Spotlight on: Joan Johnston, founder of Ava Innes

Spotlight on: Joan Johnston, founder of Ava Innes

22 days agoPosted in Egg Partners

From developing exclusive fabrics for brands including Burberry and Chanel to setting up her own award-winning luxury Scottish bedding brand, Ava Innes. Joan Johnston is a woman on a mission. Here she talks to egg about the importance of sleep, riding the highs and lows of running your own business and why finding your tribe is so important…

Tell us about your journey

I started and founded my career on textile design. For 20 years I worked in senior level roles for luxury textile manufacturers in the elite position of developing exclusive fabrics for brands such as Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Hermes and Chanel. Previous to that, for 17 years I worked at Stephen Walters, a silk jacquard weaver in Suffolk. I became the first female Director in their 300-year history. As a US Sales Director and Design Director I travelled the world working with some of the most luxurious companies around.

After I had my first child, I changed direction and became a university lecturer for five years, teaching at Northumbria University on the BA Fashion Communication course. By 2013, I missed my industry and returned as the Creative Design Director of Johnstons Of Elgin overseeing the design and development of all products.

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Why did you set up your own business?

Juggling travel and family life in 2015, while transitioning into menopause, was a seminal moment for me. It was time to do things differently. I was driven by a need to make something that nurtured true wellbeing. Sleep is foundational to health and quality of life. And especially so for women who are disproportionately affected by lack of sleep at all periods of our lives.

I also wanted to create something truly sustainable using luxurious natural fabrics right here in the UK. I developed our unique cashmere guard hair and wool duvet and have since secured the patent, with the IP Office recognising it as a new invention. Going on your own after working for large organisations is exciting and challenging. However, your destiny is in your own hands. Be prepared to ride a rollercoaster of highs and lows. I’m pleased with the decision I made.

Ava Innes

Was it difficult to raise capital?

Raising funding is the most challenging thing I have ever undertaken. Last December we finally raised our first round of investment to aid our ambitious growth plan. It took 18 months, much longer than expected. Last year’s Pathways report highlighted the lack of investment in Female Founders is real and we have to work so much harder to get through the hurdles. This coupled with offering a retail product that fits into health and wellbeing is even more challenging.

I hear so much negativity from other female founders across sectors about their experiences of trying to raise funding to grow their business. The process is not for the faint hearted. But it is rewarding when you get there. I’m delighted to have secured our first round of investment with seven investors I respect, who believe in the potential of Ava Innes and myself, and who fully back our plans for future growth.

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Your top tips for others looking to start their own business?

  • Find your tribe. Connect with other female entrepreneurs, mentors, and industry leaders. Join organisations and attend events dedicated to supporting women in business. Look for investors who have a history of supporting female-led ventures. Women-focused funds or angel investor groups can be more receptive. They will often give advice to support you on your journey, even if they choose not to invest. Finding your champions and supporters within the investment community who believe in your business and can advocate for you opens doors and builds credibility.
  • Know your business inside and out and develop a compelling business plan and pitch. Differentiate your business and show how it addresses market needs that others might overlook. Investors are more likely to fund businesses with proven traction. Highlight any achievements, such as revenue growth, user engagement, or strategic partnerships. Explore crowdfunding, grants, or bootstrapping as additional or initial funding options. These can provide capital and validate your business concept without relying solely on traditional investors.
  • Stay resilient, and persistent. Fundraising can be a long and difficult process but sticking it out is key. Learn from each experience and constantly refine your approach.
ava innes joan

Your biggest success?

The overwhelming five-star reviews from our customers. Our product is transforming people’s lives, and we’re changing the way people regard sleep and the quality of the materials they bring into their homes. We spend a third of our life in bed, why shouldn’t we be investing in the best quality we can? It’s our mission to change how people think about that.

To top all of this, we’ve recently been voted IndyBest’s Best Premium Summer Duvet 2024 by The Independent. And for the second year in a row we’ve been recommended as Best Duvet by The Telegraph. Last week we delivered our first co-branded order to Gleneagles – does it get any better than that? I’m working on it…

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To shop the Ava Innes click here. Use code eggmember at the checkout for 10% off.

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