Interview with Laura Olivia, Guest Expert for December in the Textile Design Lab
Laura Olivia established her surface pattern design studio back in 2010 and has since worked with clients in the interiors, stationery, fashion and beauty product industries all over the globe. She focuses on supplying designs to the interiors and soft furnishings industry and has worked on projects in Mauritius, USA, Asia and Europe with clients including Malini, Arthouse, IambyNature, Wilkinson, IndyaVogue, Dunelm, Tesco, Morrisons, Bianca Turner, Atmosphere Ltd, Mori Tessuti, Ellison First Asia, S-Blinds, and many more. (You may remember Laura from past features here, here and here.)
To our delight, Laura agreed to join us this month as our guest expert in the Textile Design Lab, and later this month she will be offering an exclusive tutorial to Lab members on designing for kitchen textiles. Stay tuned as we will also be sharing an excerpt of this training on Pattern Observer!
Today, we invite you to learn more about Laura and soak up her amazing words of wisdom in one of our most inspiring interviews ever!
Please tell us a bit about your design background/career path. How did you become interested in textile design?
The first time I realised I was interested in surface pattern was actually when I saw 15. By chance I had chosen to do a project on African masks in my GSCE art and I can remember starting to apply the patterns to the masks. I can remember just becoming totally lost in it, not really caring how the masks looked in the end but just focusing on the decoration! After doing Art & Design at college that pretty much went the same way, and by the end I was pretty definite that I wanted to study textile design at University. After graduating there weren’t many design jobs around where I live and without any experience I couldn’t really get anywhere which was frustrating. I had started to become more interested in interiors than fashion so took a job in an interior design showroom to see where that led.
After a while I began to visit customer’s homes and produce interior design schemes, and learnt so much about the industry in those years, I also taught interior textiles at a college alongside my design work. Working for someone else really allowed me some time to gain confidence, I was definitely not ready to start my own business straight from university, I needed some life experience first. Eventually after working with fabrics and wallpapers so much, the urge to design them myself became too much! And combined with the fact that I felt a nine to five just wasn’t for me, I took the leap of faith to start out on my own.
What have been some of the challenges and triumphs in the past five years since launching your own surface pattern design studio? Do you have any advice for designers who are thinking about starting their own business?
The challenges have been those quiet times when self doubt has crept in, I would really advise designers to have more faith that work will come in, be more proactive about finding it, and try and enjoy the down time to produce new art. Triumphs have been my first ever direct commission from a client (after I used an agent in the beginning) as it was a massive stationery project and really was my big break. I also think my biggest achievements have been securing projects in different areas including a large fashion project, stationery as mentioned and beauty product packaging, especially when my work mainly focuses on interiors!
My advice for anyone starting out is that I would recommend going on a business course. I think designing is less than half of what is involved in keeping a business running and you are not expected to have learnt all these skills at university. I’d also suggest working with an agent until you get your work to a commercial standard, as they are usually very honest about your designs as they need to make a living too. Don’t take criticism personally, there is always a positive you can take from any situation to help you grow as a designer. Also don’t be afraid to work part time whilst you are building up your business, it is actually a great mix to be employed and self employed as you get the best of both worlds and get to see other people! Not to mention it takes the pressure off financially.
Could you talk a bit about the different avenues you currently pursue in your business? What does a typical day look like for you?
I focus on working to commission with clients, to their own design briefs, although I also have a pattern library so sell prints outright. I do a small amount of licensing too and I have my product label which includes fabric, cushions etc. A typical day may involve some marketing, social media and then producing new prints for the library, or if I’m working on a project that can take up most of the day. Sometimes I have client meetings so that involves travelling and presenting trends and designs. I love physical lists so tend to make a list the night before or first thing and enjoy ploughing through it, even if it does get longer and longer!
Where do you gather inspiration for your work? Are there any books, blogs, magazines, etc. that you recommend?
Pinterest is a massive source of inspiration to me, there are particular pinners that really inspire me as they put a lot of time in to finding original content. I also love PrintPattern blog, and tend to read interior magazines as my work is more interior based.
What role do trends play in your work? Do you subscribe to any trend or color forecasting services and if so, how does this affect the way you design? What are your current favorite print and pattern trends?
As I often work for retailers they are always working to brief so it’s something that I’m used to. I do have a small team of designers that work for me now so I’m often interpreting briefs then coming up with what I think will work for the market and translating it to them to create the artwork, although I still do a lot of design work myself too as I just can’t help myself! I often buy the ‘Mix’ trend publication which is really well produced and is more geared towards interiors and products.
This year I think the Copper and Blush colour trend has been really huge in the UK at least, and I have also loved the micro trend for Terrariums as I love succulents and Cacti which has also been a part of this. On a much deeper level I think that trends are focusing more on products that mean something and are more interactive. The rise of social media and the effects of modern technology have meant that people are too overloaded with information and there has been a rise in people suffering with conditions such as anxiety. I like the way that the design world is trying to respond in a healing way, one example is the amount of colouring in books that there are on the market at the moment, promoting mindfulness and escaping the daily grind for while.
Who are your design heroes (past or present)? What about them inspires you or influences your work?
I have always found sisters Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell of Collier Campbell really inspiring. In the sixties and seventies they developed exclusive collections with the Liberty as well as Yves Saint Laurent and Jaegar. Their designs are still so iconic today and although Susan sadly died a few years ago, the brand is still very much alive and continues to inspire me. I also love Tricia Guild as colour is so important to me, Mary White who produced some of the most Iconic designs of the fiftties, and Charley Harper as I can see how much his style is still influencing design today.
What advice have you received in your career that has stayed with you or influenced you? Do you have any words of advice for aspiring designers trying to build successful careers of their own?
I actually really love Marie Forleo for business advice. I heard from a great piece from her last week which said that for a business idea to get off the ground you need start acting on it, as too much thinking about it is not productive. Once you start doing something and gaining feedback, it will teach you where you need to be going and you can learn as you go. I am so guilty of procrastination and I think getting out of your own head is what is needed sometimes. I have also been told not to be so hard on and have more empathy towards myself which is a great one, often the only person creating the pressure is yourself!
I would advise aspiring designers to go out and get help with the areas they are not so confident in, don’t feel you have to work everything out on your own. For example I was worrying for ages that my contracts for clients weren’t up to scratch, and they weren’t, so I eventually went and found help from a contract specialist, who turned out to be brilliant and even advised me on other areas of my business and introduced me to a potential client! It has been a great investment, but even if you are just starting out and can’t afford to shell out on these things, just talking and having free initial consultations with people will help to no end. I would say don’t rule out getting advice from people who are not creative, especially on financial matters and the running of your business as us creatives can’t be good at it all.
I’d also advise when you start out to give yourself some time to try different things but at some point in the future you will need to specialise in certain areas and create a niche to become a success in that field. People will still be able to see how your work could translate in to other areas so don’t worry too much about that. Just remember you can do anything but not everything!
Looking ahead to 2016, what are your goals for your business?
I do have a dream client wish list so would love to tick a few off! I want to reach for goals that feel unachievable as they are the ones that are the most satisfying if reached, kind of a ‘Shoot for the moon and land among the stars’ theory I guess, I think I need to think bigger and braver next year. I am toying with the idea of personal tuition at the moment or lecturing as I’d like to give back more to aspiring designers and I’d also like to build up the pattern library side of the business. However mostly I’d like to continue to work on more bespoke projects directly with clients which is really where my heart is at and I find so rewarding.