A spotlight on: Claire Richards, Founder of Delicious Monster Tea

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but the minute I saw Claire’s brand on Instagram and read through some of her captions, I had a strong suspicion that the two of us were going to get on.

Having then met at The Wonders Of launch in Cardiff in April, partnered on two of my events when she provided Delicious Monster Tea’s as prizes for guests thereafter (one of the perks of being the first person to ask a question at my events girls..!); and received a personalised t-shirt from her with ‘What would Elle Woods do?’ adorned onto its front a few days later, I knew that my original suspicion was right.

Battling dodgy Wi-Fi and a wasp flying overhead mid-interview (cue a lot of flapping and panicking and trying to regain a small dose of my dignity back thereafter), the two of us caught up over Skype mid-August, so that I could delve into the story behind one of my favourite brands so far…

Claire Richards, Founder, Delicious Monster Tea

Claire Richards. So I was walking home earlier with the print out of sample questions and all I could think was, ‘these are all fine except for the first one!’ I have no idea how to answer what my business is about but here goes..!

Delicious Monster Tea makes personalised, embroidered t-shirts… but not shit ones! They’re really lovely, organic t-shirts, they’re hand embroidered by me and I suppose my USP is that you can have literally anything embroidered on to them, so I’ve had to sew some proper filth..!

She can. She did. Like?! You can’t just say that and not provide an example Claire!

CR. Ok, so quite a common one is, “don’t be a c*nt!” Someone else had one that said, “eat pussy not animals…”

SC.SD. Lovely! Do they come with a note saying, “please don’t judge me!?”

CR. No, nothing! Just “eat pussy not animals!” No shame at all!

SC.SD. I’ve followed you for a good few months now and even in that time, I feel like I’ve just watched your brand grow stronger and stronger, so talk to me about where the idea behind DMT came from in the first place…

CR. So I never once thought, “I want to start a business so this is what I’m going to do!” I started embroidery and cross stitch because I found it really therapeutic and I was doing loads in my spare time…I started to build up a pile of designs – crude words in hoops that people hang on the walls – and my idea at the time was that I’d make enough so that I could list them on Etsy and sell them. Not as a proper business; just because I was doing it anyway, I enjoyed it so I might as well sell it. I kept putting it off though because I was waiting for it all to be perfect. I wanted the perfect time, the perfect photos etc… and that never came.

Around that time however, Claire booked a trip to Amsterdam and whilst out there, saw an embroidered t-shirt in a shop…

CR. It was probably sewn by a machine but I just thought, ‘I could do that’ so when I got home I did and made quite a few!

At the start, I didn’t wear them outside because I thought it was embarrassing to wear a t-shirt I’d made (!) but then one Sunday I went to a coffee shop at the end of the street, wore one of my t-shirts and someone came up to me and said, “where’s your t-shirt from, I’d like one?” I didn’t have social media at the time so I said, “erm, I can give you my mobile number if you want and you can call me…?!” but that pushed me to set up the Etsy shop two years ago…

Having juggled an admin job in the medical school at Cardiff University with her business before going full-time with Delicious Monster Tea in June 2018, I was keen to find out what the early days of the business looked liked in reality…

CR. So for the first year, it wasn’t really a massive commitment. When an order came in, I’d be like, “AGHHH!” and made it then and there and packaged it before I went to work. It was so exciting – it still is – but because the orders were so few and far between, it didn’t really impact my life.

In October last year however, that all changed when Fearne Cotton shared an image of herself wearing one of Claire’s designs on Instagram…

CR. So many orders came through my website so my routine changed overnight! It suddenly became a case of get up, do emails before work and all the admin stuff, go to my old work 9-5, come home and then stitch, stitch, stitch until about 11pm/midnight on a good day, 1am-2am on a bad day…

Now I’m full time, I have more time to keep on top of the admin but back then it was stitch, pack, get it out, stitch, pack, get it out… and then work on the business all weekend too!

The image that changed Claire’s business over night!

SC.SD. When did you realise you were ready to go full-time?

