Holly Tucker MBE co-founded the online gift business Notonthehighstreet in 2006. By the time David Cameron named Holly Tucker the UK Ambassador for Small Creative Businesses in 2015, she was already on the way to amassing a list of entrepreneurship awards as long as both her arms. With her latest venture Holly & Co, Holly is on a mission to inspire and advise owners of small creative businesses. Like Will Ramsay, Founder of the Affordable Art Fair, Holly is obsessed with bringing colour and fun into nurturing small creative businesses. I met Holly at the Holly & Co café where we were surrounded by a children’s Summer Exhibition of art which attracted entrants as young as three. Here, Holly, who is a regular at the Affordable Art Fairs, filled me in on the joy of being creative, commercially-minded and empowered at work, as well as channelling her passion for art on the rare occasions when she’s not working.
MEET ART COLLECTOR HOLLY TUCKER MBE
When did you first become aware of your passion for art and creativity?
I always loved art at school. For my A levels, I got A in art, an A in Craft, Design and Technology and a D in business studies! Today, the thrill of injecting colour and creativity into everything I do is central to my life and work. For me, it’s about thinking outside the mainstream, being in problem-solving mode and being around people who work with their hands in some way. I believe in the enormous power of art and creativity to combat feelings of depression and isolation. If I ever feel low, the first thing I do is take myself off to the Tate to see an exhibition.
I’m inspired by Ken Robinson whose TED talk Do Schools Kill Creativity has had over 60 million views – he questions why we aren’t encouraging young people to become artists, chefs and ballet dancers. Aside from my work, my love of art and creativity comes through clearly in my home. For me, my home is my yoga – it’s my hobby and enhances my wellbeing. This explains why I just love going to the Affordable Art Fair, with its unique atmosphere and wonderful edit of art works on show. I’ve been going every year since 2010 and let’s just say I have never left empty-handed.
What motivated you to set up Holly & Co?
By 2021, half the British workforce will be self-employed. My main goal is to help people of all ages build businesses doing what they love, because I believe that will make everyone happier.
Three strands inform everything we do at Holly & Co. Firstly, I believe the British children’s education system isn’t preparing young people for a life of entrepreneurship. We plan to circumnavigate the education system by creating social media, videos and events which will be outside the mainstream school curriculum. Imagine if when a child says to their parent ‘I want to be a fish sculptor’ a parent confidently and fearlessly answers ‘Ok, let’s make sure you know more about the oceans and let’s take you scuba diving’?
Secondly, every year in the UK, men are starting 150,000 more businesses than women are. Over the course of four years, that amounts to a staggering £250 billion in revenue for the UK and so I'm passionate about closing this gap and championing women in business.
Thirdly, I’d like to see people vote with their money and vote small. Small creative businesses can improve national well-being. Imagine high streets inhabited by shopkeepers who know their customers’ names, cities where people feel connected to their local community, a society where there is less isolation and depression is no longer rife.
When did you know you were onto something?
With Notonthehighstreet the moment was when I was receiving my MBE at Windsor Castle, I went along with my husband, son and sister, who was the third employee at Notonthehighstreet and is my co-founder at Holly & Co. At one point, we all looked at each other and smiled, and I thought ‘we must be doing something right’. It was a beautiful and rare moment of reflection.
With Holly & Co, although we now have a lean team of 10, we are basically doing the work of a team of 50 people – my nickname is Holly Hurricane because I don’t ever really stop! So, I’m delighted that the podcast now attracts 25,000 listeners a week. We recently hired Manchester Cathedral for our live weekly podcast when I interviewed Mark Constantine OBE, founder and CEO of bath bomb company Lush. After the live recording was over, I spent the next 90 minutes answering questions from the long queue of people who had come up to speak to me personally. These kinds of encounters are hugely satisfying; connecting with so many people who are touched by our mission for small creative business, can be very emotional and I generally end up hugging everyone I meet.
What are your top business and time management tips for time?
My top tip is to work 15 hours a day - because when you love what you do, it doesn't feel like 'work' it’s just part of your life. I’m a fiend when it comes to To-Do lists. What looks like success to everyone else is just 1% of the story, a bit like an Instagram post. It’s really made up of 99% hard graft. When you’re breaking the mould, there’s no-one to copy – I’m sure Will Ramsay feels the same way!
What kind of encounters have you had at the Affordable Art Fairs?
When I founded Notonthehighstreet in 2006, I didn’t have any serious money to spend, but I had outgrown my Ikea prints. When I walked into the Affordable Art Fair, I was filled with excitement to have found myself in a setting that spoke to me like that, my palms were sweating, and I just relished the moment. I knew I’d arrived somewhere very special.
