9th January 2019

“All businesses evolve over time, but the pace of acceleration is far greater when you have the wonderful support of Cockpit Arts.”

Ekta Kaul is an award-winning textile artist. Interested in people’s personal histories, she creates embroidered StoryMaps – intricate cartographic narratives that have won her many accolades. Her work is currently on display at Liberty’s and The New Craftsmen in London and The Conran Shop in Tokyo. She is the recipient of awards from the Crafts Council and Arts Council England and was one of the longlist finalists for Jerwood Maker’s Open 2019.

With the birth of her second child, Ekta has spent the last 18 months refocusing her business in order to create a better work/life balance. With support from Cockpit Arts, she relaunched her creative embroidery courses and new products while still offering her bespoke services. Here, she explains how she managed this journey.

Ekta established her practice in 2008 with help from a Crafts Council award. She became artist in residence at Bath Spa University, and for two years enjoyed a free studio space, access to university equipment and mentoring from the Crafts Council in return for teaching. “It was a wonderful experience and gave my business a real head start,” Ekta recalls.

As the residency came to an end Ekta decided to move to London. “It was where I was doing all my shows and where my customers were,” she explains. But the challenge was to replace the business support she had been benefiting from as part of her residency. “There are many places in London where you can rent studio space, but none of them offer the tailored support that Cockpit Arts does.”

For her first three years in London Ekta worked from a shared design studio in Hampstead, but when her first child was born she began to realise her business model needed tweaking to accommodate her new circumstances. “At that stage in my life, the business support element became very important again,” she says.

She applied to Cockpit Arts, and was accepted straight away. She moved into her Holborn studio in November 2014, just a few weeks before the annual winter Open Studios. “It was a fantastic introduction to Cockpit and gave me a real sense of the kind of community that supports the makers here,” she enthuses.

During her time at Cockpit, Ekta has taken full advantage of all the support that’s on offer, from one-to-one meetings with Cockpit’s in-house Business Incubation Team to London Creative Network’s professional development programme.

All this support really came into its own when, 18 months ago, Ekta had her second child and once again found that she needed to reappraise her business. “At the time, I was travelling a lot doing shows around the country and abroad,” she explains. “For a while after my baby arrived, I tried to juggle everything, but I quickly realised I needed to change my business model quite significantly.” As she could no longer attend all the selling shows, Ekta needed to rethink how she could sustain a business that was mainly based in London.

“Teaching had always been a constant since my days at Bath Spa University,” she continues. “It had remained a steady companion while I was doing other projects, so I decided to introduce courses in a more concentrated fashion.”

With help from Cockpit’s Business Incubation Team, Ekta was encouraged to drill down on this format, deciding who her target audience was and how she could reach them. “I had a fair sense of this already but being able to articulate it in our discussions was really helpful. All businesses evolve over time, but the pace of acceleration is far greater when you have the wonderful support of Cockpit Arts – you’re not lost in the wilderness, you can bounce ideas off the business team.”

As a direct result of attending one of Cockpit’s London Creative Network workshops, Ekta commissioned a film to promote her new courses. The video is featured on her homepage and helps potential customers get a real feel for her workshops. On the strength of its success she is considering commissioning another film to show people the full scope of her creative practice.

Alongside the repackaged courses and newly launched embroidery kits, Ekta continues to offer bespoke map commissions for individuals and exhibitions, as well as working on participatory art projects. She was recently commissioned by Liberty to make a bespoke map celebrating the iconic store’s history.

Ekta feels that all these different strands to her business have a nice synergy. “Some people see my StoryMaps and commission theirs while others want to create their own version themselves, so they come on my courses to learn the skills themselves,” she explains.

Ekta says her four years at Cockpit Arts have been a “fantastic experience”. “The very fact that you have a studio at Cockpit is seen as an important benchmark of high quality, original work. When I work with galleries or buyers, they recognise the name – even internationally. I’m currently exhibiting at The Conran Shop in Tokyo and when I travelled there meeting designers, retailers and buyers they were already aware of Cockpit Arts. Along with the Crafts Council, it’s an organisation that is really seen as nurturing contemporary craft in Britain today.”

Ekta recently moved to a new house and says that although there is now scope for her to work from home, it’s not something she would consider. “I’d miss the business support and the creative community,” she says. “Just walking along the corridor at Cockpit you bump into people and exchange ideas. It is being part of that shared experience which I find so valuable.”