Celebrating women: Designer Amanda Harrison

What do you do when you have three growing children and a busy job at a primary school? I don’t know about you, but running a business would be the last thing on my mind. Yet that’s exactly what Amanda Harrison of Newcastle-upon-Tyne is doing – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Amanda, 47, began Vintage Card & Button Art six years ago, after the tragic death of her mother. At first, it was a way to help her cope with her grief, sourcing vintage, retro and antique pieces and giving them a modern twist. 

Over the years, however, it’s grown into a successful business that leaves her happily juggling life with her husband of 21 years Stephen, their three teenage children Harry, Katie and Dave, “our amazing foster son”, and working as a higher level teaching assistant, “trying to make a difference in the lives of little people”.

“I love it,” she tells me.“I love to socialise, travel, make memories, laugh, entertain, have people in my home – mostly my teenagers’ friends – and feed them. That’s  a trait I know I’ve inherited from my nana: if their tummies are full, they’re happy! 

“In my house, it’s: ‘Come on in, feel at home and be fed and watered! I’ll be at my vintage desk putting vintage pieces into modern frames if you need me.’”

Here, in the first of a series celebrating the inspirational women around us, Amanda tells us more about how she started, how she got over the sticky part of asking for money for her pieces and what advice she’d give other women who want to start a business…

What is Vintage Card & Button Art?

Vintage Card & Button Art is an indulgent hobby which very naturally blossomed into a very small business. Beginning mostly as a challenge of: “Well, I can do that,” it now keeps me busy most nights of the week. 

I scour all over for vintage pieces and then frame them to showcase them, giving them a new lease of life. I use vintage playing cards (printed with letters of the alphabet) to build slogans, family names, funny sayings, in fact any words at all! I use old French keys, retro Scrabble tiles, vintage buttons and maps from old leather-bound atlases to create new wall hangings.  

Why did you start your business? 

I started in 2012 because I needed a distraction. My mum had died earlier that year and I was struggling to relax at home. Keeping busy was what I needed. 

I had seen a few framed cards around in magazines and on design programs and begun my search for the different elements to make some of my own. Trawling through second-hand shops, markets and the internet, I soon had an amazing range of items to get started. 

And it worked! What a distraction. I didn’t have to think about my pain. In fact, it was complete indulgence into a world of my own.

I started with a few small craft fairs, evenings at friends’ houses etc, then I committed to a regular stall at the wonderful Tynemouth Market

I get pleasure from making my frames and love the fact that my craft is hanging in someone else’s home. Little old me, proud of myself!

What have you found most difficult?

I think the most difficult part was wondering if my products were worthy of the price I was asking. I don’t make huge profits on my frames – as long as I gain a little more than cost I’m happy (possibly not the common mantra of a successful businesswoman, but I get so much more out of running my business than profit). 

I asked and took advice from other stallholders for help on liability insurances, card-payment machines, business-card printers etc etc. Learning from those who have done it for a while is a great thing. 

What is the best and worst things about having your own business?

I think the best thing is having complete control of my products. I strive for perfection in my frames and as I make each one personally, I know my customers receive a very well-made product. 

The down side of this, however, is that some frames may be tricky to perfect and take longer to put together if I’m unhappy with any of the elements. I would never dispatch a product without being completely happy with it. 

My day job brings its own demands, as you can imagine, but as busy as I am, I always gain delight in the positive reactions I receive when a customer collects their frame. 

I’m a people-pleaser and love to make people happy. It makes me feel good. It makes me smile. 

What advice would you give to other women wanting to start a business?

My advice? Go for it! Carpe Diem! You never know what life will throw at you and if you can do it today, don’t put it off until tomorrow. The opportunity might never cross your path again. 

Oh yes – and good luck!

If you’d like to see more of Amanda’s work, click here. I bought a piece for a relative’s wedding a couple of years ago and can highly recommend the quality. They’re beautiful, quirky and unique gifts that can be adapted to your own message

Do you know an inspirational woman you’d like to see featured? Let me know in the comments below. And don’t forget – If you’ve enjoyed this, like and subscribe and share with your friends.

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