First up, can you tell me who you are, and a wee bit about your business?
Highland Natural Accents is a retail business located in the We Frame It gallery in Portree on the Isle of Skye. HNA exists to help you be your own interior designer or wardrobe stylist with the vibrant textiles we offer. Highland Natural Accents sources textiles primarily from Scottish makers and artists. Depending upon the maker, the textiles can be derived from local mills or are spun, loomed or knitted by hand. Made of natural or up-cycled fibres, we provide high-quality finished textiles of home accessories and fashion, allowing you to own a unique part of Scotland and beyond in remembrance of your travels in Skye.
I am Leslie Foale, owner and creator. After making my 30th move in my lifetime, I decided to not only change my personal life but also my professional life. With Scotland being my new home, I began exploring different avenues of possible work. In 2016, I attended Scotland’s Spring Trade Fair in Glasgow. Seeing the talent and artistry of exhibitors at this venue was amazing. This incentivised me to combine my 30 years of practical business experience with my passion for quality textiles and craftsmanship to create my own business. In spring of 2016, Highland Natural Accents was founded.
HNA is a professional focus for me as an entrepreneur and artist. Creating a new business from scratch challenges my knowledge, skills and ability to adapt quickly. Through HNA Associated Makers, the makers / artists supplying finished textiles to Highland Natural Accents, I learn a great deal about wool, design, weaving, knitting and the mechanics of producing such products. After a five-week experience at the Global Yell studio in Shetland learning how to weave, I decided that weaving would become my speciality as an artist and maker. From this discovery, Skye Textiles was established (a business arm of Highland Natural Accents).
I do my best to support local textile makers through the business of Highland Natural Accents. These makers / designers incorporate nature’s beauty from the islands, highlands and beyond through their fibres, textures, patterns and colours to create hand crafted artefacts. In turn, visitors and others who are involved with Highland Natural Accents support local businesses, as well as enhance the trend of the rejuvenation of the local textile industry.
What does a typical day look like for you?
After hopefully a good night’s sleep, I start the day with some exercise (swimming, rowing, or bicycling), to then start the work day. During High Season when the majority of tourists visit Skye, most of my time is attending to international travellers’ needs. After checking and responding to emails, I can be addressing several aspects of existing projects or operational matters, or work in the front of the Gallery of We Frame It, where Highland Natural Accents operates its retail business.
Operational matters may include orders to be made (analysing stock and historical sales to determine what products to order depending upon the supplier), following up with placed orders (some orders are not fulfilled at once but provided to HNA in portions, depending upon the maker’s ability to have available stock and/or make the products to order), or addressing the financial aspects of the business (i.e., ensure payments of orders are scheduled, analyse cash flow, understand current expenditures).
When I work in the gallery of We Frame It, I address both Highland Natural Accents and We Frame It customer needs. This work ranges from determining and fulfilling a specific customer’s request of an item, providing customised framing services, or replenishing stock after the customers have made their purchases. And then there are also the daily operations of making the businesses run smoothly.
During High Season, the Gallery is open seven days a week; Monday through Friday 9 – 7 and weekends 10-6. Thus, I tend to work 12 – 14 hour days with maybe one day off in a month during this peak time of the year. It is full on.
After High Season, it is time for strategising. A typical day can include researching industry news, understanding what products and colours were most popular for HNA, analysing sales to forecast estimated annual spend per maker, and forecasting next year’s budget for HNA. Talks and/or visits with suppliers help maintain clear communication and understanding of each other’s needs for current and future business.
Where does your passion for the industry stem from?
As a young girl, I liked working with my hands. This guided me as to which hobbies I chose. My grandmother and mother taught me different crafts, including needlework, crocheting and sewing. I also studied music by playing the flute and piccolo. As an adult, I chose a stable career in finance to make a living. But I always found opportunities to design and create on the side. This includes designing my own jewellery and business suits, welding, sculpting, helping others with their wardrobe or home décor selections, and seeking opportunities to practice photography, especially when travelling.
Having moved to Scotland for personal reasons, I channeled this new chapter in my life into an opportunity to pursue a long-lived desire to create my own business. Choosing textiles as my business focus was a logical step given my artistic background.
Did you study? Where?
My formal education was obtained in the US. In 1988, I received a Bachelor’s of Science dual degree in Finance and Marketing at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management in Syracuse, New York. After four years working in the personal consulting and investment banking industries on the East Coast, I moved to San Diego, California to obtain my Master of International Business degree at the University of San Diego’s International Business School.
