“Most people, myself included, talk about this kind of stuff longingly, but never actually have the guts to take the plunge. Fergus on the other hand is a doer.” Emma Macdonald on leaving London for Edinburgh, setting up Eagle and Fox with her husband and throwing a baby into the mix…
The other day I was sitting in our company strategy meeting, feeling excited about all of the great ideas and plans we had for the year ahead. Then the excitement started turning to frustration, at the huge list of everything we still hadn’t done. And that was just at work, there is also that huge Pinterest board of things to do with the house and garden. Feeling deflated I started telling my husband about it, but he just smiled and told me to stop and think about everything we had achieved in the last three years, both as a company and as a family and, well, there was a lot to think about.
This time three years ago I was working as a fashion buyer down in London, planning our wedding in Italy and wondering how we would ever afford a family home within commuting distance. Fast forward three years and me and my husband Fergus now live back in our home town of Edinburgh in our own little home, have launched two successful retail brands, got a dog called Alfie and the biggest change of all: the arrival of our now nine-month-old baby girl Aila.
Making the decision to leave my dream career in London and take the risk of going into business with my husband (as much as I love him) was not an easy one. However, after many evenings of dream talking (involving much wine) the idea of doing what we both love, with the freedom to live wherever we wanted, take as much time off as we liked and having a flexible work/family life, was so appealing.
The fear I felt having this beautiful, fragile, little thing, which was so dependent on me – and not knowing if I was ‘doing it right’ – was incredibly overwhelming and unexpected
Most people, myself included, talk about this kind of stuff longingly, but never actually have the guts to take the plunge. Fergus on the other hand is a doer; he believes you can make your life whatever you want it to be and what’s the point in talking about it unless you have a plan of how you’re going to do it. He is essentially how I ended up going from a degree in economics, to being a fashion buyer in London, but that’s another story. So the talk turned to plans and soon we had a date to leave London and venture into married life living and working together, essentially being together 24/7, there was definitely the fear this could result in the shortest marriage ever!
Fergus already ran an online retail business in Edinburgh which he managed from London, so the plan was to sell part of this off and launch two brands, essentially a his and her passion project and so The Tartan Blanket Co and Kilt Society were born. Already having the infrastructure from Fergus’s previous business made things a lot easier to get going and us having very different but complimentary skill sets, made the businesses work. I brought my knowledge and experience working in both buying and merchandising and Fergus is a technology whizz and very logical, so manages logistics and the customer experience. We work across both brands to utilise our skills and knowledge, giving each other space to make the call on the area they have the expertise in.
Working together has many benefits, but I’m in no way saying it is easy, especially that first year, when there were plenty of times we felt either the marriage or the business, or sometimes both, would end in tears. But we learned ways to work together and I think we have become stronger and happier as a result. I have learned some key lessons about working with your husband, firstly; many would say leave work at the door – I would strongly disagree. If you run your own business, work is never left in the office; you are always thinking and talking about it. The best ideas we have had are when we are out of the office, often on holiday, with a fresh perspective and it’s amazing to have your best friend and business partner there to discuss it with.
I had thought I was going to be back at work in a few weeks, while being the best mum at the same time
Also, I think it is near impossible to have a huge argument in work and then go home and have a lovely, happy dinner together. In reality the argument goes home with you, hanging silently in the air, ruining the little free time you have. We had a few of those evenings, but have now learnt that the best way is to talk everything out. We give each other space to process disagreements, but not leaving it too long before we get everything off our chests and try to understand things from each other’s perspective. Lesson No 2: Don’t ‘talk it out’ in front of your staff, again we learnt the hard way, no one wants to see a domestic at work and you basically look like incompetent toddlers, not company leaders!
So we finally got into our rhythm, we had a strong team around us, sales were growing and we felt like we could take a breath. So we thought “great, things have calmed down a bit the last month, why not think about kids?!?” Unsure of how long things would take, and me having no patience whatsoever, I came off the pill in September, just before the Christmas rush and the launch of our pop-up store.
Of course I fell pregnant the next month (Fergus believes this is down to his incredible virility) and we had a much busier Christmas than we ever imagined. This resulted in Fergus and I working seven day weeks, which involved me either crying over paper cuts while wrapping blankets, or throwing up in the bathroom. Once we got through those crazy few months, the rest of the pregnancy was relatively uncomplicated and we welcomed our beautiful baby girl Aila into the world in July 2016.
Aila’s arrival has been the greatest challenge in both our home and work lives, but has also made us happier than we could’ve ever imagined. I grew up surrounded by children, as my mum was a childminder, so I knew I wanted to be a mum and was confident I knew what it involved. However, I also like to be in control and want to be the best at everything I do, so the fear I felt having this beautiful, fragile, little thing, which was so dependent on me – and not knowing if I was ‘doing it right’ – was incredibly overwhelming and unexpected
Luckily Fergus was there to help prop me up and keep reminding me what an important and great job I was doing, even when I felt like I was constantly failing
I had thought I was going to be back at work in a few weeks, while being the best mum at the same time. In reality breastfeeding was harder than I ever imagined, I was lucky if I managed four hours sleep a night and I broke out in a sweat or tears if I even had to think about making a work related decision. I soon realised motherhood was not something you could control or plan and work was going to have to fit around it.
Luckily Fergus was there to help prop me up and keep reminding me what an important and great job I was doing, even when I felt like I was constantly failing. I believe our strong communication and support for each other, due in part to working so closely together, is the main reason I started loving motherhood so quickly and it wasn’t long until I started feeling like myself again and actually wanted to start working again two months later.
Another huge benefit of working together is that it has allowed us to be co-directors and co-parents. As Aila becomes less reliant on me for feeding, Fergus’ role is growing and between him and our parents (another huge benefit to moving back home), I am able to be in work two and half days a week with Aila being watched in our office, so I can still breastfeed her when needed.
On a side note, I have also been shocked at the stigma attached to breastfeeding in public. Women go through enough – from the trauma of giving birth, straight to the pressure and pain in getting breastfeeding established – so I refuse to feel embarrassed about it as well and will happily breastfeed anywhere, including business meetings.
So three years later as I sit here thinking about all the things I still want to achieve, both with the business and as a family, I look back and I have to admit, I am pretty proud of where we have got to so far. It’s great to constantly have goals and with the support of my can-do husband, I am sure it won’t take us long to achieve many more of them.