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Salle is an interior and homewares brand, and is the passion project of Maria Allen, a style and interiors obsesionada. She collaborates with a number of super-stylish spaces and places in and around Belfast and brings a rotating selection of the chicest, freshest wares for your home.

We chatted to Maria about her journey and her typical workday balancing a business and a teaching job.

What inspired you to set up your shop?

I’ve always admired the lifestyle store approach to retail - I love that you can get quirky, unique bits and pieces of stuff all in one cool spot. I love independent stores - they excite me; you never know what you’ll find inside. And I’m obsessed with interior style and design. I’d finally got to a stage in life where the cogs had turned for long enough - my boys had all started school and my job as a teacher was on a part-time basis, and I had the breathing space to pursue it. So I did.
I couldn’t afford to find premises and set-up shop there and then. And, perhaps more importantly, I wanted to test my market and reach my customer in a unique way, bringing something new to Belfast, both in terms of the product range and in the format. So, inspired by my concept store loves, I decided a collaborative approach was the best course for me. The first season of Salle has seen us pop-up in some beautiful, design-led spaces such as Root and Branch, Wild Thing and Pot Kettle Black. We have been fortunate enough to get the owners of these spaces on board, which has really helped me position Salle in the settings I had envisaged it. It’s been a dream; I have enjoyed every baby step in the infancy of my venture and the people who have taken my idea on board and supported it to help me get it to market have been wonderful. I’m indebted to them for helping me make my first step.

Could you describe to us your typical workday?

Without the standard formula, describing a typical day is tricky. I teach Wednesday to Friday, so in essence, Salle work and prep happens Mondays and Tuesdays, but like anyone running their own business knows, there are no set hours - you work at it as and when you can. I usually use the days at the beginning of the week to meet with people I hope to collaborate or work with. Networking, which is so important these days, also needs to happen on those days. Sourcing stock, planning social media content and blogposts is generally work I do in the evenings. Events take place on Saturdays and Sundays. So, as you can see, there’s no particular cut-off point!

Do you have any design heroes?

Having never formally studied design, I can’t say I’m informed enough to cite design heroes. And whilst I can appreciate both modern and classic design, for me, it’s more about design inspiration. That’s something I find I can draw from almost anything. If I open my eyes and ears, I find inspiration all around me. I love street art, even the simplest sort. I adore fashion design, and the way that people put things together to create their own personal style intrigues and inspires me. Even music (which I think, in essence, is verbal design) inspires my business. And travel, cities in particular, with all their quirky little nooks and crannies, fascinates me. So, in short, I appreciate good design wherever and whenever I find it. 

What have been some challenges you've faced and your biggest successes?

I feel so fortunate. Thanks to the willingness of people who have hosted us, I feel that Salle is already a success, no matter what happens in the future, because this funny wee idea I had in my head has become a reality. For me, that will always be the greatest success of all. And the satisfaction it has given me; I’m getting the chance to do something that I utterly adore - from the joy of sourcing the pieces to the honour of going inside people’s homes and businesses and writing my blog. I love it all. Sure, there have still been challenges - the balance of time, the energy required (and what happens when you can’t muster any!) But it’s all part of the deal. It’s been a true adventure. 

Do you have any advice you'd like to sahre to other female entrepreneurs?

It’s too early in the game for me to be administering advice, though I’m more than happy to share my own experience in the journey thus far. The only thing I can say, is do it. If you have a passion, if it’s what you think about as you’re falling asleep every night, it’s probably time to have a go. Feel the fear of putting it out there, and do it anyway. In my experience, people are kind. And genuine passion, enthusiasm and drive are contagious. Go get ‘em, tiger!