Yes, yes, and yes you can. I have, and I never trained to be one. It just kind of organically happened due to my frustration of not being able to find all the amazing stuff that I could envisage. I think we are so often held back by a fear of the unknown that it stops us doing things.
I come at product design from a completely different angle than most (probably because I’m not trained in it!). I’m not trying to solve a problem with new technical approaches or do anything weird, or increase profit margins or any of that stuff. I purely want to create the beautiful pieces that I would want for my home but I can’t find in the market. That’s the barometer for everything I do.
Now G and I have many “little domestics”. When it comes to designing products there are HUGE arguments that always start off something like this:
G: Are you really sure that extra large piece will sell? It’s going to have to retail at quite a high cost.
G: No need to get irritable, I’m only asking the question.
Me: Stupid question. You’re fired.
You get the gist. At the design stage I’m not interested in bottom lines, how much things cost, how it’s going to ship, how to package it, I just want beauty. I mean I do listen – if the operations team tell me something is going to retail at £800 for a vase (yep that has happened), or that international shipping won’t be possible because everything breaks en route then I have to do a a bit of a rethink obviously. But you mustn’t be limited like that when you’re at the drawing board, so I can’t start my design process that way.
If it was me I’d save up for an amazing cool vase (they are exquisite btw). But as a retailer I know it will tie up too much capital and be a slow burner, so I’ll make it smaller, consider different materials or sometimes heartbreakingly I’ll scrap it altogether. See I listen – sometimes.
So we start with an idea, a scribble and then it gets worked up into a sketch. We drill into finishes, embellishments dimensions and then it’s made into a sample. Factories charge three times the actual cost of the product to make a sample and we always get a handful made in case some are damaged in transit (they’re always flown in). Once they arrive and I get to see the finished thing for the first time it’s either instant love or scrapped. Most often its instant love.
The big problem in the early days, thank goodness not now, is the MOQ’s (minimum order quantity) that factories insist on. There is no negotiating on that front. You can’t try and get them down from 500 pieces on each vase to just 30 pieces – it’s not how they roll.
So once you’re ready to rock and roll you pay a 30% deposit to the factory, wait 4 months (I hate the waiting), pay the additional 70% to get it loaded onto a container ship to London, where it gets unloaded into our warehouse and then out to our store and other retailers around the globe. It’s actually one of the most challenging but rewarding things I’ve done to date. It’s propelled the biz on no end. Although our own-label takes so much more time and energy than I ever imagined, being in charge of the whole process of exactly what we put in our stores is pretty darn amazing I must say. If you ever think you can’t do something think again!