The Designers' Advisor Asks: Jeannine Birch

Jeannine Birch

Coral & Hive

Jeannine Birch studied Psychology for four years, with an entrepreneurial background and passion for naturally handcrafted interiors, she setup her own company Coral & Hive in 2016. Coral & Hive are known for their perfectly imperfect hand woven rugs, all woven on traditional looms in Cape Town, South Africa. The brand is expanding and has stockists in: Switzerland, USA and the UK. There are some exciting collaborations underway for Coral & Hive, they have featured in Elle Decoration South Africa, Homes and Gardens UK and Enki design magazines. Jeannine works closely with designers in the UK, she is the creative director of the business and takes lead on new projects and concepts. Jeannine resides in South West London with her husband and two sons. They are building an all natural contemporary barn style home in Cape Town and the rugs and interiors are sure to be handcrafted and beautiful!

Jeannine Birch
Photography by Lara Scott

How do you ensure you have happy clients – so vital to a successful business?

Answering queries and quote requests within 24 hours. Giving clients key choices and supporting them in the process of designing a rug, from delivery through to installation. Our clients seem to love the choice of fibres they have with us. Also, knowing the maker is important and allowing clients to feel part of the process by sending photos of the rugs on the loom, when possible, lends a real sense of authenticity to the product.

If you could only do one piece of marketing for your business, what would it be and why?

Social media is powerful – Instagram has been instrumental to our growth and to new designers finding us. In addition, working alongside designers on interesting projects – like the upcoming 'Makers Project' with Petra Arko of Bergman & Mar – is key for exposure. It helps tell the story of our business, which is focused around artisans and handcrafted, beautiful pieces.

What role does (or has) a mentor play(ed) in your professional life?

A strong and experienced mentor can offer so much support, especially in the first 2-3 years of a start-up. Even after this initial phase of development, however, your strategy continuously needs tweaking and adapting. There is always something new to learn. Having a business can be lonely at times, so having an outside person looking in, giving you advice and support can really help you to grow and overcome challenges. I highly recommend having a mentor who you can talk to but also learn from. It’s also helpful having somebody oversee your personal goals within your business and guiding you forward, whether that is growth or stability.

Why, if ever, have you turned clients down?

Yes, I have turned clients down in the past. It's very important to ensure it's a good business-work relationship at the beginning. There is no point trying to change and meet needs you cannot – you're just setting yourself up for potential disappointment as well as using valuable time, energy and resources on a potentially high-risk situation not necessarily within your skill set or expertise. Stay true to your vision and move slowly and carefully.

How did you find your USP – was it immediately obvious or did you have to develop your niche?

Our USP from the start has been that we are able to weave very large rugs in beautiful natural fibres. Initially we worked solely with African fibres – rugs in all-natural karakul wool and gorgeously soft mohair was a very unique offering for London designers. Over time, we have developed the offering, bringing in Indian fibres and mixing them African fibres to create art couture rugs with the most incredible textures. We are constantly evolving to keep our products exciting, but we always stay true to our vision of offering the most beautiful handwoven artisan rugs in natural fibres.

What’s your top piece of advice for running a business?

Slow and steady with a positive attitude and willingness to learn and adapt. Networking is brilliant. Stay close to people with a shared ethos of design and business – and book sessions with Polly!

Many thanks to Jeannine Birch

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