What can designers do to ensure their designs and innovations are a commercial success?
For our ninth consecutive year as a London Design Festival partner, UK Head of Brands & Designs, John Coldham, was joined by a panel of leading designers for a webinar discussion on how they've successfully established their businesses and protected their designs:
- Martin Darbyshire, CEO and co-founder of tangerine and trustee of the Design Council, joined our panel once again, this time with Eleanor Humphrey, CEO and co-founder of TOPL, to talk about the story behind bringing TOPL's innovative non-spill cup to market and the measures taken to protect the designs.
- Simone Brewster, an artist and furniture and jewellery designer with an architecture background, has been exhibited at the British Embassy during the London 2012 Olympic Games, but has also had issues with people taking her designs without permission;
- Phoebe Gormley, founder of Gormley & Gamble, the first ever womens' tailor on Savile Row talked about her experience of establishing her modern, design-led business in a traditional and often old-fashioned sector;
These leaders of design-led businesses joined Gowling WLG's UK Head of Brands and Designs for a discussion on how they've successfully established their businesses and protected their designs.
John Coldham: Welcome to those of you who have joined us already. We are just waiting for a few more participants to join as they are still joining thick and fast and we will start in a couple of minutes.
People are still joining but I'm keen to keep to time and get started if that is alright with all of you.
Welcome to those who have just joined and those of you who joined a bit earlier. It is a lovely day out there today so thank you for tuning in despite the weather being so lovely outside.
Now, I know I said this last year, but it is our sincere hope that the world is sufficiently back to normal so that next year we can have this event back in person as we used to do and we can welcome you to London in person and finally give you the long promised drink that I said that you could have, overlooking the Thames a year or two back but the Coronavirus is still getting in the way.
My name is John Coldham and I am the head of brands and designs at the law firm Gowling WLG.
We have a particular specialism for design law, helping designers through the legal stages of setting up their businesses, getting their work to market and protecting it and dealing with the things that come along as things go along such as being copied, wanting to licence the product or indeed to sell the business that you have created.
This is now our ninth annual event as part of London Design Festival. Those of you who are new to the event I will just explain that we first started doing this event when the organisers invited us to provide a more commercial perspective on the world of design. Lots of people this week at London Design Festival are showing off their shiny and beautiful new designs so why would you want a law firm there? Well it would certainly lower the coolness rating! But those who work in design, be it art, products, fashion, architecture or one of the other hundreds of specialisms in the sector need to ensure they have a solid base to ensure that their creativity is rewarded. It is not a dirty word to ensure that you are able to make some money from your work. If you do not, somebody else will.
Each year we invite people from the world of design to talk about their experiences on the business side of design.
Last year we talked about the experience of being copied and how to turn what could be on the face of it a dreadful experience to your advantage provided you have laid out the groundwork to make sure that you can.
This year we are focussing on the question of how to make a design a commercial success.
I am so delighted with our panel this year. I will introduce our speakers properly as we go along but just to wet your appetite we have Phoebe Gormley, who is the founder of Gormley and Gamble, the first ever women's tailor on Savile Row; Simone Brewster, an artist and furniture and jewellery designer with an architecture background; Elle Humphrey, the CEO and founder of TOPL, which is a new innovation in the reusable cup market and last, but not least, Martin Darbyshire, co-founder of leading design agency Tangerine, trustee of the Design Council, and long standing speaker at this event having put up with me each one of the last nine years.
Now this event is studiously not about law. It is about introducing you to these fantastic people and letting you hear their stories. Each speaker will give a brief talk and we have allowed time for questions at the end. We really feel that the questions we get at this event are what makes it special so please do send them in to me using the Q&A box which should be on your screen. We might answer them as we go along if it works but more likely we will save them for the end. If we do not get to your question, although we have allowed quite a lot of time for questions, if we don't get to your question then please don't worry we will follow up with you afterwards if you leave us your name.
Now if you are wanting to know more about the legal side of design law or any other aspect of the business of design then please do get in touch with me or visit out dedicated website where there are lots of materials such as recordings and podcasts from previous London Design Festival events and other materials. That website is gowlingwlg.com/designsforlife.
