Meet the sisters who run a successful design business together despite living 200 miles apart

After being made redundant around the same time, two sisters with a background in design have channelled their love of animals and homewares into a successful business, with a range of products that not only look good but help to do good too.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 4:19 pm

Featuring animal prints of everything from gliding jellyfish to resting walruses to flapping parrots, Martha and Hepsie’s bright, bold and distinctive designs can be found on homewares, greeting cards, wrapping paper and fabric, among other things.

In a post-pandemic world, teams working remotely from a myriad of different locations has become the norm; but when Martha Coppinger Sneddon and her sister Hepsie Goddin founded their company while they were working in two different places back in 2011, Martha says it was an ‘alien’ concept to many.

Thankfully, the pair are no strangers to maintaining a good, long-distance relationship, after their parents’ split when they were children resulted in a 10-year-old Martha moving to Sheffield with their mother, while Hepsie, who is five years older, opted to stay with their father in Stourbridge in the West Midlands.

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Sisters Martha and Hepsie run a business together

Their eponymous business, Martha and Hepsie (MaH), was set-up while Martha was working as a Design Assistant Production Manager for the Lisa Stickley design label in London, and Hepsie was on maternity leave in Devon.

"We were both getting frustrated with our day jobs and needed a creative outlet, so started doing it [creating products] on the side. It was a skeleton version of what we’re doing now.

"We were doing greeting cards and things like that,” said Martha.

A short time later, the pair found themselves without jobs at the same time, after they were both made redundant within a few months of each other.

Another design from Martha and Hepsie

This was the catalyst for Martha, and her now husband, Duncan Sneddon, to move back to Sheffield.

Despite the move meaning the duo were now more than 200 miles apart, they decided it was the right time to turn ‘more of their attention’ to Martha and Hepsie.

In the decade since, Martha and Hepsie have worked hard to grow the business, and have also taken on freelance work to ‘help pay the bills,’ says Martha.

She adds that they have been in a position to ‘pay the business our full attention’ in the last few years.

Many of the Martha and Hepsie designs are 'animal based'

Martha and Hepsie both have young families, with Martha mum to four-year-old Ernie, and Hepsie to Trudy, 14, and Wilfred, 11; and thus, the business has grown around their home lives.

And today, their product line includes everything from homewares such as furniture; lampshades and cushions to kitchen and dining accessories including: aprons; oven gloves; coasters and placemats as well as their popular selection of gifts; wrapping paper; greeting cards and notelets.

"We’ve both got a real love of homewares, so started making teatowels and then aprons. Last year we started making table top stuff like coasters and place mats.

"We produce all of our designs in upholstery fabric and produce that by the metre, and love the fact we can bring an item back to life by someone choosing to reupholster it. We’ve got 27 different designs,” Martha told The Star.

Martha Coppinger Sneddon pictured in the Sheffield Makers' Shop

Commenting on the inspiration for MaH’s idiosyncratic style, the 37-year-old said: "We always say that we’re ‘trend aware, but not trend led,’ because we don’t want our products to look like they’re mass-produced or something you can get anywhere. We like to stay unique.”

She continued: "A lot of our stuff is animal based, and then we take inspiration from day-to-day life. We’ve got a range of greeting cards that are affirmations, and we aim to try and pick people up.

"Our best seller is one that says: ‘Everything’s going to be okay’.

"We launched it two years ago, before the pandemic, but it seemed to pick up on something.

"I’ve found that people are having personal struggles, so everything we make is colourful and bright to inspire cheeriness.”

The two sisters both have a background design. Martha achieved a degree in textile design from Nottingham Trent University, while Hepsie has a degree in fashion design and business studies from the University of Brighton.

The Martha and Hepsie collection at Sheffield Makers at Hunters Bar

"I did modules in print design which involved a lot of drawing and transferring to screen or digital, so a lot of my degree work was illustration-based,” said Martha.

While they collaborate on many aspects of the business, and ‘speak on the phone several times a day,’ Martha and Hepsie also have separate, distinct roles; an arrangement which is particularly conducive for business partners working from two different locations.

Martha explained: "All of the designs are hand created by myself using a pen or pencil on paper. I don’t use a computer or anything like that.

"I really like the tactile quality of illustrating with the simple tools of a pen and paper.”

"I did modules in print design which involved a lot of drawing and transferring to screen or digital, so a lot of my degree work was illustration-based,” she continued.

Meanwhile, Hepsie’s role is concerned with ‘creative marketing’ and website design and maintenance.

"Her strength is in creative marketing...she’s much more computer savvy and geeky with the marketing side of stuff. We both have a big role in design and range planning and coming up with ideas. I do the design and the photography and Hepsie puts it all on the website,” she said.

Their wrapping paper was a big seller during the pandemic, which Martha attributes to people wanting to treat loved ones while they were separated.

It was so popular that MaH introduced a wrapping paper pack as well as a gift wrapping service for customers who have bought items from them.

Using their business to give back is an important aspect of MaH, says Martha, and they give 10 per cent of the profits they make from wrapping paper to a different charity each year as part of the ‘kindness economy’.

This year and last year, through their ‘gift wrap that gives’ initiative, Martha and Hepsie have chosen to donate to the NHS ‘for obvious reasons. They have previously given money to The Trussell Trust, which supports a network of over 1,200 food bank centres.

Just as with many businesses, the pandemic has hit MaH hard because revenue streams such as craft fairs and markets and shops including the Sheffield Makers’ Shop on Ecclesall Road, where Martha works part-time, were severed when the country, and region, were forced to shut down due to local and national lockdowns and restrictions.

"There were a few weeks [after the first national lockdown was brought in] when we were a bit panicked because the whole world was turned upside down and we didn’t know what was happening,” said Martha.

She added: "We were quite fortunate because Hepsie had put a lot of work into the website so the systems were already in place and working really well, so we were able to adapt really quickly...we saw an increase on sales, year-on-year, when compared to 2019.”

In addition to an uptake in online sales, Martha describes how the support of the ‘lovely community’ of makers involved with the Sheffield Makers’ Shop, which is staffed by creatives who sell their products there, has also been a comfort during the pandemic.

Martha and Hepsie are a little apprehensive about returning to craft fairs et al just yet, but are looking forward to resuming their participation in them next year.

As the pair continue to raise money through their ‘gift wrap that gives’ initiative, they are offering Star readers 10 per cent off the cost of their wrapping paper when bought online through their website: using the code SHEFFSTAR. The code is valid until October 31, 2021, for one use per customer.

Wrapping paper from Martha and Hepsie's collection
Martha Coppinger Sneddon with the Martha and Hepsie collection at the Sheffield Makers' Shop
The Martha and Hepsie collection includes homewares
The Sheffield Makers' Shop at Hunters Bar
A Martha and Hepsie toiletries bag