I am renowned for my love of velvet! So it made absolute sense to have a sneak peek into the life of Helen Gilbert, the founder of Luxe 39. After all, this boutique brand designs and creates luxury, bespoke velvet cushions in a whole host of colours. So, what are you waiting for?! Read on and enjoy…
When did you set up Luxe 39?
I started the business from my home in South West London in January 2018. Then, I officially registered Luxe 39 Ltd in July that year, once all the cushion samples had been made and the website was ready to go live.
What was the inspiration for the colour scheme of your collection?
I was inspired to make Emerald Green velvet cushions for my bedroom following a visit to a hotel. In fact, that was the final push I needed to set up the business. I get colour inspiration from many places. But, ultimately, I select colours that I love, which work well together rather than being dictated by current fashions. I started with 11 colours in the collection. This included a couple of greys and a navy as the base neutrals with a mix of jewel brights and pastels. However, we have recently added a couple of new colours which were inspired by requests by customers.
The 13 colours we now have can either be made into single colour cushions we call ‘Gemstone Cushions’ or any two colours can be combined in our double sided, double colour ‘Cocktail Cushions’. From these 13 colours, there are 91 double colour combinations, which can be put together. We currently have 64 of the most popular colour ways on the website. But, as all cushions are made to order, we can mix and match any two colours at a customer’s request.
I really enjoy it when a customer requests a new colour combination. In fact, I’m still surprised at which colours can work together.
What is your background?
I have always been creative in my home life but haven’t always worked in a creative environment. I have spent the majority of my career in recruitment and exec search in the marketing sector. However, I have found that a surprising number of skills have transferred well from my previous career, specifically commercial skills.
Have you always enjoyed sewing?
My Mum is very creative and there was always a sewing machine in the house when I was growing up. I was given a sewing machine for my 21st birthday present while at University. So, that trusty machine has moved with me many times from home to home.
When we were renovating our current house, I was really disappointed by the quality of home furnishings on offer. I love velvet cushions for the depth of colour and the luxury they add to any interior scheme. But, I really don’t like the trend to combine velvet with cheaper backing fabric, such as linen or hessian. I’ve had these cushions from leading brands before. However, I have always found the cheaper fabrics start to disintegrate quite quickly. Also, I really don’t like synthetic velvet. Much of what’s available is 100% polyester velvet, which is not a luxury fabric and isn’t degradable.
The good quality, cotton velvet cushions I could find were retailing at around £150 each and weren’t affordable. So, I set to work making my own velvet cushions. In fact, this was when I came up with the idea of the double colour, reversible velvet cushions. The idea to set up Luxe 39 was born when friends saw the cushions and asked me to make some for them. I have never looked back since this.
What is your ethos for the brand?
Being as sustainable as possible is a key ethos for the Luxe 39 brand. All of our fabrics and supplies are sourced in the UK and are recyclable or degradable. Our cushions are made from 100% cotton pile velvet, woven in small batches in the North of England. The cushions are made to order. So, there is no waste and never any ‘last season’s stock’ to get rid of. The upholstery grade quality of the velvet fabric means that the cushions last for years. In addition, the fabric actually improves over time, gaining character. The cushion pads and all the packaging are also sourced in the UK and are recyclable or degradable. We do wrap our cushions in plastic before putting them into cardboard boxes to keep them clean and dry during delivery. However, the plastic is fully degradable.
Do you enjoy running your own business?
I really do enjoy running my own business. Like many women, I have a family life and I found working standard 9 – 5 hours wasn’t working for us. Now I work flexible hours, which fit around the children. So this allows me to be there when they finish school and to help with homework. I often work in the evenings and at weekends. But my family is very much behind the Luxe 39 velvet cushions venture and my children like to get involved with some tasks for the business (for a price!). My advice to any other women looking to start a similar venture is to do it. But you need to be ruthless with how you spend your time. Constantly assess what is working, turn away from the routes which aren’t and seek new ones.
Where do you see yourself and the business in five years’ time?
The business has grown really well in the 8 months since it was launched online. I hope that growth and profitability continue to accelerate as it becomes more established and the digital footprint of the brand grows. If Luxe 39 remains a small, profitable business with a loyal, growing customer base, I would be happy with that. If it grows into a larger business, where I need to outsource more of the velvet cushions manufacturing within the UK, I would equally be happy with that. Whatever happens to the business, I am focused on staying true to my founding ethos. This is in fact to source natural, degradable fabrics and supplies within the UK. I also plan to keep the manufacturing here and the prices reasonable.
