28 Nov 2010

The wonderful Melanie from street savvy

A couple of months ago I was contacted out of the blue by Melanie from http://www.thestreetsavvy.com/

She loved my stuff and wanted to interview me for a feature on her fantastic and really up-to-date web-blog!

I was so flattered and rather shocked that I jumped at the chance. After a short telephone conversation I realised that we went to the same university, but a few years apart,  and shortly after graduating she moved to New York (illegally) . I have always wanted to move to new york and every year me and my Hubby apply to the green card lottery in the hope out name will be picked to get a 4yr green card which would enable us to live and work in America. Well, Melanie just bit the bullet and off she went. I admire her so much for her courage and freedom. She moved back to the uk recently to bring up her  kids in the uk and be near her family. She sounds like she's had an amazingly interesting life and I'm totally jealous. I must remember that life is for living and Melanie is one or those rare characters that reminds you of how amazing courage can be.

I was surprised when she thought I had an interesting life, but hey.... any opportunity to talk about myself (moan) Im there!


The design industry is a hard one to crack, but once you do get your line noticed the results can be simply overwhelming ...enter Emilythepemily. A hardworking multi-faceted designer as well as the mastermind behind of our fave t-shirts right now combined her training with her passion and has created a line of clothing and bags which are destined to become statements for the streetsavvy amongst us.
Talking to us about how hard setting up on your own can be, but how exhilarating and almost liberating the effects are in the long-term we sat down the the Brighton based owner of Emilythepemily and found out just what it has taken to get to this point and what it will take to get further.
How did you get into design?
When I was a child I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I replied 'A mummy or an artist' My mum and dad are amazing photographers , but were only able to get into it an a later stage in their lives, as their parents wanted them to study an academic subject when they where growing up rather than a 'silly' creative one.
They actively encouraged me to pursue my passion. I moved to London in 2004 to study and never really looked back. I initially studied fine art, and then illustration and lastly I studied surface design. Each subject I’ve studied has added something to my work and you can see influence from both the art and design world in my work. I’m yet to decide if I’m an artist or a designer.

Was what you are doing now the plan for you?
I’ve never really had a plan; I’ve just stumbled across things as I’ve gone along and learned a little bit from everything I’ve done. I never wanted to be a freelance illustrator or full time fine artist because of the irregular pay, but I saw myself applying my skills in a fashion lead design industry. So when an opportunity to work as an intern at in Alexander McQueen’s menswear design studio came up I jumped at the chance. I thought it was the beginning of a promising career, however, it ended up being a life changing experience for all the wrong reasons. I nearly gave up everything to be there, but since made every effort to avoid becoming whom I thought I wanted to be.
I learned things in those dark weeks that I never knew about myself. And instead dwelling on the negative aspects of the experience I have learned things about myself that have been so valuable, and have made me realise that I would only have been happy working for me.
I felt completely lost before the experience but came back to my grad cert with a clearer view. I felt free doing my own thing, and know one looking over my shoulder. For my end of year show I decided to produce a range of t-shirts. I took a few drawings from my sketchbook and printed them up on my table at home. I sold three t-shirts at the private view and the rest is history. It was most certainly not the plan I had in mind. It’s the best plan I’ve never had.

You set up your own company after your designs quite literally took off, was it easy setting up on your own?
I still feel like I am setting up to be honest. There’s so much to achieve before I can call it a proper business.
I got married the summer after my grad cert. My grandfather gave us some wedding money and with it I bought some screens and a few t-shirts from H&M for about £300. I created some new designs and printed them at home on a wobbly charity shop table, with newspaper to protect the floor, and a hose attachment for the bath taps to rinse the screens.
I sold the t-shirts on a Christmas stall in brick lane I shared with 9 other friends. To my complete surprise people actually liked my stuff and I made my money back within days.
In early 2010 I created a blog, two online shops, and did the occasional stall at the Sunday up market in Brick Lane, all of which I fitted around my full time job. I learned quickly that market stalls are not fun and are extremely hard work, both mentally and physically. I wasn't making much profit and the tourists buying my stuff didn’t care about the brand or the hand printed bit, they cared that it was cheap and from a trendy part of London. I felt like giving up but in the summer I was contacted via email by a charming fellow called Odysseas Constantine who owned a trade fair called 'Margin' http://www.margin.tv/ which specialised in independent designers showcasing their work for the first time to traders. My stuff was so inferior in comparison to the brands that where exhibiting, who I had heard of and admired. I was still printing in my bedroom and I wondered why he had contacted me at all.
I felt completely flattered when he assured me my stuff was just as appealing, I just had to take it seriously. I registered a business name, became a sole trader and exhibited at Margin. I learned very quickly how to make my brand look more professional. Little things like neck labels and proper branding.
Emilythepemily is 1year old in 2010. It’s taken a lot of physical and mental pain but I’m proud of my progress. I’ve gone from craft and market stalls to high street shops and boutique, from printing on H&M t-shirts to trade only brands, I’ve re-branded twice, created an actually website and designed my very own neck labels but there’s still so much to do! I was so unprepared for the amazing response it’s had I’m still trying to keep up!