In February and March 2017, I began the learning about the process of how to weave through the members of Global Yell in Shetland. This opened a new door for me. Weaving to me is a logical combination of music (the sound of the shuttle creating the weft by hand and the warp being shifted), maths, and artistry.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
I am most proud of being able to combine and apply skills, talent and ability to create a new business, while helping other small businesses and individuals. Finding purpose of giving back is what drives me to make Highland Natural Accents successful. The analytical discipline instilled in my first career resulted in a means towards this next step – building a new business. My background and business acumen has led me to be an architect, artist, entrepreneur, and mentor.
Who are the influential figures you look up to for inspiration?
Family members and artists have given me much inspiration and hope. Specifically, my grandparents and parents provided me the seeds and soil to grow my ideas. In addition, my husband has provided me the platform to create and build a strong foundation for Highland Natural Accents. Artists and makers whom I work with to provide an array of textile selections for our customers are also a great inspiration to me.
What exciting projects do you have in the pipeline for the near future?
There are two main projects which I am working on for Highland Natural Accents:
1) Skye Textiles, and
2) establishing an independent location for Highland Natural Accents.
Skye Textiles is a recently developed business arm of Highland Natural Accents. It provides me an outlet to design and create woven textiles. I began the process of designing a throw in the spring of 2017. This process has evolved into producing a limited edition collection of throws for 2018. Currently, I am working on Skye Textiles’ 2019 limited edition collection of throws. In addition, Skye Textiles is taking its next step to expand its products. Given customer requests in the last year at the Portree gallery, I have begun to work on new woven products which are targeted to be ready for retail consumption next year. Skye Textiles focus is to provide exclusive finished textiles woven in Scotland and hand finished in Skye. The development of Skye Textiles is a methodical work-in-progress that will evolve organically in its own time.
In the near future, Highland Natural Accents is to successfully establish its own independent retail store. Highland Natural Accents has been given an advantage through We Frame It to establish and grow its physical retail presence through the We Frame It galleries. After two years in operation, HNA has grown and arrived at a stage which it needs to properly brand itself and maximise growth.
A new retail space in Portree will be available to Highland Natural Accents within the next year or so. Highland Natural Accents’ objective is to remain and have sole presence in Portree with its retail operations. Once this new retail space has been finalised, Highland Natural Accents will be able to create an exclusive image for its brand and expand its selection of high-quality textiles.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
A favourite aspect of my new career is creating happy moments for others. You see that sparkle in the customer’s eye or hear that wee giggle they can't manage to contain because the textile they just saw makes them feel so happy. You know then that the textile will remind them of that moment, time and time again, when they use it.
In addition, I enjoy helping artists make their business better in some way. The result can be increased efficiencies and/or profitability for them.
What is the biggest mistake you have made in your career so far and how could it be avoided?
The biggest mistake I have made in my professional career is not starting my own business sooner. Over time, I have learned that fear is lack of knowledge. You cannot gain knowledge unless you try, and sometimes fail, at doing whatever. The key – do not fear failure.
What does your workspace look like?
My workspace is anywhere and in my head. Laptop, iPad, mobile and camera with lenses are in backpacks, always ready to go. The most permanent space I have is the retail and storage space at the We Frame It gallery. The day when Highland Natural Accents opens its own doors for business will be very exciting one, indeed.
Who is your design inspiration?
I was born in Venezuela and brought up on the East Coast of the United States. I have travelled in various countries of five out of the seven continents of the world. Different cultures influence and inspire me – Japanese discipline, Chinese inventiveness, Spanish / Latin American vitality, Turkish vivaciousness. A trip to Turkey in my mid-20’s inspired me to not be afraid to mix all sorts of colours and textures together. Family teachings and exposure to New York City gave me the foundation of recognising high-quality workmanship, being open to a variety of ideas, and understanding great contrasts. It is the mixture of these experiences, cultures and places that influence my designs.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Go with your gut instinct; it is your best mentor.
What are you looking for from the textile industry currently?
I thirst for knowledge about current events and forecasted trends in the local textile industry. As I move forward with Highland Natural Accents and become more specialised and focused, I will continue to seek resources for materials, designs and talent from the textile and other industries.
Any final thoughts?
Know where you stand with your cash. Take calculated risks. Build good memories for you and others.
Find Highland Natural Accents online:
website / twitter / facebook