The Woman Behind Biscuiteers

At River Island, we're all about celebrating women: from our mums, sisters, friends and colleagues, to that seriously cool lady who started up her very own company in 2007, revolutionising the world of personalised gifting. Yes, we're talking about Harriet Hastings, the founder of Biscuiteers. As part of our Month of Women celebrations, we sat down with Harriet to learn all about her journey of building her business from the ground up: from her expert advice to how she expresses her personal style at The Ministry of Biscuits (yes, that's what their offices are called).

Why did you want to start your own business?

I had resigned from my job as director of consumer brands at a leading London PR firm after the birth of my fourth child. For me, it was about wanting to have more control over my time and fit my work around my children. I also thought I had a good idea which would work well alongside my husband’s business, which is a catering and events company called Lettice Events. He knew about commercial food production, and I knew about sales and marketing and e-commerce.

Did you find that there was a lot of support for women starting business or did you have to teach yourself?

In the beginning I didn’t really look for support because in early days, the focus was on proving the concept and ensuring that we had created a viable business idea. Having said that, I don’t think in 2007 there would have been anything like the support networks that are available today. Women have got a lot better at supporting each other and creating networks for that purpose in recent years. My background in marketing and consultancy helped me a lot, as I had worked with a lot of businesses by the time I started my own. I did, however, go into partnership with a branding agency to support me as we created orginal look and feel for Biscuiteers.

What did you learn along the way and what advice would you pass along to aspiring female founders?

I think it is important to work out what sort of business you want to create in terms of size and scale early on. That understanding helps you to understand what level of investment and support you might need. We boot strapped our business for many years and focused on profitable sustainable growth but we didn’t have a plan for the level of investment that would be required to build our first dedicated manufacturing space in Wimbledon – The Ministry of Biscuits. Businesses go through many phases as they grow and you need to get the right people around you and be prepared for long term planning. Having said that, I think focus on profit as well as growth is very important and is very much the focus for investors these days.

Why do you think Biscuiteers goodies have become a go-to gift for so many people?

We were the first business to introduce the idea of gifting hand-iced biscuits and so it was a completely unique idea in 2007 - it has created a whole new sector in the personalised gifting market. I think people appreciate them because they are so personal – you can choose themes and designs that exactly reflect the person you are giving them to and about 25% of our range is available to personalise with your own iced message. Our customers also love the fact that each one is handmade with a lot of skill and love. We have also always focused on the whole gifting experience so we know that the packaging is really important. Our beautiful illustrated tins are designed to be kept and used long after the biscuits are gone and we are famous for our black and white illustrated boxes.

What has been the most rewarding part of starting your own business?

It has been a great adventure on the whole and is a huge learning curve every day, which I enjoy. You get to learn about all sorts of different things as we manage all key processes in house: from design and manufacture to dispatch and customer service. I am also lucky to work with a great team of people who are excited by the business we are building and make Biscuiteers a stimulating and happy place to work. Ultimately, I think building your own brand is a great creative experience.

Who inspires you in your day-to-day life?

We have some really talented people working for us who inspire me to raise my game on a daily basis, but I also love meeting fellow entrepreneurs, particularly women. I belong to a network called Buy Women Built (BWB) which exists to support women entrepreneurs and make people more aware of the brilliant brands that have been created by women. I have met so many extraordinary business women through BWB. In my experience, women are more than happy to help others in the entrepreneurial world.

How do you express your personal style when you’re working?

It depends what I am doing as I often bike to work which means that I am unlikely to be wearing flowing skirts or dresses. I wear a lot of trouser suits and have them in many different colours and styles. They are super comfortable but still an upgrade on weekend jeans!

Do you have a go-to outfit for big meetings when you want to look and feel powerful?

I always wear trousers or a trouser suit and I probably add some higher heels or boots. I don’t want to feel too ‘girly’ in those sort of environments. I do however like to wear bright colours and make a bit of statement.