It is to Elle and Martin that we turn to first, as I mentioned Elle founded TOPL having launched it late last year. It is hard enough taking a new product to market but when you factor in the pandemic, issues with global supply chains and all the rest of it, it is a miracle that she has found the time to join us today. Martin has worked with Elle on aspects of her design and I will let them explain more about what they have done. Suffice to say that I am delighted to say that they have agreed to join us today. Over to you.
Eleanor Humphrey: So hi guys. I am Elle and I am one of the founders of TOPL. So we are a start-up and we make smart sustainable drinkware and TOPLcup, as you can see behind me, is our first product and it is a spill safe reusable coffee cup.
So I guess the initial catalyst to start the business was a split coffee and another ruined laptop, which I am sure everyone can relate to.
We began wondering if it was possible to capture the energy of a spill. Our initial research was sort of inspired by the explosive effects of hot liquid and whether it was possible to capture the energy of a spill. We studied seat belts and airbags and the way in which they activate on impact to protect passengers and this is what eventually led us to create our bi-stable valve which is the key to our patented spill safe technology.
We explored the sensor experience of coffee drinking and we also began to realise that taste was being stifled by traditional disposal cup lids because these lids do not allow you to sip or smell your coffee. Basically when you are drinking from one of those traditional slot hole lids your mouth is covering it which means that you cannot smell what you are drinking and most of taste is actually sense through our nose.
We looked at the evolution of lid design and the very first lid is actually patented in the 60s in the States when on the go drinking culture really began to kick off and we realised that nothing much had changed since then. So it seemed like café culture had just been evolving rapidly with the times but the takeaway cup seemed to have just been left behind.
At this point we knew that there was a real problem to be solved here so we carried on looking at the reusable cup market in a bit more depth and a statistic that really validated our thinking was the fact that only one percent of coffees are sold on a daily basis in reusable cups. That was just something that we could not get over especially with the knowledge the people have today about the destructive environmental impact that disposable cups pose for the environment.
We also did a lot of market research and we felt that when we were asking around no-one had any particular loyalty or association to any of the market leading brands. So I think unpacking that a little bit more we just realised that nothing in the disposal space would, nothing in the reusable space rather, was offering more in terms of design than a disposal cup and we thought that that must have something to do with the really slow adoption rate of reusables into our daily lives.
We carried on asking people questions and another pain point which kept coming up for people was that even when people were using reusable cups and there was only a tiny amount of residue left in the bottom of the cup, and it had one of those clip on lids and you just chuck it in your bag, the residue would end up leaking out all over people's bags.
I think it was at this point that we started to rethink the design and realise that potentially there was something else we could add and it was at that point that we filed for our second patent which is the novel locking mechanism and I think for us at that point the importance of being a design led business became really paramount as it was those two patents that were really going to enable us to stand out from the competition.
Since then our mission has been to create a better, safer alternative to the traditional disposal cup and we thought if we could pull this off and people no longer needed to compromise when drinking on the go then maybe a world without single use cups could exist.
So I am just going to show you a quick video now to show you how the product works.
Basically you will see in a minute that the lid is opened by just a simple quarter turn anti-clockwise until a point of resistance. So we wanted the user to know really intuitively that the cup is open. So they just get that initial feedback and at that point you push down on a central disc and you can sip from any angle. When the cup is in this state, you could knock it over or it can just be bumped from any angle and the magnetic disc in the middle will just jump shut and that seals the vessel completely, just meaning that no liquid can escape and hopefully it protects the user and their tech from spills. Once you are done drinking you can just give it a simple quarter turn and then just chuck it in your bag.
As you can probably imagine the technical challenges on this project were vast. Our team put in thousands of hours to refine and perfect a working lid system and this was especially challenging with a tight budget and a really small team.
Designing the spill safe feature which was capable of performing with boiling liquids with a mechanism compact enough to fit inside a really slim lid, was definitely the hardest thing to overcome because we were working with such fine tolerances. So something that you do not see from the outside is that hidden in here is a really complex system of multiple internal seals. It took a lot of hard work to create something that could cope with the pressure that hot liquids create when they are agitated, especially when the cup is knocked over which is obviously one of the central components of our patented bi-stable valve.
