Time to shine: Running a business while working for Virgin

Virgin Management’s Ernestina Potts adores statement earrings so much that she set up her own jewellery-making business, Milk Tooth, with her husband.

What do you do at Virgin?

I work at Virgin Management in the Brand team. Our role is to help bring to life the Brand Strategy by creating projects and communications that highlight the best bits of what we do and stand for. It’s a mix of strategising and project planning, with a focus on managing relationships – with partners, stakeholders and other Virgin companies.

Has fashion and design always been a passion of yours?

I’ve always been a sucker for colour and pattern, but I wouldn’t say I’m into fashion. I certainly have no idea about it as an industry! In a way, that has had some benefits, since we haven’t been fixed to the seasonal calendar, or been influenced by competitors. I think that this has helped us to stand out – both in terms of my approach to engaging supporters, and also in terms of the distinctiveness of our designs.

What gave you the idea for Milk Tooth?

A big motivation was for my husband (Mark Potts, who I met a few years back when we both worked in Virgin Media’s Brand team) and I to build something together and put our skills and passions into something that we could directly define. But, being honest, it’s also because I love shiny things!

We’re basically creating the products that I was lusting for but couldn’t find, hence our strapline: ‘Dedicated to the pursuit of statement earrings’. I love seeking out interesting jewellery, but found it challenging to find stuff that wasn’t super pricey or dime-a-dozen off the high street. The ‘statement’ part is important, too. I’ve seen and felt how empowering it can be embrace your own style. I love the idea of people drawing power from feeling great in their own style, especially at work.

What inspires you?

Travel, architecture, art, music, history – anything, really! Mark and I love exploring flea markets and vintage stores. I think it’s about the thrill of discovering cool stuff, but also respect for processes gone by, and design that stands the test of time, whether that’s because it makes us laugh, or evokes a bit of nostalgia, or is just really beautiful.

Our first collection was a mash-up of  influences: 80s power dressing, postmodern architecture, some Memphis references – there’s even a bit of leopard print, just because, well, why not? With our second collection, the starting themes were Dadaism and womanhood, and then we went from there.

Has anything from your Virgin day job helped in the running of Milk Tooth?

Seeing Richard’s constant curiosity and assumption that he can get involved in anything that interests him definitely resonates with me. I’ve also worked with lots of start-ups over the years, which has been inspiring. Without sounding too tragic, I don’t really distinguish too much between Virgin, Milk Tooth and even personal life stuff. Obviously the Virgin work takes more of my time, but they are all things I enjoy and they work together in my mind totally naturally.

For example, if I’m invited to a fashion event, I’ll definitely be dropping in relevant Virgin projects and getting leads for that at the same time.

Has creating your company helped you in your day job?

I’m used to working on communications strategies that include social media, but getting to grips with the detail has been a massive learning curve. I was pretty clueless a year ago! But the fact that I was clear on the tone of voice, and Mark had created such strong aesthetics, meant that I had some good basics to work from while getting up to speed.

It’s great to be learning new skills, and that has certainly directly helped my Virgin work in terms of understanding more about what I might be commissioning or how my colleagues work. The best thing about having your own business is being able to make decisions fast and seeing the impact of your work directly. I can meet someone for a coffee and then see them publish an article on us the very next day. I think it helps inspire the hustle in my Virgin work. It’s a good reminder to set ambitious targets and time lines – plus to be creative!

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