Ruth sat down with female entrepreneur Teri for International Women's Day, to find out how launching her own watch brand helped her mental health struggles.
Tell us about Teri Ellington’s story
In a way it sort of just happened. I lost my job two months before Christmas. I was a kennel assistant. I didn’t really have a lot of money and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was really struggling and I just decided to start my own watch brand. A couple of months before that I had been shopping for a watch but — on the wage that I was on — I couldn’t really see anything within my price range that was unique, different and to my taste.
That was my first thought. I thought ‘Right, I’m going to create a watch line’. My Grandad has always had a love for watches, he has a massive collection. I say this in all of my interviews, that the family joke is that if you lose him, he will be outside a jewellers. When I was first getting it together, I asked him for information, because I remember growing up, I’d see him changing a battery or changing straps.
I went on my laptop and just started searching information on watches; types of watches, brands, to try and find out all this information that I had absolutely no clue about. I typed in factories and that was the start of it. The factories sent over the information, the different types of movements and materials, and this was how the very, very first Grey Sheba was created. I spent my last £80 buying the sample to get it over here!
I took the watch along with a business plan to a company called Five Lamps in Thornaby who help local people set up businesses. The limited edition came about because I had limited funding and I could only order so many. I named it the Sheba Collection after my dog.
Did you know what you were doing when you were contacting factories?
No. It was a case of just learning the factories and information. There was a bit of a language barrier, but they were so professional, so easy to speak to and find out information about the watches. It was exciting but also really, really nerve-wracking, because at the same time I thought, I actually have no idea really what I’m doing right now. I’m having to learn as I’m doing it.
How long was the process from you losing your job to bringing in the Sheba Collection?
I lost my job in October and then I started getting the idea probably in about November. That’s when I started doing all the research on it. I paid for my sample around the December because that was all the money I had left. Then it was the planning and I got the sample around the beginning of January. The Sheba Collection arrived at the beginning of April and they went on sale at the end of April — so it was six months. Because of the exchange rate as well, I thought, ´oh my God, am I crazy for doing this? Should I be doing this?’ You have all of these thoughts in your head but, at the same time, in my head I was thinking, ‘I’ve got nothing left to lose because I haven’t really got anything now. I’m just going to do it.’
What does the business look like for you now?
The Amari collection is selling quite fast. Especially over the last couple of weeks. I’ve now moved into my new office; two years ago I sat on my laptop doing it. My bed broke in January 2019, I ended up sleeping on the sofa for six months. Instead of buying a bed, I put all of my money into the business. I was selling my belongings. I sold my car to make ends meet and my bedroom became my office because I was sleeping on the sofa. Then I moved into the downstairs converted garage, now I’m in this office — it’s been a journey. I’m going to the Switzerland Trade Show at the end of April which I’m really excited about because it’s going to be a watch show and I’m going to meet different people. I’m now placing an order for leather straps for the remaining Amari Collection to celebrate two years in business. It’s been so busy.
Being able to talk about that in a relatively a short space of time how does that feel? Do you have the opportunity to reflect?
Yeah. Sometimes it’s quite hard because of how busy I actually get now on a day-to-day basis. I remember when the sales were still far and few between and I didn’t have a lot of money. I was selling my belongings and the days were dragging. I felt very lost. I felt confused. Am I doing the right thing? Am I not doing the right thing? And then probably from December to now it’s been so quick.
I am naturally a person who will beat myself up if something doesn’t go right. Or if something doesn’t go to plan. I actually have to sit down and remember how far I’ve actually come. From the first initial opening of my laptop and contacting factories. I have to sit down and think, ´Oh, you’ve actually done really well; stop beating yourself up’ which I think everyone is guilty of.
I think a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of people in business, feel that they’re not doing something right, or they’re doing something wrong because this hasn’t happened. Your worries and your struggles, your goals… and the things that you find frustrating all change in six months’ time no matter what they are now. As the business grows, as you grow, for anybody, you’ll have different struggles and you’ll have different worries. And something you may be stressing about now, you’ll look back and you’ll think, ´Why did I stress about that? Why did I do that to myself?´ And that’s the thing, I think that’s why it’s important to actually stop and think, ´Do you know what? I’ve actually come very far compared to where I was´.
How do you feel about going to Switzerland to the watch shows?
I’m really excited because — for me — it’s the next step for me and my business. There is going to be a lot of people there in the industry and I think, as a 24-year-old female entrepreneur in the watch industry which is very masculine. I’ve not really heard of a female my age anyway, who’s doing it.
You do lots of communications around ‘Time to Talk Day’. Why is that important to you?
It’s important for me because I’ve struggled with mental health myself. When I was 16 I ended up having a full-on panic attack one night and I had no idea what was happening to me. Next day I woke up there was something not right and I couldn’t explain what was not right. I ended up struggling with agoraphobia. I had a fear of choking on food which caused me to have panic attacks which led me to having anxiety and separation anxiety from my dad. I didn’t like the idea of being on my own. It led into a spiral and then into depression. I was this normal fine 15-year-old girl who was going to school and then turned 16 and my whole life basically changed. I couldn’t go to school. I didn’t go to prom. I had to do my GCSEs at home. I spent the summer alone as my friends couldn’t really understand it because I couldn’t explain what was going on. That was the hardest thing for me; trying to explain the way I was feeling.
