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Cardiff Student Heroes: Tillie

16 May 2021

BA Chinese Student and founder of Page Illustrations, Tillie, won the Student Start Up Curious Explorer Award after launching her business on Etsy in June last year.

She was entered into the competition by Cardiff University’s Enterprise team and was awarded £3,000 to invest back into her business due to demonstrating “exceptional vision and ambition to scale-up her art business” during a pitch to an expert panel.

Through Page Illustrations, Tillie sells affordable, hand-drawn, minimalist illustrations designed to instil joy and positivity in the form of posters, tote bags and notebooks to name a few.

Since launch, she has been met with an eruption of support from loyal customers, having successfully sold around 630 items on Etsy and Instagram, plus over 1000 prints at two markets.

“It’s been more successful than expected but it’s been really fun and I’m just loving it,” she said.

Speaking about the inspiration for the business, she explained that during lockdown she made the decision to fulfil her long-held desire to start her own business, something she had previously put off.

“I’ve always in the back of my head wanted to start a business and I thought, you know what, I’m just going to try it. I have nothing to lose at the moment,” Tillie explained.

Fusing her love of drawing with the desire to be her own boss, the business was born.

Going eco

Winning the Curious Explorer Award has been a huge blessing to Tillie, giving her “a bit more breathing space to be able to create new products” with less of a financial risk.

Having not yet spent the money, she hopes to use the cash to invest in a bigger printer and increased storage space.

Additionally, it is now possible for her to make the business eco-friendly through the use of sustainable packaging.

When first starting out Tillie opted for plastic packaging as it was about a quarter of the price of compostable ones, which she admitted she was not happy about.

“Initially, I couldn’t really afford them, but now I can use that money to get some compostable bags so my packaging is 100% eco,

“It’s great because that’s something I couldn’t do before,” she said.

Fiercely supported

Through Cardiff’s Enterprise department, Tillie also took part in the YMLAEN scheme, an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to recieve mentoring and support from fellow businesspeople.  

Participants are initially given £150 to get their ideas up and running, and to cover start-up costs.

They’re also allocated a mentor who helps them with everything from networking to social media marketing workshops.

Tillie said: “The mentoring lessons were really helpful and my mentor Claire is just fantastic. She’s so good at just making my chaotic, creative mind more structured.”

“Starting a business through that scheme is a really good way to do it because you feel like you have someone to ask the stupid questions to – I really recommend it.”

The university offers regular support to students looking to start their own business or freelance.

From their start-up support package to online skills sessions, Cardiff is a big supporter of those with a creative vision.

As for the future, Tillie expressed that she would love to run the business full-time as she has felt so welcomed by the “fiercely supportive” small business community.

She said that her ultimate dream would be to have “a sort of creative hub like a little cafe or workshop, where people would come in and host cool art classes and sell art from different local makers and things like that.”

However, for now, Tillie is focused on completing her masters and taking it as it comes.

Her advice for anyone looking to start a business would be to simply “just do it”.

“Don’t overthink it, don’t talk yourself out of it, just do it and work it out later. It’s so easy to overthink these things and there’s nothing to lose. People get so worried about what other people think of them and there’s just no point because you don’t know what could come of it unless you try,” she said.

“This has been life changing for me. It has totally transformed my perception of how I can earn money and the fact that I can actually manage my own finances and be my own boss is something I didn’t think was possible before.”