Who Cares Wins: Maker and studio owner, Tori Gray, used her 'creative frustration' to launch a new venture

Published: March 22, 2018
Author: Steven Thomas

Who Cares Wins: an ongoing study of the people who decided to make the leap and do work that matters.

These are the people who have set about building businesses, big and small, that have a purpose at their core. By innovating themselves they subsequently inspire others. For them, winning isn’t about building million pound revenue streams (although I guess that would be nice). No, for them it's about creating something that intrinsically transcends profit and loss. Subsequently, it becomes something far more soulful.

Tori Gray from Harbour Lane Studio

“I was turning into this grumpy person that only ever moaned about her job and I didn't like that person so I had to make a change and it had to be a big one.”

Meet Tori Gray.

Tori is an artist whose hometown is South Queensferry in Scotland. She’s an illustrator and maker and after graduating from college, like many others, she found herself working retail in order to earn a living. But she knew it wasn’t for her in the long-term. The changing point was that she knew she could do it better than some of the bigger retailers she was working for. She had a calling to create something of her own that would not only show her own work but the work of artisans and makers from all over Scotland. So, she took the leap and found premises in her hometown and set about transforming it into a working studio and shop.

Harbour Lane Studio is, you guessed it, an atmospheric little lane leading to South Queensferry Harbour with all its stunning views. The pictures don’t do it justice. Harbour Lane is a magical space that crackles with creative energy.

Championing Scottish Makers

Tori hand selects every product, taking care to curate work by talented Scottish makers. She also shows a lot of her own work including an ever-changing array of limited edition prints and bespoke lampshades. As it’s also a working studio there are weekly workshops where folks can learn how to make their own work using techniques like screen printing and lino cutting. With all this going on, Harbour Lane has become a real creative hub for the town and the surrounding area. Tori also has regular requests to run workshops in larger venues around Scotland.


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Creating something remarkable

I met Tori as part of the mentoring scheme run by Creative Edinburgh and I was blown away by her drive and talent. Aside from her amazing creative skills, Tori shows a combination of two key ingredients for ‘success’: She is action orientated and unflinchingly focused on getting sh*t done and at the same time she has a deeply rooted purpose to create something remarkable.

Her purpose isn’t just about creating another gallery selling other people’s work. She could probably have chosen another place to set up in nearby Edinburgh rather than her sleepy hometown. But I sense that wouldn’t have worked in the same way for Tori. Instead, she has set about transforming a run-down space into something utterly unique. By championing other artists work she has created something authentic that people immediately want to support. And by using the space to invite others in to learn new creative skills she has formed a bustling creative hub.

I recently asked Tori a few questions about her journey. Her answers will surely inspire others.

What made you take the leap to do your own thing?
Complete creative frustration! I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do but I knew I hated what I was doing and needed to get out if I wanted to stay sane. I was turning into this grumpy person that only ever moaned about her job and I didn't like that person so I had to make a change and it had to be a big one.

What has been the toughest part so far?
I constantly battle with the worry that I don't know what I'm doing. That at any point, someone is going to walk through the door and take it all away. It can also feel like I am giving it my all and it's still not quite enough. It's definitely been a learning curve to accept that I'm not superwoman and that sometimes I have to make sacrifices. I have really high expectations of myself and what the studio should be but I'm slowly realising that if I don't meet them, it's only me that notices.

How would you describe how you've adapted and grown your skills by doing what you do?
One benefit of having the open plan studio means the barrier between customer and artist is broken down. People can see my work and are more likely to engage with that and feel more comfortable to ask questions. It's taught me to trust my skills and judgment more and that all this knowledge I have collected can be shared with people. That and now I am an epic multi-tasker and to-do list writer!

What keeps you going in tough times?
Running your own business can feel really lonely sometimes. I'm the only one in here day to day, the only one making decisions and the only one to fix things if something goes wrong. That can be really hard and sometimes I do want to run away and hide from it all. Luckily, because I stock work by lots of artists who run their own business too, I have a whole network of people who understand exactly how I feel and can offer support in the form of an ear to moan to or a catch-up and a coffee. The creative industry is hugely supportive of each other and it's amazing to be part of something like that.

Where do you gain inspiration from?
I get a lot of commissions now so my inspiration comes from my customer. Maybe that's very 'commercial' of me which was always seen as a dirty word at art college but it's really rewarding to take a customer's rough idea and turn it into something physical that they can treasure forever as special to just them. I occasionally wish I was a bit cooler and edgier with my work but people like what I do so don't fix it if it ain't broke right?

You can find Tori on Instagram or at harbourlane.com

For more examples of Who Cares Wins check out:

How Otter Surfboards take sourcing materials to a new level.

Outdoor clothing complany Patagonia prove that caring about the environment is very good for business.