• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on Karla Finnegan

Here at Spotlight, we had the opportunity to chat with Karla Finnegan, Owner/Designer/Illustrator of Flying Fig Studio. She spoke to us about where she gets her drive and determination from and gave some great advice to those starting their own business.


I worked as a designer in the Financial Services industry for a number of years, designing ads, brochures and marketing campaigns. I did enjoy it but felt limited by serious subject matter and brand guidelines that didn’t leave much room to be as creative as I would have liked. In my spare time, I renovated my house, learning as I went along and blogging about the process. The house turned into my creative outlet and when I finished it, I started looking for my next challenge.

The big idea

I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. When I took on my house renovation, I learned how to do a multitude of things I’d never tried before, from fitting a radiator to installing a whole new bathroom. I knew I wanted to start a business selling my designs, but I wanted to be able to do something more than prints because I felt that most people have access to a printer and could print things themselves, so being able to do something a little different would hopefully help me to establish a niche. I set about learning how to print on a range of items, from mugs to bags, and bought some equipment to practice on. I wanted to focus on personalised products so I could offer something different and a little more personal than what you would find in most high street shops.

Overcoming challenges

I had always worked alongside a team, going self-employed and working alone took some getting used to. Over time, I got better at trusting my own judgment and joined some networking groups so I didn’t get too lonely without the buzz of a busy office. Having new perks such as being able to take the dog out for an afternoon walk helped too.

Drive and Determination

A series of bad experiences in my past knocked my confidence massively and I came out the other side of that with a fire in my belly and unbridled determination to prove to myself that I could do anything that I set my mind to.

Setting up the business, it was important to me that it was rooted by strong values. I’ve worked really hard to source packaging that’s entirely plastic-free and recyclable because I don’t want to be responsible for putting more single-use plastic into the environment. However, using paper in place of plastic can be problematic in itself, so I make an annual donation on behalf of Flying Fig Studio to the World Land Trust, which plant trees to restore deforested land and educate and employ local people to manage that land moving forward.

The biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way

To trust myself and my abilities.

Tips those starting their careers

  • Fake it until you make it. It can be really daunting stepping into a new role, but if you fake confidence, people around you will be none the wiser and it will eventually become second nature to you.

  • Take the time to consider what your goals are, whether they’re long or short term, big or small. Having something in mind that you’re working towards will give you purpose and direction.

  • Don’t be scared to take a risk. One of the best things I ever did in my early career was, leave a job that was making me unhappy and affecting my mental health. I did a series of temping roles after that, which gave me the experience I needed on my CV to make the move from admin to marketing and design.

Advice to people who are wanting to start a business

  • Research. Know who your competitors are, what they’re offering and what you can do differently.

  • Network. Find a group of people who are in a similar boat to you, who you can support you, and who you can offer support to too.

  • Be prepared to fail. Everything’s not always going to go according to plan. You can’t let things that go wrong get to you or knock your confidence. Every time you fail, there’s a lesson to be learned and if you take it on board it will only make you better.

The best and worst part of your job

The best part is getting to make people happy. Every single Flying Fig Studio order is crafted with love, and so much thought goes into every step, from design to creation to packing and everything in between. Getting a message or a review from a customer who loves their purchase will never stop being the best feeling, and it still blows my mind that things that I made are in a stranger’s house halfway across the world, making them happy. The Flying Fig Studio tagline is “purveyors of joy & delight” and I very much view this as more than just a phrase. I aim to make people happy and spread joy with every product I make and work really hard to that end.

The worst is never having enough hours in the day. Flying Fig Studio is a one-woman (and one cat and one dog) show, so the to-do list is always never-ending, but at least I can say I never have time to be bored!

To what do you attribute your success?

Tenacity and perseverance. I’ve worked really hard to get my business to the point it’s at. Self-employment certainly takes a hell of a lot of work, and the hours can be overwhelming at times, but when you start to see the results from the hard work you’ve put in, it makes it all worth it.

The future

A lot of my friends have been having babies recently and I’ve been designing and making gifts for them, so I have lots of new baby gifts and nursery decor to launch over the next few weeks. Most of my designs start out as gifts for my friends and family, so in a way, my product lines are dictated by what’s going on in their lives.

Now that Covid restrictions are lifted and weddings are starting to go ahead again, I’m hoping to finally launch some of my wedding products and gifts that I’ve been sitting on for the last few months because the time didn’t seem right to launch them.

What would you say to your teenage self?

Have confidence in yourself. You can do so much more than you believe!

Thank you Karla for sharing your story. If you would like to keep up to date with Karla and Flying Fig Studio, follow them on Instagram and Twitter. For more blogs like this click here.

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