My most recent acquisition from an Affordable Art Fair is a limited edition print from Jealous Gallery by the artist Margaret Calvert OBE, who is responsible for the street signs on roads all over Britain, including the sign showing men are at work. For the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, she created a female version of the sign called Woman At Work. I just had to have it. I love how it absolutely reflects my entrepreneurial life, a large portion of which involves witnessing women working their butts off. There is a feminist thread to my business. I’m a feminist and so are my husband and son.
I’m also addicted to Finn Stone’s animal art. I have a zebra head with a Bowie stripe on its eye, a chair with a dog on the bottom, and a polar bear with the Kiss rock band on its face.
What is your advice to a first-time art buyer?
Trust that you’ll just know. When you see something you love, it will just speak to you. Before and after anyone says anything practical to you such as ‘Where on earth will you put that zebra head, or dog chair, or whatever’ you will find that it captures your heart like a match made in heaven. When you feel something is right, I say don’t even think about practicalities, just go for it.
Why is art so important for children?
Art is sometimes shoehorned out of the education system and that’s a mistake. As we enter the industrial revolution that Artificial Intelligence will bring, we need to be more human than ever and we need to keep art and creativity central in our lives. There are so many more paths for children to take than the traditional university one. Think of the people who work with their hands – the artists, the makers, designers, hairdressers, cooks, illustrators, writers and even coders. Today’s young will be joining a working world that’s so far removed from what they are taught, and I want to help show them how they can be anything they want to be. I recently ran a mini mentoring competition, encouraging young entrepreneurs to write – or draw - their big dream on a postcard with the opportunity to attend a mini mentoring workshop where I helped five of these kidpreneurs build the self-belief to pursue their ambitions. In a similar way, the workshops at the Affordable Art Fair are fantastic for getting children’s creative juices and self-confidence flowing.
What qualities do creative entrepreneurs often share?
There’s a resilience and positivity among creative entrepreneurs who have had to learn from failure. It isn’t about being drunk on positivity. Creative entrepreneurs often encounter people who put down their ideas but they typically demonstrate a dog-eared determination to see things through. They need to have that strong, healthy sense of who they are and the uniqueness they bring. At the same time, many are fearful for their financial future and that of their family. I’m proud that Holly & Co - like the Affordable Art Fair – is creating a community of small creative businesses which it nurtures and celebrates.
In championing creativity and offering talent access to new audiences, would you agree Holly & Co and the Affordable Art Fair have a similar ethos?
Will Ramsay has done an amazing job for 20 years, creating a platform to bring people together so that artists can reach people like myself, who needed a curator to help them buy art in a fun, life-enhancing way. It’s that important task of meticulously editing the offer that the Affordable Art Fair has done so well. They pick such a great mix of art and it’s immediately clear to any visitor that enormous thought has gone into it.
Huge thanks to Holly and Claire for carrying out this interview as a part of our 20th anniversary celebrations. This interview is just one of many pieces within our 20th anniversary magazine. Click here to or follow the link below to read the collection of exclusive interviews and exciting articles all created in aid of saying a huge THANK YOU to YOU for your support over two decades of democratising the art market.
ABOUT THE JOURNALIST
Claire Adler has written over 500 articles for publications including the Financial Times during over a decade as a regular contributor, The Times, Vanity Fair, Wallpaper*, The Washington Post, Hong Kong Tatler, The Spectator and many more. Claire specialises primarily in jewellery, luxury and art. Her writing has also appeared in business books published by The Financial Times and Open University. In 2016, Claire was named a Top 20 Luxury Tastemaker by IN London magazine. Later that year, Claire founded Claire Adler | The Luxury Public Relations And Writing Consultancy, which employs a journalistic approach to the way companies communicate with journalists. Clients include or have included Jaeger-Le Coultre, Sotheby’s, Adama Partners, The New West End Company, Objet d’Emotion by Valery Demure and Investec.
Featured art from first to last:
Claire Adler, Luxury Journalist.
Holly speaks about her passion for creativity.
The Holly & Co. cafe is the perfect spot to get those creative juices flowing.
Holly Tucker MBE speaks to luxury journalist Claire Adler.
Margaret Calvert OBE, Woman At Work, Jealous Gallery.
Art lovers enjoy the Affordable Art Fair Battersea.
The Children's Summer Exhibition at Holly and Co.
Holly & Co is on a mission to inspire and advise small creative businesses.