Former financial services employee turns lockdown hobby into a thriving rug business

Former financial services employee turns lockdown hobby into a thriving rug business

A Coatbridge textile maker has turned a lockdown hobby he picked up from watching TikTok videos into a successful business and full-time career, as his custom tattoo-art rugs prove a big hit with customers in the United States.

The 28-year-old founder of Inked Rugs, Kieran Johnstone, recently resigned from his nine-to-five office job in financial services in Glasgow to concentrate on fulfilling a growing order book and rising demand from overseas.

To support the business’ next steps, a £20,000 loan from GC Business Finance and the British Business Bank’s Start Up Loans programme has enabled Kieran to partner with an international supplier and stock up on the most popular rug designs, meaning customers get quicker delivery.

Like many, Kieran first downloaded TikTok as the country went into lockdown in 2020 but instead of wasting hours doom-scrolling, used his extra free time and the social media app for something much more productive. After coming across clips of tufting – a textile technique used to make rugs – he decided to give it a go, teaching himself to make various designs with the equipment set up in his bedroom.

Former financial services employee turns lockdown hobby into a thriving rug business

Kieran Johnstone

He started sharing some of the behind-the-scenes content of making rugs on social media and was soon taking commissions for bespoke orders. With several tattoos himself, Kieran began experimenting with rugs in a similar style to replicate popular body art and his first rose-themed rug sold almost immediately.

Two years later, Kieran has a social media following of more than 40,000 and a full range of tattoo-inspired designs available to purchase online, as well as offering a personalised service where customers can have a rug made to match their own tattoos. He recently moved into a new unit in Dundyvan Industrial Estate where the new stock can be stored. Over 300 rugs were sold during the first three months of 2024, with around 70% delivered to international buyers.

In future, Kieran hopes to expand the business further in the USA using new stockists and delivery partners, as well as partnering with popular tattoo artists to create designs. Closer to home, he has already been collaborating with Glasgow-based artists Duncan Sweeney, Scott Martin and Mikkel ‘Big Mike’ Østberg for rug designs.

Kieran Johnstone said: “I never thought that a skill I picked up by watching TikTok would become my career and, while it was scary to take the leap and quit my job, it’s an opportunity that may never come up again.

Former financial services employee turns lockdown hobby into a thriving rug business

“With support from the Start Up Loans programme, I have been able to scale up and move to an e-commerce business model that allows me to increase stock levels and shorten delivery times, meaning more customers can get their hands on their products more quickly.

“All the rugs that came in as part of the first order I placed from the new supplier sold faster than I ever imagined.”

He continued: “People are impressed with the quality of the rugs, but because I spent more than a year making them myself every day, I know what I want in terms of the manufacturing process and how the products look and feel.

“Now that I can focus on the business full-time, I’m intent on growing and developing it further by building relationships with artists in the tattooing community, as well as growing the US and international customer base.”

The British Business Bank’s Start Up Loans programme has supported 390 entrepreneurs and delivered more than £3 million in loans to new business owners in North Lanarkshire since it began in 2012.

Barry McCulloch, senior manager, UK Network, Scotland at the British Business Bank, said: “Supporting young business owners like Kieran is a core part of what our Start Up Loans funding was set up to do and it is great to see him take the brave but exciting step to scale up and become his own boss.

“We know UK businesses often struggle to export so it’s fantastic to see this Scottish start up business making so many international sales and being ambitious about expanding in the United States. We wish Kieran every success with the next chapter.”

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