Feature

The Home of the Biscuit Cushion

Published on 7 July 2021

Scotland’s self-proclaimed ‘Biscuit Lady’ recounts her experiences at the University of Dundee and how they led to a hugely successful business empire.

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Nikki in a room with brightly coloured flowers and lots of cushions behind her

She may not have studied a business degree, but Nikki McWilliams has certainly found a knack for marketing and selling her products.

With art being her main passion growing up, Nikki had always known when she was younger that she wanted to study it at university. She arrived at the University of Dundee and her new home in DJCAD in 2003 and quickly grew to love the art school.

“I had been to numerous Open Days and couldn’t really see myself in other places. I didn’t know much about Dundee, so I arrived for the visit not really knowing what to expect. It was a beautiful day; the sun was shining and the DJCAD building was amazing,” said Nikki.

Following the Open Day and after touring DJCAD and learning more about the various programmes on offer Dundee jumped right to the top of her list of choices.

nikki lying down with her hair splayed out and biscuits on her hair
“Dundee is such an amazing city for students. It is small enough to be able to get around easily and I just loved it. As soon as I saw the Uni and Dundee itself, I knew this is where I needed to be”

Nikki McWilliams

With a very impressive following on social media and more than one successful business venture on the go, Nikki has come a long way in the world of both design and business since her time as a Fine Art student.

After graduating, Nikki undertook an introductory screen-printing course at Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) which is ideally located at the halfway point between the centre of Dundee and the University campus.

“It was such an amazing resource right on my doorstep. I realised how amazing a tool screen-printing is for reproducing art and selling items on a bigger scale. I just started experimenting with that and that’s how the cushions happened.”

The cushions in question are the biscuit-themed designs for which Nikki has gained great commercial and social media acclaim. Her ideas have transformed her into the chief designer (and biscuit taster) at her business

Before long, Nikki had participated in a few trade shows in London and was invited to a ‘New Designers’ platform at a large trade show called ‘Top Drawer’. Here she was able to showcase her biscuit cushions to a wider audience

“That show was the first time I had taken any of my work outside of Scotland. Prior to that, nobody wanted to speak to me when I was emailing as they hadn’t heard of my work. But all the big departments were at that show - Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason and Paperchase and more. I got orders from them. It was nuts!”

Nikki’s business spring-boarded from there and she knew she had to leave her retail job to pursue it further – a risk which paid off.

“I thought if I left my job, I wasn’t going to have any money, but I needed to do it because I had already turned down opportunities as I couldn’t always get time off work. The more time I had to do my business, the more successful it then became.”

But why biscuit cushions in the first place?

a display at the London trade show with various cushions on display

Nikki’s life-long love for biscuits has clearly allowed her to think outside the box (or tin!) and transform a passion into a successful business venture.

“I did a little bit of biscuit themed stuff at uni and I remember saying to someone I had this idea to do biscuit cushions and they just thought it was ridiculous. Who would buy that? It turns out a lot of people!

“I think I’ve always had a bit of a biscuit-thing. I’ve always been a biscuit and tea person, it’s just one of those reassuring little routines. And when I couldn’t come up with any good ideas I would stop, have a cup of tea and a biscuit, so I suddenly thought that maybe this is the idea.”

Nikki owes a lot of her success to what she learned in her time at DJCAD. The flexibility of the programme and the self-directed learning allowed her the freedom to practise different techniques and work with different themes, but also gave her the skills to run her own business.

“I think my degree required a lot of discipline and self-motivation because the briefs are often quite open. If they ask you to do a project on a specific concept you have to just take it, be confident and run with it. When you are self-employed there is no one standing behind you telling you to get your work done so my experience at uni really helped that.”

The Art Materials Shop located inside DJCAD is also a highlight for Nikki. She has always loved stationery and remembers finding creative ideas in the art shop.

“I loved the Art Shop in DJCAD. I talk about it all the time with folk who went to Dundee. If you are ever struggling with ideas, need stationery or want a bit of inspiration, then a wander around the shop always helps!”

This has led to Nikki recently having launched another business she calls ‘Nikki’s Supply Store’ where she sells stationery online.

It’s fantastic to see Nikki’s journey from an undergraduate student at DJCAD to the highly successful businesswoman she has become. Her formative years spent at the University of Dundee have clearly helped propel her to biscuit-cushion stardom, and we’re proud to have her as part of our alumni community.

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