CR. Last Christmas! I just realised that one of them had to stop and it can’t be the business because I’ve put so much into it, so then it was a case of how do I make that a realistic goal?!

That’s when I crunched the numbers and thought, ‘right, this is how many t-shirts I need to sell to be able to save enough to quit my job.’ We bought our house in March, so I set myself a target that three months after completion, I’d quit my job!

SC.SD. That’s very wise timing! I know a few women now who have been caught out because they didn’t realise you need two years’ worth of books to get a mortgage when you’re self-employed…

CR. That’s the thing! In an ideal world, I would have quit earlier but I wouldn’t have been able to get the house. I mean, we were in IKEA last week getting a kitchen and they said, “whose name do you want to put the finance in?” and as they were talking us through everything, they ask things like, “what’s your job? What’s your annual income?” and I just thought, ‘shit, I can’t do this on my own anymore! Thank God I have Huw because I’m not able to apply for finance alone right now!’

It’s terrifying! The thing that I keep having to remind myself of though is that money is money and if you don’t worry about it, it’s not an issue… That sounds like a very privileged thing to say (!) and of course money is always going to be an issue when running a small business but when I quit my job, I did a course on money and manifestation and it taught me that if you spend loads of energy and time worrying about your lack of money, that’s what you will produce. If you concentrate on when the good things come to you, they will come to you! It’s a bit woo woo but…

SC.SD. Law of attraction!?

CR. Exactly!

SC.SD. Side note for a second, what did you do to celebrate on the day you left your job?

CR. We had burgers and then went to see The Rolling Stones!

SC.SD. Seriously!? That’s so good! Most people say they had a glass of wine or something!

CR. It was a pretty amazing day!

SC.SD. Let’s talk about branding because let’s face it, you’ve nailed it! What inspired the name? Where did the idea behind the funky packaging come from? Talk me through it all!

CR. So the name doesn’t mean anything! You know monstera leaves? The Latin name is monstera deliciosa and I love them so I switched the words around. Then it was going to be Delicious Monster Tee like T-shirts but I fucked up the domain name so I turned it into tea!

SC.SD. Haha! I love that! At least you love tea though!

Claire made sure she had a tea ready and waiting at the start of this chat!

SC.SD. I’m a coffee girl through and through so that wouldn’t work for me. I’d be like, “right, the domain’s gone, we need a new name!”

CR. I know! It still fits! The branding was never a conscious decision though. The whole thing is just me through and through and it boils down to what I enjoy. The glittery packaging for example is just because I’m a magpie and I like glittery pink things! The colours of the brand, pink and red, are simply because I love pink and red! I think that’s why it all fits together seamlessly so well. When you have a small business, you sort of become the face of the brand, so it’s come together well because it’s a reflection of what I love.

SC.SD. I’m so glad you said that because it’s a question I always feel like I have to ask but I was the same. It’s ok to choose a pink logo because you like pink as opposed to choosing that pink because it’s millennial pink and it’s on trend at the moment…

CR. Exactly. I mean when you have thousands of pounds to throw away and you can employ someone to look into the psychology behind you’re branding, by all means go for it, but when you’re just sat at home on your own and you have to make a decision, you can’t overthink it. Just go with what you like!

The prettiest of parcels!

SC.SD. Let’s talk competition… I don’t need to tell you that there are other companies that design embroidered t-shirts! Some existed before you, some have popped up since you… what’s your approach to them all?

CR. So, if I’m being honest, at the start it’s all I could think about! I was Googling ‘hand embroidered t-shirts’ constantly just to see what other people were doing. However, I think there can be a healthy level of competition when you use it to motivate yourself but there was definitely a stage where it was bringing me down. All I could think about was how well these people are doing but the reality is that there’s room for all of us. It’s a bit like Tesco and Asda. It’s healthy competition!.

In the end, I went through a culling and stopped following them on Instagram because it felt like unhealthy comparison rather than motivation.

SC.SD. Especially when you’re first starting out… what’s that quote? “Don’t compare your chapter one with someone else’s chapter twenty!”