Do interior and fashion trends influence your colour choices?
Interior and fashion trends do influence my velvet cushions colour choices. Although I try to look for the longer term trends, rather than short-lived fads, which the high street pushes on consumers. As an example, Blush Pink is a colour which became fashionable in interiors a few years ago. But it seems to have real staying power and is therefore a central colour in our collection. It contrasts so beautifully with all other colours. Luxe 39 cushions are made to last and I always advise customers to choose favourite colours over fashionable colours . After all, these cushions will be with you for a long time. I also think there are huge benefits to be gained by filling your home with the colours, which make you happy.
Would you move into other home accessories or are cushions your passion?
I may move into other home accessories over time but in the short term cushions are my focus. We manufacture and retail all cushions to order. In fact, we carry all 13 velvet colours in stock. Then, we order everything else when required using a ‘just in time’ model, which makes it efficient. It’s impossible to predict which exact cushions a customer will order. Therefore, this business model ensures I don’t have any waste. If I move into other accessories, it will probably be with a similar model, avoiding excess stock.
Do you have any tips for looking after velvet?
I live in a house with both animals and children and find velvet remarkably easy to look after. In fact, it’s much easier to maintain high quality cotton velvet than cheaper velvets. A hand-held vacuum is great for removing animal hair and I wipe up any spills with water as soon as they happen. Luxe 39 cushion covers are removable. So, if the worst does happen, they can be dry cleaned. But I genuinely haven’t had to do that with any of mine to date (and believe me, we have a LOT of velvet cushions in every room of the house).
How can you keep velvet cushions in tip-top condition?
Our cushions really don’t need much maintenance. They’re manufactured from upholstery grade velvet and are all carefully made so that the pile of the velvet lies correctly and the natural lux of the velvet is optimal. We stuff them with oversized cushion pads so that they never go flat and need minimal plumping (for example, our 60cm x 60cm cushion cover is really generously filled with a 70cm x 70cm feather pad).
I would definitely advise keeping children’s sticky fingers away from velvet cushions and removing them completely if you have a kid’s party in the house (I was recently seen prising cushions away from children with popcorn-covered hands at a movie party!)
What is your best-selling colour and shape?
The best selling shape is the 50cm x 50cm square and, at the moment, the most popular colour is Burnt Orange (it’s popular both as a single colour ‘Gemstone Cushion’ or mixed with brighter colours including Raspberry Pink and Turquoise.)
How do you attract new customers?
We attract new customers through as many routes as possible. Initially it was through friends and word of mouth but, since the website launched, most sales come through google searches, both paid and organic. We’ve put a lot of work into the SEO of the website and that pays off over time. Social media is another source for new customers and we are increasingly moving to Pinterest as it is a better long term source of customers.
Where can we get our hands on your gorgeous cushions?
The best place to buy our cushions is directly from the website as the complete range is there. When you choose your cushions you first need to select velvet colour/s. There is then a choice of 8 standard cushion sizes and shapes. Finally, the cushions can be finished with either a matching or contrasting zip.
As all cushions are made to order, we can combine any velvet colours, make cushions in any size and add in any zip colour a customer may request. If the exact cushion specification isn’t on the website, then customers simply need to drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with their requirements and we can make cushions in the exact specification they wish.
If the order is big enough, we can also consider requests for colours not currently available on Luxe39. This happened recently when we introduced the newest Ruby Red colour at the request of a very loyal customer.
What are your favourite interior indulgences?
I absolutely love house plants so my biggest interior indulgence is a trip to Covent Garden Flower Market to buy large plants and pots. They have some fantastic, sculptural plants and the quality and price is better than anywhere else (and you can get a decent cup of coffee to get you through the very early start).
How do you like to accessorise your own home?
I love natural fabrics and materials and my home is full of a mix of wood, marble, granite, glass, leather, cotton velvet etc. The house is Victorian and we restored a lot of the original features such as cornicing, ceiling roses, high skirting boards and fireplaces. In fact, I also like to mix in objects and furniture from different eras so we have some Art Deco-style lighting and mirrors with some mid-century accessories sitting alongside Scandinavian furniture. I like simple, clean lines and not too much clutter and above all I LOVE colour. In addition, I use my cushions to add the finishing touch or ‘five second face lift’ to all rooms in the house. I like to experiment, mixing together unexpected colour choices, which can bring a whole room to life.