Obviously the core concept of TOPL is simplicity and ease of use so it is that simple twist to drink and twist to lock so we knew we had to find a way to make it work really smoothly and intuitively for the user.
We worked with a team of industrial engineers in the UK, we tested materials and then we also built prototypes and at that point we instructed a factory in China. So it was a couple of years down the road and we encountered some really complex challenges with our design. It was at that point that we contacted Tangerine. We ended up working together for about a year before we eventually had a commercially viable product which Tangerine have helped support us in bringing to market.
We knew that to create a long term viable business we would need that ongoing design support and the ability to diversify our product range and bring to life all of those new ideas that we had.
So I will hand over to Martin now and he will explain a bit more about that.
Martin Darbyshire : So thank you very much Elle.
Maybe John you can take that slide off now I think people have seen the cup in its detail.
So just to give you a quick introduction to Tangerine and thank you John for the glowing introduction about being connected with the talk over a series of years.
Tangerine is a design consultancy, so we are normally working with clients who are paying us fees along the way to do design work for them and obviously they are then taking commercial advantage of the work that we have completed.
In part, my background and one of the reasons I am involved in the LDF talks is I have worked together with Gowling WLG as an expert witness on a key case of theirs but also I have become more immersed in understanding the requirements of both patenting and providing design registration and protecting designs, partly through this work and also through working in many different fields.
In terms of the link to TOPL, we are very frequently approached by clients who like TOPL, are start-ups. They are beginning on a journey, they have got a really strong idea and they are passionate about taking that concept to market but there are many, many challenges along the way.
We began in 2016 working together with a company called Kenido launching the first ever smart baby monitor. A complete monitoring system for babies and since then we have become sweat equity owners in the business so part of the business and they have not been paying us fees to do the work but we have been doing the work for free and we own part of that business.
Part of our strategy as a consultancy is to move away from selling hours because like other businesses we want to earn money whilst we sleep rather than just earning money between 9 and 6 or 9 and 7 or 9 and 10 in the daytime.
We were struck as soon as we met Elle and we saw the TOPL concept, we fully appreciated that this was a fantastic opportunity to support a young business that really wanted to develop and had the potential to be successful. In terms of how do we chose who to work with because as I have mentioned we are approached quite frequently by people with ideas but I think there are some really key things that are very important.
I think number one is that the company has to have a great idea. It has got to stand out, it has got to be unique and it has got to be own-able. We have to have a good sense that it has strong commercial viability because we are spending our time and looking to build a close relationship with that team, become part of their team but also be responsible for sharing in the success, if and when the company becomes successful but also making sure that we try to mitigate risk and limit the risk that might exist and try to prevent any failures.
The other key thing is that we have got to have a sense that there is a robust team within that group and certainly within TOPL there was a strong understanding of design, clearly an understanding of the technical problems that existed but not necessarily clarity on the best way to overcome or to solve those things and very very importantly, and one of the reasons I like taking part in this talk is that they had already patented the system, it was a clear and strong idea that was being well protected and they thought not just about patents but they had thought about trademarks and projecting the TOPL name and their own name.
They had completed some design registration work around the different variants of the different TOPLcups that would exist and they had also developed a business model which involved co-branding so that leads to complexities in the sense that they are not just presenting their own brand but they are presenting the brand of a client they are then selling the product to.
So it feels like a robust and complete business that is on the beginning of what could be a very big and strong journey.
John if you could just got back to the slide, the last slide again, not the last slide but the one before last, showing the different variants please.
So we have had a broad involvement with TOPL, spanning from, I think as Elle spoke about detailed engineering and design for manufacture. We looked to help some of the problems of the core engineering that would make the lid, which is the key component of the design and the very own-able component of the design enabling that to function reliably.
The risk in the business potentially from product failures in the future and we obviously want to continue working on that because there needs to be a constant evolution in innovation and development of that side of it.
