When powerhouse business woman and entrepreneur Luissa Zissman decided to retreat from the hustle and bustle of corporate Britain to raise her young family, she knew it would take an extra special project to lure her back into the rat race.
Having first made a name for herself as a contestant on the ninth series of BBC’s hit reality television series The Apprentice, Luissa has continued to make waves in the world of entertainment, business and branding – launching several companies, releasing her own book, acquiring columns in national magazines and appearing on countless high profile television shows.
In 2020, Luissa decided to return to her roots by teaming with her longtime friend Vicki Gratton, to shake up the £7 billion a year gifting and greeting industry, by investing in Gratton’s business Silly Sentiments – a super creative, fun and frivolous brand that brings a touch of quintessential British humour to any and every special occasion.
From personalised wall calendars and wrapping paper to porcelain mugs, pens and notepads with cheeky messages, Silly Sentiments is the go-to online destination for novelty gifts and Secret Santa exchanges this year.
“I just love the humour and sense of fun behind everything that Vicki does.” Zissman says of her love of the brand as we chat over the phone one cold, October morning. “It’s so fun, playful and cheeky, but also really quite endearing at the same time, which is not something we see all that often in the gifting / greeting industry. So when the opportunity arose for me to get involved, I was thrilled!”
Explaining what life has been like working full time again, Luisa adds: “I think because I’d taken a step back from everything, and had a bit of a time out so that I could focus on being a Mum to my two youngest children, I’ve found the whole experience to be really quite refreshing and exciting!”
“I’m obviously really good friends with Vicki, but there are other people within the business of Silly Sentiments who I wouldn’t have necessarily met or mixed with had it not been for me working on this project, so it’s been really good for me to engage again with a variety of different people and personalities, and learn from their skill sets. It’s been a lot of fun so far!”
Keen to talk more in depth about her new role within the company, as well as her thoughts on business and investing, we sat down with Luisa to talk the positives of social media, the importance of British banter and what it’s really like to work with friends…
Despite its obvious challenges, 2020 turned out to be a pretty busy year for you, as you stepped back into the world of business and invested in gifting brand Filthy Sentiments, now re-launching as Silly Sentiments – overall, how has it been taking on this new venture?
Do you know what, it’s been really good! As you say, originally the brand was known as ‘Filthy Sentiments’ – and to anybody reading this, don’t worry we still do all of the really funny, brilliantly rude, filthy, sweary stuff that you love – it’s just now that category of products if you like, sits under the umbrella of ‘Silly Sentiments’. The reason for making that change, is because our main goal at the moment is to market the brand to a wider, broader audience, and one way we’re able to do that is to produce more cute, pretty, funny products that are going to have more of a mass appeal.
Filthy Sentiments was originally founded by the super talented Vicki Gratton, are we right in thinking you first got to know one another after chatting on social media?
Yeah, that’s right! So it was about 5 years ago now that I reached out to Vicki on Instagram, to tell her how much I loved her brand, and all of the work she was doing. We instantly got on and began talking a lot, and yeah… we just became really good friends from there.
We love that! It’s always nice to develop and form new friendships however unexpected they may be; and it’s also really great to hear of someone having a positive experience on social media, as nowadays it seems that more often that not, we’re only really made aware of the negatives…
Definitely! And I completely agree with you that social media does get a bad rep a lot of the time, and I can totally understand why, because when it’s used it the wrong way it’s horrific! BUT when it’s used in the right way, it can be amazing, and I think it’s important we try to remember that! Take for instance the relationship Vicki and I have formed, it’s been brilliant and beneficial to both of us in so many ways, and I think that alone is probably one of many examples where the internet / social media has had a positive effect on a persons life, so maybe we should all make a more of a conscious effort to highlight all of the good these online platforms do, and show how they can help pretty much anybody to create a life and a brand for themselves in a way that they maybe couldn’t a few years ago. A lot of people nowadays use social media as a way to make a living, and I’m not just talking about celebrities or influencers, you’ve got all kinds of small businesses founded by Mums and Dads who are hustling from their kitchen table, to try and make a better life for themselves and their families. On the flip side of that, you’ve got young kids who are becoming entrepreneurs off of the back of ideas and companies they’ve started on social media. All of these platforms, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok have allowed creative people to make something of themselves which I think is great.
It really is! We just need to find a way to combat all of the negative energy on there…
It’s about being more conscious! I think if we were all a little bit more mindful in how we conduct ourselves online, and remember that there are real people behind the phone screens, reading all of theses messages and comments sent to them. We for sure all need to think before we type, and think before we post… and trust me, I’ve been guilty in the past of posting something and then afterwards thinking to myself: ‘oh goodness, that was probably a bit too harsh!’ I think if we’re all honest with ourselves, many of us have fallen into that trap, and it’s not good, so maybe now is as good a time as any to make some sort of change and really stop ourselves behaving badly online.
When it’s used in the right way, social media can be amazing, and I think it’s important we all try to remember that!Luisa on her belief that social media has the power to make change for the better.
Going back to your relationship with Vicki, how did the idea of you going into business together first come about?
It was actually something that happened quite naturally to be honest with you. Last summer she came to me and asked for my advice, after having been approached by someone who was interested in possibly investing in the business. After I’d looked through all of the information and the proposed deal, I said to my husband ‘do you know what, I think I want to be the investor here, I want to do do this and become a part of this brand!’ So I went back to Vicki and I said ‘I think we can something better, than this offer that’s on the table’. And so from there we hashed out a deal, and got to work!
