When Eleanor Paulin completed a degree in fashion, she had two choices — head to London for a year-long unpaid internship with one of the big fashion firms, or set up her own family business in Glasgow. With limited finance and a spare room for an HQ, Eleanor chose the latter.
Eleanor, 25, and her sisters Charlotte, 33, and Elizabeth, 28, have quickly built Paulin into a British watch company that is attracting attention, expanding recently to add leather goods to their range which is sold online or from their workshop.
“I came straight from my degree to this form the company with my sisters. The fashion design background led quite nicely to watch designing” Eleanor explains.
You will find the Paulin store on Great Western Road in the West End, close to Kelvinbridge underground station. It’s a shop but it is also a hive of activity.
“At first, we all worked out of Charlotte’s flat,” Eleanor says. “It was set up in her spare room. We did everything there at the beginning. It was our office, our sorting room and our stock room for about a year until we got a storage unit and then the shop.
“I had limited business knowledge but I had a vision for what we wanted to do as a company.”
Charlotte’s husband, Lewis Heath, had previously helped set up and establish the Glasgow-based RHA headphone company as a successful business and has been on hand to help.
“Lewis knew more about business plans than we did, but there wasn’t one to start off with,” Eleanor says. “The experience he had in business meant he was able to gave us some guidance, while we concentrated on the design side of things.
“At the start, things were done on a smaller scale. The risk came when we branched out by getting our own shop and there was a worry because we launched at the same time that Apple were launching their smart watch.
“One concern that everyone would buy smart watches and quartz watches would become obsolete.
“Instead, watches are becoming more popular and seen as must-have accessories. People want to change their watch to match an outfit when going out and, thankfully, the demand for smart watches was muted.
In the 1800s, half of all watches in the world were made in Britain, but the last British manufacturer, Timex, which was based in Dundee, closed its doors in 1993.
The advantages of manufacturing the watches with her sisters in Glasgow is two-fold, according to Eleanor.
“We wanted to do things ourselves because it gave us quality control,” she said. “We get along very well so it is very easy. You can always rely on each other. We’re super close. You can bounce ideas off each other really easily.
“Paulin is steadily growing. Getting the shop has been wonderful. It means we can interact with customers and get feedback. It gives us confidence because the feedback is really positive. People come in and say they really like what we are doing. We introduced a smaller Geo Mini watch because some people said they wanted a smaller watch.”
She admits there are different demands placed on her as a businesswoman to those she would have experienced had she taken that internship or become an employee for a bigger design company.
“Cashflow is the main thing, especially when you are buying stock,” she said.
“At the beginning, I thought I was getting more into design, but I have taken on more.
“With any small business, you do a bit of everything and that includes being an entrepreneur.”
The Paulin sisters may have been destined for a design-led career. Their great-grandfather, George Henry Paulin, was a world-renowned Scottish sculptor who took several commissions from the Queen, including for her 1953 coronation.
In 1945 he was commissioned by the US Navy to create a memorial for Dumfries-born father of the Navy John Paul Jones.
During the 1950s he received several other Royal commissions including miniature busts of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip for which they personally sat, and a life-size bust of the Queen commissioned for the Royal Scottish Academy in 1956.
His statue of Lord Lister stands in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park.
“Our house was full of his paintings and sculptures,” Eleanor recalls. “We were surrounded by them from an early age and going around Glasgow to see his sculptures is always really nice. It was definitely a big inspiration.”
The Paulin team are currently working on a desk lamp inspired by traditional watchmakers’ lamps.
Their new wall clock sold out almost as soon as it became available with new stock arriving in time for Christmas.
Eleanor admits her decision to set up in the West End with her sisters rather than take unpaid work in London is already paying dividends.
“When I left uni, there were very few options in creative design,” Eleanor said. “Almost everyone went down to London to do unpaid internships. I didn’t want to leave Scotland because I love it here and we have a better quality of life.
“I didn’t fancy going to London to do the obligatory year’s unpaid work. I thought that was mental after my degree. A lot of people went off to work with Alexander McQueen and people like that.
“A few of my friends went down and have now managed to get commercial jobs, but that sort of thing is rare, especially straight after university.
“Running my own business appealed to me a lot more. I have a lot more design and business experience and this is more rewarding. I get to design something and see it completed.
“It’s really satisfying. I get to deal with customers every day, which is also very rewarding. I get to see the business grow and the brand expanding. I’d like Paulin to become really well known.”
The Paulins are planning to diversify the range even further.
“We definitely want to move into being a design brand,” Eleanor said. “That’s why we have moved into leather goods and the lamp.
“We’re diversifying and exploring other areas of design. We’ll keep the focus on watches, but also want to make things that we would want.
“I’m making bespoke leather bags and I make the watch straps here. It is nice having the space to be creative.
“We focus on quality of materials. We use really high quality leathers that come from an English tannery in Chesterfield.
“What we’re creating is something that is unique in terms of the high street. You get the high end like Prada and Hermes who are creating very special products and then you have stores like Zara. We see ourselves in the middle of that because our quality is as good as you can get.
“We are not on every high street. It is a one off shop and you won’t find any other company doing this.
“It is affordable luxury. You can afford it, but the quality is there”.
407 Great Western Road