CR. That’s exactly it! I’ve reached a stage now where I can be happy for them and their success. Now I see it as, ‘they’ve got there which is amazing so it’s possible for me to, too,’ as opposed to, ‘they’ve got there so I’ve got no bloody chance now and might as well give up!’

SC.SD. Let’s move on to marketing…

CR. So I’ve never really done a huge amount of proper marketing. Instagram is my main marketing! It doesn’t feel like it is but we all know it’s one big advert for what you make so that’s what I’ve always used! About a year ago, I sent three t-shirts to some influencers that I followed and loved with varying success…

SC.SD. Who were they?

CR. So it was The Scummy Mummies – their podcast is the funniest thing in the world! A lady called Heidi Louise Davies – she’s a local influencer and then a teenage girl, called Kate something! At that time, when I was on Etsy, a lot of the stuff I sold had quotes from The 1975 songs on, so I just presumed teenagers were my niche. I’ve recently realised that they’re not my target market at all though!

(We discuss why later!)

CR. Anyway, one of The Scummy Mummies’ friends helps to coordinate Coppa Feel!’s Festifeel which is how I ended up with Fearne Cotton wearing one of my t-shirts so it definitely helped. I’ve sent a few more samples out to influencers recently, without any expectations but it’s quite nice to be able to do that. At the end of the day, it’s only a t-shirt, I’m not sending them a dishwasher or a new laptop so if they like it and want to talk about it, then great! If not, that’s ok too.

As I type this up now, I’ve just checked my Instagram feed and by chance, Anna Newton, aka. @theannaedit has just uploaded a photo wearing another of Claire’s tees!

SC.SD. I think that’s a healthy attitude to take when it comes to influencer marketing because I’ve noticed that a lot of product-based businesses expect influencers to share their products if they send them freebies; but ultimately, if the influencer hasn’t asked to be sent that, they have zero obligation to share it! It comes down to their personal preference doesn’t it?

CR. Exactly! Also, you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. They might not put it on their Instagram feed but they might wear it and then their friend buys one. It’s all just brand awareness isn’t it?

SC.SD. Absolutely. Speaking of, I saw that Rachel Stevens has worn one too!? S Club 7’s Sunshine album was the first album I owned! What a babe!

CR. That was all so random though! I saw that I was tagged in that picture and just thought, ‘how the fuck did Rachel Stevens get a t-shirt!?’ For ages, I was going through my orders thinking, ‘did Rachel Stevens order a t-shirt and I missed it!?’ but then a few months later, someone emailed me saying, “I’ve just placed another order and oh by the way, I gave my friend Rachel Stevens a t-shirt too and she loved it!”

Without the Fearne Cotton picture though, I could never have quit my job, there’s no doubt about that! It fell at a time just before Christmas when I was also in the notonthehighstreet.com Christmas campaign which caused madness too so together, those few months made me realise that I’m making a product that people do like and I really can turn this into a business.

Rachel Stevens wearing one of Claire’s designs!

SC.SD. Let’s talk money… Were there any other upfront costs that you needed to spend to get this business off the ground and more generally, how have you financed the business as it’s grown?

CR. Most of the designs are hand embroidered, but just before Christmas, demand for the Ibiza t-shirts went mad and I was just churning them out, sewing that phrase over and over and over again – it takes about twenty minutes to do each one – so it was driving me nuts. That made me think, ‘I need to get a machine’ so I now have a big embroidery machine that I use for a couple of the phrases.

The t-shirts have been on a bit of a journey! I originally started with ones from Primark because that’s all I knew but then I moved to Fruit Of The Loom because they were cheap but it’s been a case of trial and error since day one. As I’ve got more orders in, I’ve been able to invest back into the business so I’ve been able to increase the quality of everything and I’ve upgraded to organic ones now. Again though, that was trial and error. I just ordered loads of samples and just tried them all on!

SC.SD. And I suppose you adjusted your prices accordingly?

CR. Definitely! I’m lucky because it’s not a complicated business. A lot of people get an idea and then spend a year planning it etc… but I’ve grown it since day one and just learnt as I go.