As an independent retailer how easy or hard it is to get people to notice your lines?
At Margin I was alongside established t-shirts designers whose t-shirts were printed in giant studios, and manufactured with amazing neck labels, they had pamphlets, flyers, press releases, look books and were ready for a big 1000 t-shirt order if they got one. I, on the other hand, came along with t-shirts that were printed in my bedroom, in one colour and one t-shirt shape. I had no website, no product shots, no labels, and I didn’t even have a proper ordering form. The amount of trade, like Urban Outfitters and Asos, that just walked pasted me without looking was disheartening and I felt invisible. The competition is fierce and intimidating for a tiny company like mine.
Online shops like Etsy already attract 1000’s of people, which makes promotion a little easier. I also have my own blog and I’m on Twitter which is not only an excellent way of reaching other artists, but also a great way to communicate new products with loads of people. I, myself, follow over 100 blogs and subscribe to a few magazines; I will follow a link or go into a shop if I see something amazing. There are days when the same person is talked about in several blogs or featured in several magazines and they become an over night success. I have every faith that one day it will happen to me, but until the big day happens, I’ll carry on posting, tweeting, online selling, contacting boutiques and high street shops, designing new stuff and preparing for the millions of orders that will one day come my way.

What measures have you had to take to make this work for you?
Realising that my big selling point is the designing and printing my t-shirts from home has been a big help. Even smaller designers don’t do it themselves which I was quite surprised at. Every opportunity is spent explaining to people that everything from mixing the ink to creating the website has been done by me. You can see people eyes light up when they realise the effort put into each individual t- shirt. My line sheet at Margin was described as being like a ‘Zine’ and I consider that to be the word that encapsulates ‘emilythepemily’; original, unpublished images, distributed in small numbers, directly from the artist. Of course I want to expand, and transform the ‘small numbers’ bit into ‘massive numbers’, but I wish the ethos to remain the same. I never want to be the ‘designer’, that’s so big they don’t even know what is being designed.

Being that you print everything yourself, design everything yourself, it has to be extremely time consuming, how do you balance your time?
I had to take the very scary step of giving up full time work and going part-time to ease the pressure of my schedule. It got to the point where I was getting up at 8am printing until 1.30, going to work for 9 hours, coming home at 11.30 and printing until 2/3am. I couldn’t cut off and always thought I should be doing something to do with the business with any spare moments I had. I’ve now got much more time on my hands and I’ve learned to cut off from it all and relax. I made a decision not to do any business related stuff at weekends and never work past 7pm, If a big order comes in the routine is tweaked a little but it doesn’t consume me like It used to. I still wish there where more hours in the day, I need to arrange my days so that one day I print, one day I design, one day I do press etc, and part-time gets in the way because 2 days a week I’m in London.
On the other hand, being quite busy allows me to focus and prioritise. I do some of my best work under pressure and I reckon if I had 6 months off I’d end up printing and designing for fun anyway.

Your line currently features t-shirts, bags etc, do you plan on bringing other products to our attention?
I really want to get to the stage where I manufacture my own t-shirt shape in the colours I want. The range out there is so small, but to manufacture your own has a 2000 unit minimum per size. I’m just not that big at all. I’ll know m successful if I can afford to do it.
Short term, I hope to have some seasonal stuff in like cards and presents. I find that people don’t like to buy clothing online in case it doesn’t fit but branching out to other things I can print like hand printed cards, jewellery, cushions, phone covers, children’s clothes, hand printed bed linen means I open up my market and appeal to more people!
I’d also like to do limited edition t-shirts, exclusive, and collaborative ranges. I just need to stop thinking about it and make time and do it!

What inspires you when it comes to designs?
I’m a massive fan of line drawings. While I was studying fine art I’d look around the National portrait gallery’s renaissance section and secretly think ‘I’d love to see a good line drawing right now’ I always thought it was a bit of a cop out, but I genuinely find simple, well drawn images beautiful. I admire so many artists like David Hockney, Peter Blake, Andy Warhol, Egon Scheile; Jamie Reid the list goes on and on.
I’m massively inspired by Britishness. I love the Royal family, the politics, the satire, the sarcasm, the queuing, the complaining, the sayings, the cities, the countryside, the weather, the food, the cafes, the tea, everything. I think that might come out a bit in my work.

The Virgin Mary and the Maggie Thatcher t-shirts are personal faves of mine, what lines have proved the most successful?
By far the most successful is my ‘Amor’ t-shirt. Everybody loves it. When I first designed it I showed my husband and he hated it, which is why he’s a journalist, not an artist. My surface design tutor said ‘your most popular design will always be the one you like the least’ and she’s right. Last month alone I sold about 200 Amor t-shirts. Imagine printing each one! I have no idea whether my designs are good anymore. I’m so used to seeing them over and over again, I’ve become de-sensitised.
An artist will always lose interest in their work; it’s the nature of the job because they are constantly designing, thinking, and inspired by new things. My husband is covered in tattoos, but I can’t seem to pin down a design I’ll love forever!

And the future for the company and yourself is?
Short term, rather modestly, I would love to have nicer neck labels and a printing studio away from my house. I’m going to invest some new, smaller screens that only have 1 design on them, rather than 4. I also desperately want to give up work completely to free up more precious time!
I’ve set a few goals for 2011, but I like to let a lot of things happen on their own.
Long term, I want to start producing regular lines, and aiming my stuff at larger shops. I’d love to manufacture my own t-shirt shapes to print on. I will, maybe, get some hired help and eventually get my own shop, selling my own things along with handmade items from other artists.
Eventually I’d like to see high street shops filled to the brim with hand made things, eventually, leading to hi end designers actually designing, making and printing for themselves and not leaving it up to their unpaid interns to make them a quick bob or two

Thanks Melanie!
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