We have also been supporting them on new product development opportunities. We cannot show those things here but we are developing a variant which is like a cocktail shaker where you can have iced drinks inside the flask and then you can shake that so that you can make something nice and cold, be it coffee, be it a cocktail, and then still be able to open the lid and drink reliably from any direction.
We are supporting them with the development of packaging design and graphic design for the ways in which the cups are being developed, as you can see here, to suit a range of different B2B customers, so there are specific requirements from particular clients to meet the needs of their business and those clients are often providing these cups to their employees to use within their business to help them limit the use of paper and plastic cups and others within the company and also at the same time help promote and develop new brands.
So I think what we have is a complete view of design working in sympathy with the needs of this business, solving problems as we go and helping the business scale in an appropriate way. If anyone has particular questions around the aspects of IP we can certainly discuss those later. John is the expert, I'm sure he can chip in and provide some very helpful advice to you if you have some questions around things that you are doing and you are in an early stage of development.
Thank you very much, back to you John.
John: Thank you very much indeed Martin and Elle and we will certainly have some questions at the end.
For the moment we will move on, we next turn to Simone Brewster. Simone really is so talented. Having worked in art, architecture and product design. Simone does have experience of another company trying to run off with her design. I will not name the company here but Simone discovered that her product had been shown on a major retailers' website when she was actually just shopping on the site and it was being sold by them without her permission. Simone tried to resolve things behind the scenes and when that did not work she took to social media which was incredibly successful and quickly sorted it out. So much so that Simone is not allowed to talk about this. I can because I have taken everything I have told you from things I have found out on the internet rather than from Simone. She cannot talk about that issue specifically but what that has done is teach her a lot of the things that maybe she did right and did wrong about the way she looked after her designs, protected herself and so on.
So Simone will talk about the lessons that she learnt rather than the experience directly with the company involved and that insight into the commercial side of design is no doubt going to be fascinating. So Simone, over to you, would you like me to put your slides up straight way?
Simone Brewster: No I will come to them in just a second but thanks for the great introduction and hi to everyone who is with us right now.
I was actually really interested in talking about this when I heard the topic that we were talking about is how do you make design a commercial success and that to me is such a multifaceted thing that does feed in greatly to what I had experienced and how as an independent designer how we can kind of use our specific position to make our designs commercial successes against bigger, more well-funded people on the market let us say. I would start with the really basic thing that we sought that everyone here today has actually done an initial groundwork and created the design. So actually one of the hardest things when you are trying to make a design a commercial success is to do what is your passion, to follow that passion to try to take it to market, to try to meet people who can produce your ideas if you are not making them yourselves, overcoming your procrastination, overcoming your fear and in many ways when you do do that, if things don't go to plan it can be really crushing but one of the things that I learnt on my journey was the importance of using my voice. I am going to just say it again, it is really important, as an individual, starting a company, you are not going to be a big name, people might not know you, it is going to be so important to use your voice and to try to connect with the people out there.
So what does that even mean?
Other than obviously speaking, what does it actually mean? Even in that kind of concept there are many levels.
Firstly I would say you have to know who you are and what your values are and what you stand for.
So one of the things that I felt has worked in my favour throughout my career has been that my pieces have not just got a narrative they are very visual, actually maybe now is a good time to bring up my work and I can kind of talk through why using your voice should actually also live in the work that you do. If it is a problem that you are solving or even if it is not, we have to bring our voice into our work.
I would call myself a jobbing designer. For the last ten years or more even I have been working with private clients and making my own pieces. So you can see the piece on the left is the negress, sorry the mammy table, its solid wood and I made that piece in 2010 and it was really the start of me putting some narrative into my work, defining my visual style, my visual language and the image on the right is ten years later, last year, November 2020 I was invited to be in Vogue with my jewellery and this is the image that they used. I was so proud, it was an amazing experience but it took me ten years to get there and a wide body of work.
Let us see the next image please.
During lockdown last year I started painting and I incorporated that into my practice as well. So one of the other things I would say is how do you make your design a commercial success is to keep creating and making connections along the way.
Can we go to the next slide please?
