Our #MarvellousMumsonaMonday focuses on mums in our local borough of Wandsworth who we think are interesting and inspiring. Here at Mums of Wandsworth we are inspired by mums. Simple. We are all doing such an amazing job, whichever way you look at it.
This week we interviewed super lovely mum Sonja Christoph, founder of the Fairytales & Fables.
Hi Sonja, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family:
I’m Sonja and I live in Wandsworth with my husband and our little boy, Cristian.
Tell us a bit about your business? Why and when did you start it?
I have been drawing and painting most of my life, but when I was younger, I never really took it seriously. I came from a family where the arts were highly encouraged. When I was a child my father would sit us down at the kitchen table with art supplies and canvases and encourage us to create something. However, art is not my only love. I am a studied Bibliophile. Actually, it was the desire to study literature that brought me over to Europe from the United States in the first place. I spent eight years in Germany working on my Masters Degree in Comparative Literature and then moved to London with my husband. When I found out I was pregnant, I remembered a course I had taken about “The Significance of Fairy Tales for Child Development” and it gave me the idea to start painting my own version of some of my favourite tales from around the world to decorate my son’s nursery. Our friends and family started commenting about how they loved the art and encouraging me to do something with it.
It has always been my dream to combine my love of art and my love of literature in a meaningful way. When my son was born, we received so many gifts with lights, whistles and flashing things. It made me realize, something was missing. To me, it seemed that the toys and technology had become so advanced that the focus had shifted from educating children, to simply stimulating or entertaining them. Sadly, I felt that many of these toys would also robbing them of the use of their own imagination. I wanted to find a way to encourage parents to go back to the basics. To sit down and read to their children, to talk about literature and help their children learn to develop a passion for the written word that would enrich them and follow them throughout their lifetime. That is where I came up with the idea for Fairytale & Fable and that is why every art print is focused on a classic fairy tale or children’s story and comes with a short background guide to help parents learn how to talk to their children about the book.
I have always been a believer in paying-it-forward and I knew I wanted to do something meaningful that would also help my local community. In February of 2016 I came across Beanstalk Charity and absolutely loved the idea that they actually go into schools across England and place trained reader-helpers who provide one-to-one literacy support to children who struggle with their reading ability. I am proud that we donate £1 of every print sold in aide of this local charity.
How did you fund your business?
Well, to be honest, we funded it ourselves. Fairytale & Fable started as a dream. All dreams require a lot of investment if you want them to be successful, and I am not just talking about financial investment. When I became serious about starting this company, I knew it would require a lot of time and dedication. I took me well over a year to build and write the website, create my logo and brand identity, set up my shop and to research and write each of the background guides to the fairy tales I feature in my work. The time-investment was way much more than the financial investment. My husband is my greatest support in this. He believed in me and what I wanted to do and was happy to invest some of our savings to get this company started. I really could not have done any of this without his support.
Where do you work from and what does a typical working day look like for you?
My office and my art workshop are in our family home. I get up every morning around 6:30 am with my very active toddler. He is in nursery three days a week and so I keep a very tight schedule on those days and do as much office work as I can while he is away. I like to organize my days and weeks into scheduled blocks of time dedicated to specific tasks: artwork & creative workflow, marketing, accounting, research, social media, event planning, & promotion activities. On the days when my son is home, I may work for a few hours during his nap time or wait until the evenings to finish up things that need to be done.
How do you balance both work and family life?
Balance is incredibly important and, for me, balance only comes with planning. It must be the German side of me. Haha. But seriously, I do plan out my office hours as well as my play dates with my son, my personal time for me and even the occasional date night with my hubby. For me it is important to be present in whatever I am doing. So, when I am working I am fully committed to that, but when I am in the park with my boy, I make sure that he is the thing I am focused on. After all he is the entire reason I decided to work from home. My first months I did not know how to do this and I had to learn the hard way that when you work from home it is so important to draw lines. Otherwise you will spend every moment at home working.
What have been your biggest challenges so far and how did you overcome them?
I suppose time management. Initially when I started my son was at home full time with me and I was working late nights as soon as he went to bed. So, your previous question about “balance” was super important for me.
What advice would you give to other mums starting a business?
I would tell them to go for it! I do believe that if you truly want something you can do it. Thoughts become things, so it is essential to believe in yourself and what you are trying to accomplish. You have to have a vision for that and never let anyone tell you that your dream is silly or not important. Stay away from people who belittle your dreams in general, there will always be those people who do not understand your path… and that is okay, it was not meant for them. Dreams are a lot of work, so be ready to put in the hours. Some people think that working from home means you do not have to work as hard because you are your own boss. But being your own boss is a lot of responsibility and if you want to be successful you have to be willing work when others are resting. Always deliver more than people expected and go out of your way to show your gratitude. In our automated world of technology I believe adding that personal and human touch to business makes you stand out.
Do you have any tips to banish the mum guilt we all feel?
Ahhh, the ‘Mum-Guilt’. I do know it, well. I remember when my son started nursery three days a week – which has turned out to be the best decision ever for both him and me – but that day I felt horrible. I remember I cried. I felt like a failure because I desperately needed some quiet time to work and concentrate and I was tired from staying up late at night trying to work when he was asleep. At the same time, even though I am a super active mum and I love to paint and read and do crafts with him, I knew he needed more activities and to be able to meet friends and get stimulation that I was not able to give him. Why is that so hard for us to admit that sometimes we need help? Now I look back and just smile at that day. He is so happy in his nursery I cannot imagine why we did not do it sooner. I have him home with me four days a week and, on those days, he is the centre of my attention. When he is at nursery and I keep a picture of his smiling face in front of me on my desk. It gives me so much strength every day and reminds me that I am building this company for him, for our family and that makes me more determined and more driven to do the best I can do.
What’s the best thing about living / working in the borough of Wandsworth
Definitely, the sense of community I feel. I love the local Mums network on Facebook and how supportive and informative it is. Mums I have never met have offered me advice and genuine words when my son was ill, or recommended doctors or suggested things that worked for them. I love how they look out for one another and rally together when something is amiss in the area. Plus, it is a great way to find out about local activities and things happening in your area. There are so many great things to do with children here in London, especially in the arts. The libraries are free and absolutely wonderful. There are tons of activities and free events that you can take part in and it is a great way to get out and meet other mums too, even if you are completely new here. I have made so many friends through these local circles and I feel so blessed because of it. Our family is all abroad, so here in England it is just my husband, my son and I. So, for me, to feel like part of the community is a really big deal. I feel like this is my home and I love the part I can take in it.
Anything else you would like to add?
A bit of exciting news. Since launching in June of 2016, I have begun to accept private commissions for work and illustrations as well. I just recently completed a big project the renowned three-Michelin-star Master Chef, Kevin Fehling. He is one of the most well-known European Chefs and owner of the Hamburg elite restaurant, The Table. I was asked to create a series of eight custom hand-drawn illustrations and acrylic paintings in my own ‘fairy tale-esque’ style about Fehling’s life, depicting where he got the inspiration for some of his incredible dishes. The project has been featured in different media including an exclusive boutique magazine only for Fehling’s top clientele by Waltrix Publishing called “The Table, Kevin Fehling” and, more recently, it has appeared in a special spotlight interview with foodizm.de. http://foodizm.de/kevin-fehlings-kunst-von-kunstlerin-eingefangen/ https://www.facebook.com/fairytaleandfable/posts/1846930865588080
Thank you so much Sonja, we loved chatting to you and seeing your passion for your projects – you are a very busy but organised lady!
Find out more about Sonja here: