I am very excited to introduce Chloe Owens, the second designer I am featuring as part of my media partnership with the Southbank Centre’s mentoring initiative, Boost. I spoke to Chloe and her mentor, interior accessories designer Michelle Mason, about how the programme has been going so far. Chloe has very kindly shared some fabulous photos of her work in progress, so these are a real sneak peak ahead of the product launch in October.
Chloe, what’s the best advice Michelle has given you?
CO: Michelle suggested I think of a phrase to print on the tea towel – before that I was just going to do a design with no words. I didn’t want the phrase or word to be the usual thing you see printed on tea towels, and I wanted it to be quite funny. I thought of “You’re a dish!” and then “Fancy a rub down?” worked well after that, and sounded a bit naughty. Then I thought it would be fun to write flirtatious banter on all the products which would tie them all together.
So the teacup and saucer has “You’re my cup of tea”, the bag has “I look good on your arm” and the lampshade will have a tag that says “You switch me on”.
What’s been the most valuable part of Boost so far?
CO: The most valuable part has been the opportunity to speak to the designers. They’ve given me advice and introduced me to people in the business I wouldn’t normally have access to. Adam [Head of Buying for the Southbank Centre] has been a great contact to make. I was a bit intimidated by buyers before, having heard rumours of what they’re like to deal with, but his advice has been invaluable. I can now see things from the buyer’s point of view, and know what they’re looking for, which is massive head start.
Michelle, what do you think has been the most important part for Chloe?
MM: Getting through to the final stage and developing her products – I think she has probably learnt a lot about manufacturing – especially in ceramics.
And what’s been the most rewarding part for you?
MM: Meeting all the finalists on the judging days and seeing their exciting projects.
What’s been the hardest part of the process?
MM: Whitling the shortlist down to the final six designers or design teams.
Chloe, what do you hope will happen as a result of taking part?
CO: I hope this will be the beginning of things to come. Before now I’ve spent a lot of time making, which I love. But I feel I’ve now reached a stage where I’d like to spend more time designing and less time making, as it’s very time consuming and with just one pair of hands it’s very easy to get stuck in a metaphorical “hamster wheel”.
Boost has given me, well… a boost by giving me the chance to focus on designing and applying my designs to products I haven’t had the opportunity to do yet. It’s incredibly exciting and I have so many more ideas, which I hope to focus on afterwards.
Why did you want to be involved?
CO: This kind of opportunity doesn’t come around very often, and it was something I felt was necessary for me to grow as a designer and a business. I didn’t realise until a few years after I left university what I wanted to do, and it all sort of happened by accident. It can be difficult to find the right path, for creatives especially, and there’s a lot of competition out there. Boost was one of those once in a lifetime things that I would have been stupid not to try to get involved in. I feel very fortunate to have been chosen.
MM: I was invited by Adam, Head of Buying at the Southback Centre. I’ve worked on a few projects for them in the past so it was great to get involved with the scheme and help Adam out.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new designer, what would it be?
CO: If it’s definitely what you want to do, don’t give up! There will be plenty of challenges and obstacles that make you question whether it’s all worth it, but take risks, work hard and you’ll get there. Stay true to your style, be like you and no other, and remember all big things start small.
MM: Work hard, be yourself and be open to ideas and people.
Michelle, have you learnt anything from Chloe in the process of mentoring her?
MM: Mostly that it is increasingly hard for any new business in this climate and you have to work twice as hard to get noticed and stay there.
Chloe, what’s special about your product range?
CO: My new range for the Southbank was very enjoyable for me. The thing I most love to do, and the thing people love most about my work is my appliqué work. My name cushions are very popular and the cover of my book has had such high praise. I decided it would make sense to apply this design to different products. I began by buying lots of vintage fabrics (I have a huge stash at home, but can’t resist buying more at least once a week) then I pick out all the best flowers and shapes and cut them all out (this can take days even weeks to do). I collect them altogether in a vintage suitcase (which my cat Simba likes to think is his bed) and then I collage them together to make a new design – this is the fun bit. Then using lots of different coloured threads I sew all over the design using a free machine embroider technique. I made a different design for each product, so they are all unique.
How will they make people’s lives better?
CO: I have an infatuation for homeware, especially kitchenware. My teacup accumulation is growing at a furious rate, and if my customers are anything like me, then my new teacup and saucer design will be a welcome addition to their collection.
The same goes for tea towels, I like the way they can be an art piece in their own right. The concept of drying the dishes with a piece of art is very entertaining to me.
I carry a tote bag wherever I go. You can tell a lot about someone by the tote they carry. You can fit so much into them, and they look great. They also stop me using plastic bags when I go shopping too.
I love lighting, fairy lights, lamps, vintage bulbs, I adore them all. When I was at university my room used to look like a santa’s grotto. I’d like to think my style has developed into something a little more sophisticated these days, and I hope my new lampshade expresses this.
And finally, Michelle, why is mentoring so important?
Because the sharing of knowledge and experience is invaluable to people just staring out. They often lack confidence, but it’s really only the fear of the unknown. And when you can share manufacturing stories or information it breaks down lots of barriers and myths.
Further reading for the especially geeky:
Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.
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