There wasn’t a lot of information on the internet as there is today which I’m so thankful for, there wasn’t Instagram where there is a lot of information. No-one was really talking about it. and it took me until I was around 17 to actually understand the way I was feeling. In the October when I was 17, we got a little baby puppy: a German Shepherd called Sheba. I spent October through to January in the house puppy-training her, she gave me a routine. I found when I was struggling with my mental health, I didn’t have a routine because I couldn’t cope. Sheba helped me, having to take her on walks. She got me back out of the house and gave me a routine and that’s why I named the first collection The Sheba Collection after her.
In February 2018 I did write my first public article which was in a local Teesside Gazette. That was my first time publicly talking about it and the response I got was amazing. I had so many people saying they had struggled the same and receiving so many messages from people saying, ´You’ve given me the courage to go and speak to somebody´. This one guy he said he was having trouble at work, struggling with anxiety and he said I helped him be able to go to his boss, now he knows there is someone else feeling the same. I’ve openly spoken about my struggles and anxiety, depression, panic attacks and social anxiety and I think, in a way, I’ve hopefully inspired other people that despite mental health and where you might be, you can still achieve what you want because, at 16, I didn’t think I’d be doing what I am today. Talking about mental health is really important because it’s still something that I struggle with today.
How do you manage your mental wealth as a busy and successful entrepreneur with your anxiety and panic attacks?
In a way it puts discipline in place for me — as an entrepreneur you get so run down. There’s so much you have to do. You can still be sat there watching your favourite programme but your brain hasn’t switched off because you’re thinking ‘What am I going to do tomorrow?’ I have a diary; this is one of my things. I actually have two diaries, one of them is what I need to do tomorrow and so forth, through the week. And then I have another diary for all of my notes. So, anything I feel in my head. I write down in that one. It’s also remembering to take time for yourself, so that might include a hobby. One of my hobbies is easy to do because I can do it in my own time and I have an adult colouring book. I will listen to music and I will do that colouring book before I go to bed because that helps me switch off and that’s over thinking.
I think one of my disciplines is learning to forgive yourself. We’re only human and I think as entrepreneurs we get so, you know, I haven’t done this right…so I listen to Fleetwood Mac and I colour my colouring book. I’m sorted then after that.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge and biggest highs as an entrepreneur?
My biggest challenges I think in business like lots of people is cash flow. It’s the hardest thing I think setting up a business; you don’t take it into consideration. It’s also the unexpected costs in business that I think wind you a little bit.
My highs throughout my entire business have been the comments I get from customers and the fact that people are actually purchasing something that I’ve created. I can actually say I’ve not had any returns. I’m absolutely over the moon with that. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s a fact as well that when I named it the Ellington it’s my last name and I didn’t know how people would feel about it. I mean, I’m not really anybody. I’m a nobody really. I just thought ‘will people wear it? Will people like it?’ I’m going into an industry where there are lots and lots of major watch brands.
One of the things that put it into perspective for me was when I was in the House of Fraser in 2018 with The Sheba Collection. I had a pop-up stand. And I was stood next to Michael Kors and all of these brands and I thought ‘there’s no way I’m going to sell any here’. And within one weekend, in the August bank holiday, I sold out the stock that I had with me. I had people actually queuing to buy my watch.
If you could go back and give your younger self a message, what would it be?
I think if I could go back and tell myself a message, it would be back to when I was 16 when I was struggling at my worst. I would say that, you know, this isn’t forever and you’re not going to struggle forever. And one of the things I do say with mental health is — for me — there are three stages. The first stage when you initially become ill and you don’t know how to cope, you don’t know how to manage it, you don’t know how to explain it. The second stage is actually accepting what’s happened and accepting how you feel and the third stage is the same as the acceptance, but it’s almost you are better, because when you get mental health, it is a disease, it is something that will never ever go away. You will have it for the rest of your life. But you learn to cope. You learn your coping mechanisms and you learn how to manage. There is light at the end of the tunnel and things do get better and you’re not going to be ill forever, because that’s what I thought in my head.
What are your top three tips to business owners to keep themselves in check and well?
1) Quiet times and self-assess. It’s taking time to realise how far you’ve come.
2) The other thing would be to schedule breaks because I found I almost felt guilty if I wanted to do something that was outside of my business in a way. So, it is thinking, my cash flow is tight. I can’t do this. I can’t do that. I can’t have a hobby and it’s not actually the case. Treats don’t have to be going away on an expensive spa day – although that would be lovely! You can literally say ‘do you know what, today I’m taking the day off, and I’m going to get myself a takeaway’.
3) I said before it’s also forgiving yourself, but in moving forward. It is easy to make mistakes and if things aren’t going well, it can lead to a lot of anger and frustration for yourself. It’s almost that we harm ourselves, for example, how can I be so stupid doing this? In actual fact, you’re human, the same as everybody else, everyone has their own journey.
Finally, what is next for Teri and Ellington Timepieces?
Mainly it is getting the 2020 collection and putting them up on sale and creating tower stands for retailers. Having our own shop of Ellington Timepieces and hopefully start shipping internationally. We’ve already started receiving messages from people asking whether we sell them in America and Norway. I would like to get people talking about mental health and share my story and hopefully inspire others. For now, I’m just taking it one day at a time to see what happens. For me, it’s an adventure and a journey that I’m quite excited about.