As an investor how do you start to find your place within an established company, that’s been up and running for a number of years – do you very much set your stall out and say “this is what I can offer, this is what my role will be” or is it more of a case of you sitting back, observing and then finding a place to slot into?
As an investor you’re putting your money on the table and your faith in a business, so you definitely want a front running position where you can have influence… well, that’s what I wanted anyway! (Laughs). But really, I think the most truthful reason why I wanted to invest in ‘Silly Sentiments’ in the first place was due to the fact that pretty much right away, I saw a vision for what I could bring to the company, and all of the ways in which I felt I could support and help the business to grow financially – because at the end of the day one of the main reasons people go into business is to make money isn’t it? (Laughs). After that initial conversation Vicki and I had last summer, I think we both knew what I had to offer and therefore what my role would be. I’m sure it’s not like that for everyone, but it’s how it worked for us.
How have you found the transition going from being friends with Vicki, to now being business partners and colleagues?
It’s been absolutely fine! Vicki is amazing! She is so hard working and so entrepreneurial, I mean she used to be a prison officer! She actually started this business out of the frustration of never being able to find the kind of humorous birthday card she was looking for, so she took matters into her own hands and did something about it – I love that she saw a gap in the market, came up with an idea and just ran with it.
With your new working relationship solidified, and your role within the company decided, did you have certain ideas or a specific goal that you wanted to achieve right out of the gate?
Erm… I definitely felt like it was important to create a really strong, visual identity for the brand online, so we’ve spent the last year or so scurrying about behind the scenes working on designing the new Silly Sentiments website, which has launched this past week, so that’s been really exciting! I must say though, it was important to me to be mindful and respectful of the fact that this is still very much Vicki’s company – she is the majority share holder in all of this, it’s not now all of a sudden mine. So whilst she’s so encouraging and open to hearing my ideas, if she really doesn’t agree with something, ultimately it is still her business so she has final say, which is totally fine by me!
It’s actually okay to disagree isn’t it? We have to move away from this culture that’s forming, where it’s almost like we have to “de-friend” or cancel anybody who has a different opinion to ours…
Oh definitely! That’s kind of my motto in business, but it’s something I also feel really strongly about in my personal life as well. I have friends for example who don’t believe in certain things that I do, and whilst we might have endless debates and I’m like ‘how can you not see what I’m saying!” Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day it’s only a difference in opinion, it’s not that deep and it certainly doesn’t mean we have to fall out and never speak to one another again. And like I said, for me, it’s the same in business, so if you ever find yourself in a situation we’re you’re coming at a problem from a completely different perspective that your colleague, all you need to do sometimes is taken on board what that person is saying, and remove your personal feeling so that you’re able to see things from another persons perspective and try to understand where they’re coming from. You’re allowed to change your mind.
So for those being introduced to Silly Sentiments for the first time, how would you best describe the brand?
I think this brand very much plays up to that traditional British banter we all know and love! Everybody nowadays enjoys a sassy quote or a silly meme and I would say that our products kind of play into that same humour, which I think is great!
We love how you use humour as a way to bring a little bit of light and joy to the gifting world – cards / trinkets / gifts don’t always have to be super serious, sentimental and over emotional do they?
It’s a laugh isn’t it? We love that we can spread a little bit of happiness and remind people that adults are allowed to be silly too! Throughout this whole process of becoming involved with the brand I’ve really come to release that so many of us have the same sort of fun, jokey relationship with all of our friends, where we can poke fun at one another but in a really playful way that doesn’t cause offence – like it’s almost endearing, it’s not malicious or spiteful!
What are some of your favourite Silly Sentiment gifts and products?
I love the range of pens we do, because I just think they are really funny and I promise you, everywhere I go the pen I use always gets stolen because people just love the captions printed on them. And that’s credit to Vicki, it really is! Her primary focus is the design and how she can best incorporate humour into each of the products we’re selling – she’s brilliant!
With Christmas creeping ever closer – we’ve seen a little sneak peak of all of the festive range you’ll be selling, the naughty advent calendars, baubles, mugs, pens are billiant, and we love the gift bags and the cards – it must be a lot of fun creating products and collections for specific seasons?
YES! We’ve got a brilliant Christmas range and I’m really excited about it! There are so many fun and silly things that would be perfect if you’re doing a secret Santa at work, but there are also some really cute stuff to buy friends or many members of your family as a stocking filler.
The range is PERFECT for secret Santa!
It is isn’t it? Our products are quite inexpensive, but really good quality, so you don’t have to break the bank and spend a lot of money! I must tell you as well, there’s a really funny game we sell, that Vicki designed herself called Filthy Snap and it is absolutely hilarious… especially when you’ve had a drink, so I’d recommend that for Christmas!
Looking past Christmas and towards 2022, what do you hope to achieve over the course of the next year with Silly Sentiments?
Well, I’m a numbers person, so I’m always looking at sales and profits and thinking about what can we do to make this thing grow and get bigger. But maybe even more important than that, we really do just want to remind people to have fun! Fun is what we’re all missing in life at the moment isn’t it? And I think because we’re living a world that’s so filled with fear, and people are afraid of what they can and can’t say, I like that Silly Sentiments just puts that little bit of joy back into the world, and reminds everyone it’s ok to be a little bit silly from time to time.