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Built with Pride

Built With Pride: Cian Howlett, Holler

Name: Cian Howlett

Location: Brighton, South East, UK

Describe yourself in three words: Ambitious, creative, determined.

What is the name of your business and what do you do?

Holler—a premium accessory store for dogs and owners who appreciate unique design and craftsmanship. Holler’s store in Brighton’s North Laine and the e-commerce site, stock high-quality handmade products crafted by designers and creators from Brixton to Brooklyn.

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started?

My grandparents passed away within months of each other. We were close, so losing them both so close together made it an especially difficult time for us, but we kept moving. My grandparents taught me to always try and find a positive in even the most difficult situations. I took that lesson to heart, so when the opportunity presented itself to foster their miniature dachshund, Billie, I jumped at the chance.

I was apprehensive at first—I’d never owned a dog before. But that apprehension soon disappeared and Billie and I became firm friends. It came with a lot of responsibility, but it kept me close to my grandparents in a strange way.

Some time later, my partner Ryan and I were walking our two dogs on Brighton beach. We visited our usual topics, including our shared frustration at the lack of choice and quality when it came to finding unique and practical dog clothes and hard-wearing accessories (like leads and collars) for our dogs. So we decided to take matters into our own hands and solve the problem by starting Holler.

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In just a few words, how does running your own business make you feel?

Starting your own business is a daunting prospect, but the initial nerves and anxiety is soon replaced with a feeling of liberation!

What are some of the hurdles or roadblocks you’ve faced as an LGBTQ+ small business owner? How do you overcome them?

I’m lucky. Living and owning a business in Brighton, I’ve not been met by many. It’s such a diverse city and much more LGBTQ+ friendly than other places. You could literally roller skate around these lanes draped in a pride flag and sparkly pink tutu and nobody would raise an eyebrow. Difference is almost expected here. But I made the decision to move here. This is where my partner and I feel most comfortable, and this is the best place for my business. I’m not sure my store would work in less cosmopolitan cities. I don’t think people would get it.

As an LGBTQ+ small business owner, do you feel you’ve been granted the same access and opportunities that other small business owners in your community have been given? 

Again, I’m lucky living and working where I do. Our Brighton lanes are a thriving area of small businesses and independent stores. There is nothing unusual about us being a LGBTQ+ owned business. There are stores catering for all tastes and every kind of person. However, I do not take that for granted. Every day I feel lucky to be here.

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What unique perspectives do you feel you bring to the small business economy as an LGBTQ+ business owner?

The traits that I think are at the root of our success as an LGBTQ+ business owner are my creativity and my sensitivity to people’s needs. It’s in me to want to improve people’s lives, even if it’s only in a small way. I use my business to channel my creative energy into bringing that about.

What are some of your major wins or accomplishments since starting your business? What are your proudest moments?

I have proud moments every day—every person I see pointing at our store with a smile, or stopping to take a photo of us is a proud moment for me. Recently, my bank listed me in their top 15 new entrepreneurs to watch in 2021, and a major UK publication called Attitude listed us in their top five LGBTQ+ dog businesses in the UK. These are all major wins for me. I’m running a business and that means making money and growing, but a customer walking away with a smile is what it’s really all about for me.

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What are the next big plans you have for your business?

We anticipate most of our growth will come from our increasing product lines. We’ve learned that as customers invest trust in the brand, they increasingly invest trust in our products, as well. We’re going big on investing in our website to get Holler’s products front and center. It’s what our customers are calling for and the early signs are really promising.

One of the biggest projects we’re working on is what we’re calling “Bespoke-it.” We’re introducing functionality to our site that allows you to customise Holler’s luxury handmade products to your unique tastes. Pick a product—a dog collar for example—and you can choose the materials, colors, finishes, and styles that suit you. And you’ll see it change in real time.

We’re excited about it because it’s another way for us to put power into our customers’ hands.

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going?

Ryan, my husband, and our dogs. It could be the darkest and most miserable day, but walking through our front door and seeing his smile and the girls (our dogs) jumping up at me with all the excitement and love that dogs bring to you—that makes me feel better pretty quickly!

What advice would you give to other LGBTQ+ small business owners just starting out?

You’ve already taken that first step and there will be plenty more steps to follow. Plan your journey but be open-minded about where that may take you. In several years time your business may be in a different place than where you intended. Hopefully, your hard work and enthusiasm will pay off quickly and allow you the lifestyle you aspire to have—be that great fortune or contentment. But if it doesn’t happen as quickly as you want it to, have patience and please be kind to yourself!

What’s your “power song” and why?

“Can’t Fake the Feeling” by Geraldine Hunt. I love the confidence in this song. I love everything disco, especially black female artists, as their music is most often about empowerment and a feeling of strength. I play this really loudly at the end of the day at work. It’s all about having that “feeling.” You either have it or you don’t, and when it comes to the “feeling” I have for my business, there’s no denying I love what we do here.

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