Hi, I’m Susan McKenna, founder of Fat Hen And Flo. At 21 I decided to save up to buy either a saxophone or a SLR camera. Thank goodness I didn’t buy the saxophone is all I will say. My family wouldn’t even let me play the triangle in the lockdown family band. The camera was my gateway into art. A year or so later I left hairdressing and signed up for a photography course. This is where I also met my husband so I suppose the camera purchase was the better choice on many levels. I found my new love - printing - and went on to work as a photographic printer until I took a break to have my kids. What was meant as a career break turned into a career reinvention. The photography industry turned digital as I wrangled a gang of small people.
Fat Hen And Flo was born whilst I was figuring out how to fit back into the workplace. A newly acquired addiction to buying fabric required some legitimacy so I set up my Etsy shop selling quilts and quirky creatures I designed and made. Around this time I also discovered screen printing as a way to reproduce my new tentative drawing practice and my first kits were brought to life.
For about ten years alongside my online shop, pop ups and markets I also ran art clubs and workshops for children and adults.
These days I rarely run art classes, a Covid decision rather than anything else, and my sole focus is on Fat Hen And Flo and juggling the many balls that running a small business requires. For the most part I do everything from designing the products, printing, sewing and packing orders to emails, photography and online shop maintenance. As my workload increases it’s also been great to hand over some of the jobs that get pushed continually down the to do list to others far more skilled than me.
Everything is designed and made in the studio and produced as sustainably as possible. My aim is to create gifts that people love and keep. I design for myself, things I love, people I admire, and things that make me chuckle. Who wouldn’t want a tiny Danny DeVito doll in a tin? And my watercolour dolls with their animal sidekicks all have complex, slightly dark stories that are inspired from a love of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, as well as a love of the underdog story narrative, and a secret desire to write weird tales.
On the days when I drag my heels to work because I have a pile of admin to do I quickly remind myself that I carved out this career for myself and built this small but growing business. And in the moments when I consider getting a job elsewhere with regular wages, better hours and paid holiday (extra creative small biz owner does it occasionally) I soon realise that I have the best job already. My boss is tough but she lets me go and drink coffee a lot.
If you have ever bought one of my products, or are planning to, know that I absolutely think that you are awesome. That you will spend your hard earned cash on a thing that I designed and made and poured my heart and soul into (ok, a bit over dramatic) makes my day every time. Thank you.
Questions I regularly get asked.
Why Fat Hen And Flo?
I started out making fat fabric hens inspired by my chickens free ranging in the garden. Flo is a doll I designed on a 40 minute walk one evening then sat at the machine and made when I got home. The original design barely changed and I sold lots of Flo dolls until changes in compliance law (toy safety)for small businesses made it unfeasible.
Fat Hen And Flo doll -the originators.
How do you decide which idols to make?
Generally I make people who I personally find inspiring, brilliant or funny. You will find work by most of the idols on my bookshelves, playlist and film viewing.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I love designing new products, making samples and trying things out. Being a creative person with too many ideas and not enough time there are many half finished designs in boxes in the studio waiting to come to life. I also love packing orders. That’s why I ship quickly, and get loads of reviews about quick delivery. Packing orders is always at the top of my days to do list and I love it.
How long have you been in the studio?
I moved in nine years ago. I love my studio. It's in the heart of Folkestone’s Creative Quarter. Close to my favourite coffee shop, Steep Street. It is bright and spacious. I also have great studio neighbours.
Matt James Healy - Painter https://www.mattjameshealy.com/
Sapphire Goss - Video artist https://www.sapphiregoss.com/
Ondřej Beneš - Painter http://ondrejbenes.co.uk/