Mon, 10 Feb 2020
CLARE Sheffield always knew deep down that she would one day run her own business. After all, she’d been learning how, from her father, all of her life.
So, when she moved to Newbury and became a parent herself, it seemed the natural progression.
She now heads up Strong & Together – an independent brand design studio based in Newbury – which is celebrating its 10th birthday this year.
Clare grew up in a small village in Norfolk and says she has always “been very interested in anything art and craft-based”.
“I also had a father who ran his own business so I grew up with an understanding of business,” she explains.
“I used to work with him at his business in the school holidays and it really gave me a sense of how to look after customers and how to be empathetic.
“My parents really encouraged me to do what I loved; they didn’t push me to choose a particular career path, so I chose to do A-levels in art, media studies and history and a GCSE in photography at the same time.”
After leaving school Clare went on to study graphic design for four years in Norwich.
Here she was able to experiment with illustration, print, photography, graphic design and animation.
“We did a little bit of everything and then specialised in one aspect,” she adds.
“I found I loved graphic design, and that it was about problem solving.
“It is all about using graphics or words to solve the problem of how to communicate something.
“It isn’t about using the most fashionable colour or typeface, but about what is best for a customer’s business.”
In 1998 she left Norwich with a first class honours degree and within two weeks had moved to London and began working immediately for a small agency.
“The agency only had seven people working there and it had only been going for a short time when I joined,” Clare says.
“It allowed me to work with amazing people, which was just an incredible experience. I could just get really stuck in.
“I feel like I really grew with the company.”
When Clare left, more than a decade later, the agency had grown to around 30 employees and had been bought out by a larger company.
Clare had started as a junior designer and one of her first jobs was working on the packaging of Superdrug’s pregnancy tests.
During her time there she also worked on projects such as rebranding Fortnum and Mason, Sainsbury’s ‘Basics’ packaging and a Barclays Bank rebrand.
It was while she was working there that the family moved to Newbury.
“I took a year off after I had my first daughter and then went back to work in London,” she explains.
“My dad died during that time too and I decided it was the right time to make some changes and work differently.
“Because of my history and my understating of business, I decided I would start working for myself and particularly target working with small and medium-sized businesses, where you can really make a difference.
“You can really see the impact your work has on these companies.
“I wanted to do my own thing, and be in charge of my own diary too.
“I wanted to be there for assemblies and school plays, because life is too short to miss out on your children growing up.”
So, in 2010, Clare took the plunge and started Strong & Together.
“Running my business is also about providing my girls with a role model of an independent woman,” she adds.
“It’s about showing them that you can have your own career.
“They are getting to an age where they are getting involved in my business too.
“They pick things out and notice things that would be interesting to my clients.
“My clients understand that I am a parent as well and I think that is a dimension that strengthens our relationship.”
Clare now works with a number of freelance designers, illustrators, trademark professionals, copywriters and photographers and says she is “passionate about working with other local small businesspeople”.
“I work collaboratively with my clients,” she explains. “It is about creating strong and together brands that then grow.
“As brand design experts, we specialise in naming, identity, packaging and environment.
“I would like to work with more small retail companies in the region.
Nationally, businesses with a High Street presence are having to work really hard on their identity and independents have to work really hard to attract their target market.
“Good branding will open up business opportunities and poor branding will make people feel embarrassed or apologetic about their company.
“It doesn’t just change the customer’s perception of the brand, but also the business owner’s too and that positivity will show.”
Clare, who has won more than 20 design awards during her career and has also been on a number of judging panels, now specialises in brand identity for food and drink companies.
“We can do everything for a brand; from naming to positioning and logo design; from packaging, menus, signage, to brand design for the whole environment of a shop or restaurant or online presence,” she says.
“We have also designed trade stands, promotional materials, seasonal brochures and recipe books.
“It is really about working with companies that want to use branding to grow and develop their brands.
“It is about helping people realise the potential of branding to shift the mindset of consumers.
“At Strong & Together, we work with clients who are focused on creating great customer experiences and positive impact through their business vision and ambition.
“We work directly with the business owners of small to medium-sized businesses.
“You can really see the impact your work has on these companies. We enable our client’s businesses to grow.”
As well as the opening of new independent optometrists in Newbury, Valarie Jerome Optometrists, Clare has recently been excited to see one of her clients, Joli, open up a permanent stall at the new Borough Market Kitchen, in London, where it stands shoulder to shoulder with Michelin-starred chefs.
“One part of my job that is really interesting is that I get to try new products all the time,” she adds. “You get to discover so many different ingredients.
“I am fascinated by food and drink so it is great to work with clients on new food and drink development. It’s always a very collaborative approach.”