I’m trying really hard at the moment, for example, to stick with my niche because there was a period where I thought I’m going to do embroidered bags, I’m going to do embroidered jumpers, I’m going to do embroidered everything (!) but a. I’m muddying the studio because there are boxes everywhere and b. I’m muddying my mind trying to make it all work. Now I know that the t-shirts are my niche so I need to put my time and energy into them.

SC.SD. Has anything gone drastically wrong?

CR. Touch wood, nothing has yet! I did have negative feedback once though. I had some fabric pens and someone wanted a picture of an ice cream coloured in so I did it, sent it to her and the ink had leaked in the post. She sent an email saying, “err… what the hell is this?!”

SC.SD. Rightly so, one might say..!

CR. Exactly! I was so embarrassed and obviously said “sorry” a thousand times and gave her a full refund and then she was like, “at least you tried something new with the pens, I really appreciate it!” I’ve kind of got over it recently but about six months ago, I went through a stage where, whenever I got a customer email through, I’d be on the verge of wanting to be sick when I opened it because I was so worried something had gone wrong! I think I just thought, ‘it’s completely mad that this has gone so smoothly, somethings about to go wrong’ so with every email I was like…

SC.SD. “It’s time Claire!”

CR. Exactly! It never has except from that one time though. Having said that, things have got lost in the post a couple of times too and when I get that email I’m like, ‘oh god, they must feel like my brand is awful!’ but obviously it’s not my fault. That’s all down to Royal Mail. However, if you deal with those issues properly, those customers end up being the loyal customers that talk about you more because they’re so impressed with how you treated the issue.

SC.SD. Definitely. I saw that you got the post office bag…!

CR. I KNOW!! I GOT THE POST OFFICE BAG! I’m a legit business owner now!

SC.SD. Have you been waiting for that moment?!

CR. You have no idea! I have a rota to organise my week now so on a Monday I prepare all my orders for the week, I stitch them on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then I send them on a Friday so I only go to the Post Office once a week now. Before, when I used to stitch the orders as they came in, it was chaos!

SC.SD. What’s your favourite day of the week?

CR. Friday! I love packing, it’s so glittery! It’s like wrapping Christmas presents and the quantity is always so amazing to see!

SC.SD. Given the hours you’ve put into this business, especially in the early days, how has your personal life been impacted along the way?

CR. So before I quit my job, like I said I was working all the hours, so my social life really suffered and I’m definitely guilty of neglecting some of my friends during that period. At the time though, the business was my priority and that was my choice. I don’t think any of my relationships have suffered in the long run though.

My boyfriend, luckily, is very supportive of the business… although I probably did neglect him a lot when I was sat on the sofa stitching all night! It’s only now that I have the office that I go away and work. Before we moved here, there was no space to work anywhere else but the sofa or the kitchen table.

SC.SD. When you need business advice, who do you turn to for support?

CR. So with business questions, I quite often ask my Dad. He’s a serial entrepreneur so I call him if I have a big decision to make. I might not go with what he suggests (!) but he’s a sounding board! The embroidery machine I mentioned was £1000 for example, which was a huge cost for me then and I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do so I called him to talk through the pros and cons. I don’t think he actually offered advice, I think I just talked and he just listened (!) but it helped me come to a conclusion in any case.

SC.SD. The best kind of counsellor!

CR. Exactly! I’ve recently joined The Monday Club in Cardiff too which has been great. They do monthly meet-ups so I’ve met a few business owners through that now and feel like I’m building a friendship group of people that understand this all which helps.

SC.SD. I remember when we first met at The Wonders Of launch, I was really inspired by just how close the community is in Cardiff. You were all raving about The Monday Club!

CR. Yeh we’re so lucky! Cardiff is so small, everyone knows everyone, so it’s easy to support each other. I’ve definitely built up my confidence through The Monday Club I’m happy to approach others on Instagram and say, “do you want to go for coffee?!” now which is never something I would have done before.

SC.SD. Really?

CR. No! I’m such a hermit! I hate socialising!

