My Early Hour: Ashlyn Gibson, Olive Loves Alfie founder

“When Olive was 14 months I became a single parent – six months later I lost my job. It was a dark and devastating time,” says Ashlyn Gibson. But she channelled all her inner strength and launched family lifestyle store Olive Loves Alfie…

Ashlyn Gibson, 53, owns family lifestyle store Olive Loves Alfie, works as a freelance stylist and writes interior books. She lives in east London with her daughter Olive, 14, and partner of eight years, Matthew.

What’s your home like?
We live in an old factory – it was the ultimate renovation project. It has a mix of Japanese, industrial and rustic influences.

What time are you up in the morning? 
Around 6.30 in the summer.

What wakes you up?
The daylight – we have a huge skylight above our bed.

How do you feel?
Full of hope.

What do you do first thing?
If it’s a school day I make sure Olive is awake!

In three words, describe mornings in your home?
Predictable organised chaos.

Tea or coffee?

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How might the rest of your day pan out?
I catch up with emails and Instagram then juggle lots of different projects. I own Olive Loves Alfie, work as a freelance stylist  and write interior books so my days are really varied.

I could be researching or planning a new photoshoot as a stylist, designing for Olive Loves Alfie and checking up on our local production, buying for my store, catching up with Emma my online partner and organising OLA Mama! events together or writing a feature.

What’s your workspace like?
I don’t have a dedicated workspace – I colonise different spaces at home depending on the weather. In the summer I work on our roof terrace or in our big factory space, while in the winter you are more likely to find me in front of an open fire or sitting in our rum shack that doubles up as a cosy work space.

Tell us about your business: when did you launch, and how/why did it come about?
I launched Olive Loves Alfie in 2006. When Olive was 14 months I became a single parent – six months later I lost my job. It was a dark and devastating time. My pre baby life revolved around being away from home more than being in London. Nick (Olive’s dad) and I both travelled a lot; as a musician he was touring, recording or at festivals, and as a designer I was researching or on production trips. We often met up along the way and had a great adventure together.

Finding myself on my own with Olive and without a job changed things beyond recognition. I needed to create a new life that worked for us both. I needed to be able to please myself and organise work around Olive – not the other way round. I had always dreamt of having a shop and the smallest idea turned into my next adventure. I found a shop in my neighbourhood and put all of my passion for design, my discoveries, knowledge and my redundancy money into a store. Six weeks later I opened Olive Loves Alfie. It was the first concept store to champion Scandi and non-gender specific design for kids.

Where is Olive when you’re working?
Olive is at secondary school – she is scarily independent these days.

What’s the greatest challenge when running your own business?
Cash flow is a constant issue heightened by increased rents and rates.

What makes it all worthwhile?
Knowing that I am supporting ethical brands and working with some really talented and visionary people. Being able to support my daughter on my own in the way that I wanted to. And pleasing myself.

Are there aspects of the production that you delegate to others?
The day to day running of the shop is taken care of by my staff who all bring different things to Olive Loves Alfie.

Three tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Surround yourself with believers.
Question whether or not you are really bringing something new to people.
Find a good accountant.

Are you a happy lone worker, or do you enjoy the buzz of a shared workspace?
A mix of both works for me.

What’s the secret to career success?
Taking opportunities, evolving ideas and being the best you can possibly be.

Is the juggle real for you… do you find it difficult balancing kids/relationship/me-time/time for friends/career?
My boundaries aren’t very clear – family life is tied up in my work. It’s the reason I created my business.

Describe an ideal weekend?
At the moment I feel a real need to escape from London to the sea or the countryside. We have been doing house swaps – it’s a great way to have an adventure.

Life is pretty busy so if we are in London, it’s all about time at home and enjoying our space. Matthew is a great cook and we love to bring people together.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
In a beach house in Bali where Olive can have her surf fix and I can be under the big wide open and work on a new project for Olive Loves Alfie.
Follow Olive Loves Alfie on Instagram: @olivelovesalfie
And Ashlyn: @ashlyn_stylist