you have to find ways to save money so in regards to the website I had to do lots of the work myself. As a novice, it took me a while to get the hang of things but when I look at my website now I have a great sense of pride.

map print cushion

Have you got a business mentor, or where do you find information to guide you?

While working at my previous job I was fortunate to have attended a talk by a life coach. I booked a couple of meetings with them after the session to develop a list of achievable goals. This really helped during the early phases of the project as I was working outside my comfort zone and sometimes doubted my own abilities. 

I had looked into start up schemes for new businesses but unfortunately due to my age lots of these schemes were closed to over thirties. It was during the summer that I spotted an advert for Newable which had just extended its start-up assistance for the over thirties. I applied to scheme in order to gain help with my first production run. I was successfully awarded a loan and access to a mentor called Denis Lawton who I have found really helpful during this hectic launch period.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Approaching manufacturers was one of my biggest challenges as they are based all over the UK and a few will work with a new start up. It took a lot of telephone calls and emails to find companies who were willing to meet with me. 

I thought it was important to meet companies face to face to see how their operations worked. This caused another challenges, as I had to juggle these site visits around caring for my children.

Finding the right manufacturer has been a lengthy process as my quality standard is high. I believe my patience has paid off, as I’ve found a great family run business that produces work to an exceptionally high standard. They are also London based which means I can visit easily.

stacked cushions

What inspires your designs?

My main emphasis is on retro-style cushions that feature bright colours and bold graphics. I work closely with Alison who understands the needs of the marketplace. 

Our design ideas have been influenced by my children’s mixed cultural heritage. For example we use typical London scenes such as black cabs and red phone boxes alongside Tuk Tuks and roaming elephants to highlight our family trips to Sri Lanka. All of the cushions are designed with families in mind, so they are sturdy, comfortable and in colours and designs that are as happy in the living room as they are in children’s bedrooms.

What is the favourite part of running your own business?

The best part of running my own business is having the flexibility to set my working hours around my children. I also have a great sense of pride in having developed a product which I believe not only showcases a range of fun designs but also British manufacturing at its best. 

What is next for yourself and Avalo Home?

All my efforts are now focused on promoting the brand and its core values through our online shop and social media. I am also in the process of approaching retailers to stock the range. 

Plus, I am also starting a blog which I hope will help and inspire other entrepreneurs. I will be providing hints and tips for starting up a new business and highlighting the challenges I faced.

Books for business owners

Looking to start your own business? Yvonne shares her favourite sources for advice and inspiration.

For more details visit avalohome.com