SC.SD. When you know your business relies on you putting yourself out there, it’s funny how you learn to adapt isn’t it? I always think of it as Beyoncé vs Sasha Fierce. Sometimes, even when you’re not feeling it, you have to put your game face on and actually, those coffees always end up being worthwhile don’t they?!

CR. Definitely! I chew Huw’s ear off about the business and I obviously talk to my friends about it too but there’s something about this lifestyle that you can’t understand unless you have your own business. I imagine it’s what Mum’s must feel like! You can talk to someone that doesn’t have a baby about sleepless nights and they might sympathise with you to an extent but they 100% don’t understand it properly unless they have kids too. To be able to vent with other business owners is great!

SC.SD. Quick fire for a second, favourite quote?

CR. So I have loads of post it notes all over my desk! My favourite one is, ‘progress is happiness’ though! One of the girls I met through The Monday Club – Lizzie, she runs Fizz Goes Pop jewellery – said that to me once and at first I thought it sounded so airy fairy (!) but actually, it helped me realise that there’s a perfect life that everyone’s trying to achieve but in reality, you’ll never get there because no matter how far you get, you’ll want to achieve something else! I’m sure Beyoncé still has goals and look at how much she’s achieved. Now, every day I try to think, ‘what little thing have I done today that was a progress?’ Even if it’s twenty minutes of yoga, yesterday I didn’t do any yoga so there we have it, I’ve achieved something!

SC.SD. Who inspires you?

CR. I have three, is that ok!? So the first one is Jen Gotch, the CEO of do in the States. She’s so real and she’s very open about her mental health. I was trying to think of a way to put this into words before our chat but I’ve heard a lot recently about how women should be more masculine to get by in business. How we need to stop apologising, stop offering to make cups of tea, stop using certain words etc… but she runs this billion-dollar business and is very feminine. She’s not putting on a front, she’s just being herself and it just inspires me to just be me in this business. I don’t have to be this crazy confident, stereotypically masculine, business owner to get by.

SC.SD. I could not appreciate that point of view more. Everyone has an opinion about how we should behave nowadays and there are so many right and wrongs! In reality, if you want to make the team a cup of tea, go for it! If you don’t, don’t. It’s simple, just own whatever one you feel comfortable doing.

CR. Exactly! If what I want to be is innately feminine then fuck it, I’m going to be!

The second one is a company called Mѐre Soeur run by a girl called Carrie. She launched that business as a single mother and I just think, running a business in general is fucking hard! If I had to do this with kids, I just don’t know how I would have done it so I have massive respect for her and all business owners that are Mums too!

And then Sophie Rae of Ripple Living because she’s running her business intuitively. I’d love to talk about it more but I have no idea how to put it into words! Basically, she has zero set plans for her business; she just goes with what feels good and that’s how I want to live my life. Do I want to read a book today? Yes, I want to read a book. It’s why I went self-employed. If I don’t want to do emails today and want to go for a walk instead, fuck it, I’ll go for a walk! I think that’s a really good methodology. I love the idea of just doing what feels good for my business at that exact time.

Who needs a desk when you have an ironing board?!

SC.SD. You’ve just mentioned reading, you’ve previously mentioned yoga, what does down time look like for you given that you work at home? How do you switch off from this all?

CR. 100% yoga and reading! Yesterday for example, I had a really bad day. It was my business birthday and I was getting loads of orders through which was great but I was on social media so much yesterday too and it drains me. I always feel rubbish if I’m on it for too long so at about 4pm, I turned everything off, I had a proper shower, you know, like a proper shower – I washed my hair! I did a bit of gardening. I did some yoga. I cooked dinner. I watched some comedy. It’s all those simple things; everything that takes you away from your business and your phone is good.

SC.SD. I love that you said a good shower! That’s honestly one of mine too! The minute the body scrub comes out, you know I mean business!

CR. It’s so cleansing isn’t it!? I’m a whole new woman!

SC.SD. Absolutely! You could sit and wallow with your greasy hair or you could get up and wash your troubles away…

CR. Scrub your feet…

SC.SD. Shit, that’s hardcore Claire!

CR. I know! That’s my Saturday night, it’s the weekend shower!

SC.SD. Rounding up then, what’s been the most valuable piece of business advice you’ve heard since launching DMT?

CR. So Dad gave me some advice that has really stuck with me. I’ve been toying with whether I should employ someone to help with the stitching recently but the idea of handing that responsibility over to someone else terrifies me. I’m a control freak about every aspect of the business! I want everything I send out to be perfect and beautiful and for people to open it and think, ‘this is incredible’ but Dad just said, “if you have 100 products and one of them is poor quality, it’s not the fact that it’s poor quality that matters, it’s how you deal with it.” That’s helped me to see that I can get other people involved. I’m sure they’ll be amazing but even if there are some slip-ups, as long as my customer service is good, it’ll all be fine.

SC.SD. It’s strong advice! If you’re looking at taking on staff then, what do you want the business to become in the long run?

CR. So I’m very bad at making long term plans because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the long run. There’s a phrase that Holly Tucker uses though and that’s that this is a ‘good life business’. I’m doing this because I want to live the life I’m living and continue to have the freedom to do what I want to be doing. If the business continues to grow and I can maintain the lifestyle I’m living then that’s great but in a year’s time, my t-shirts might go out of fashion or I might lose my arm… touch wood!

SC.SD. Touch wood indeed!

CR. Where’s the wood?!

We both scramble!

CR. No, to be honest, anything could happen and I’m happy to just see where this leads. Scaling it would be difficult unless I got a whole team of embroiders on board which is definitely possible but I don’t know at this point whether I want that to happen or not. Do I want to take on that much responsibility? Will it cause me more stress? Who knows!

SC.SD. I suppose though, in the same way that you went through a process of trial and error with your t-shirts at the beginning, if you take on an intern and it doesn’t work out, at least you’ve tried. It’s just another learning curve along the way?

CR. Exactly! It’s only been a few months since I went full-time so I’ll see what happens. Now I’m full-time, I’m trying to spend a day a week on admin and put in that extra work now so that after Christmas, fingers crossed, the sales take off. I’ve reduced my lead time from three weeks to 5-10 working days now too. Personally, I still think the wait is too long!

SC.SD. If the product is good, people wait and your products are amazing! People understand you’re a one girl band too…

CR. That’s the thing, I have to keep reminding myself that I am not my customer! They say you should build your customer and give her a name and I haven’t named her yet but she’s a mother, she has lots of children and she has money to spend and that’s not me!

SC.SD. See I’m so surprised because I thought it would be girls like me! Mid-twenties, bloody love a quote…

CR. That’s what I thought too but no, she’s a yummy mummy! And it’s great, I love her! She buys my stuff!

After going off on a tangent, we end our chat there and I walk away, happy as larry that I asked Claire to feature on here.

From learning to unclutter DMT’s offerings by finding her niche, perfecting it and uncluttering her mind in the process; her refreshing approach to influencer marketing (that’s clearly working) in which she sends her products with zero expectation that said influencers share it; to her frank admission that she simply unfollowed her competition in the early days, before she reached a point where she could be genuinely happy for their success; Claire’s approach to her business is a breath of fresh air and is a great reminder that when you own a business, ultimately, you have control of its reins.

That is of course unless you want to apply for a mortgage or buy an IKEA kitchen on finance, in which case, the realities of being self-employed can hinder you a tad..!

I also won’t be forgetting her ‘new Mum analogy’ anytime soon as it’s such a fitting description of why surrounding yourself with other business owners that ‘get it’ is important.

As genuine and enthusiastic in reality as she comes across online, if Claire’s first year in business is anything to go by, it’s clear that Delicious Monster Tea will only go from strength to strength and I for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store for her next.

For more information on Delicious Monster Tea, visit the website here or find Claire on Instagram: @deliciousmonstertea

(Claire’s also speaking at The Midweek Mingle in Bristol later this month, so if you fancy joining us there on the night, you can get your ticket here!)

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