So you can see this is a commission that I was asked to do after I had made that initial image on the front, the mammy table. What happened was I had put my voice, my narrative, my concepts into my work, people saw it and they approached me to come up with a collection for them based on, you know, they had a brief and I responded to the brief but they wanted something in the theme that I had already started to explore and the visual language and narrative that I had already created in my initial pieces. From there I started, I designed this bespoke collection for my client.
Next slide please.
And this, the female form is a very strong narrative. It is a very strong part of my values in my work, it is throughout everything that I do. This was a stool based on lips, very bold, out there piece, and again approached by a client who knows my values and what I stand for and very much interested in those themes so they knew that when they approached me they could give me a brief and I could make something that would still be within my interest and remit and something that would also fit what they wanted which was a bold statement piece of furniture.
This goes back to earlier in my career.
Again though it, this is called Tropical Noir, this collection of vessels. They are quite big, people do not normally realise that they are kind of 50cm and quite big turned pieces of solid wood. A material that I return to.
So again within my body of work I like to use a sense of materials and a group of materials that start to be associated with who I am and what I do and combine them in a certain way that again is associated with who I am and what I do. This was one of those collections and again after doing this I have been approached by people who are interested in basically having a sense of this. Normally being approached with a brief and then working with this aesthetic and these interesting narrative that I have already started to explore independently and create pieces for my clients that way.
Next image if there is one?
Ok so this kind of harks back to that painting that I had shown you earlier on. When I couldn't make it to my studio and make stuff in the lockdown I started painting and because I had already built up this body of work around the feminine form and I had started to share my pieces online, my paintings on line, I was then approached by a vegan fashion brand Jake to create an artwork that they would then use in one of their vegan fur coats. So you can see the artwork in the background that I created and then I had to learn how to make a repeat pattern from my artwork and it was then imposed onto the jacket and that is now going to be released I think next month so I am super excited I cannot wait to wear my own jacket.
I think that is the last of the slides?
But taking it back to the initial question, how do we make a design a commercial success and using your voice as part of that is what I am really interested in.
What I have tried to say in my presentation is that I was putting a narrative into my work, I was very much bringing part of myself into the work so I really feel like within the design world there are different ways that we become designers. We might be more of an industrial designer which Eleanor has shown us with her lid, she is solving a problem and sometimes within design the problem is we want something beautiful, we want something that stands for ourselves, that is much more where I come in. I am a designer who fills the gap that I felt was there where there was not really something in materials that I was looking for, something that spoke of my ethnicity, these kind of things.
Because I had spent so much time making these pieces and because I had a career that spanned ten years I had used that time to basically lay the foundation of what my values were so that when people saw my work they kind of already knew it is my work if that makes sense. That is one of the best things in using your voice and putting your voice in your work is that if you do come up against bigger people or other people, does not even have to be bigger who draw on your aesthetic, it almost becomes like promotion because people have already started to associate that aesthetic and those values with who you are.
That is one of the things that I learnt the importance of but beyond that using social media and I am such a convert I have to admit, I was not the person who was in love with social media, I am a very private person generally. I do not have an issue with public speaking, I taught for many years so I am happy to speak but social media felt to me like a little bit of an itchy thing but the good side of what I learnt was because I had invested in showing people what I do, showing my life in the studio, sharing my narrative, sharing my values that when it came the point to stand my ground, for example, or to get my message out there, there were feelers already out there. People were willing to hear what I had to say and not just hear what I had to say but to amplify what I had to say.
Now being a small, basically a sole trader, a sole maker, a practice that has really been built literally from my own hands, you normally feel quite overwhelmed when things do not seem to, when you are going against a larger opposition, but the issue of a larger opposition is that they cannot be a name or a face in a way that an individual sole trader can. Something again that I heard Elle say which I thought was really poignant was that when she did her research into existing lids there was no loyalty to brands. If you spent time building a network, showing people what you do in your studio, building a visual language, building a narrative into what you do, when it comes to the point of calling out for help or amplifying your voice people are much more emotionally engaged in the work that you do, often more than you give credit for.
So I found an overwhelming network was therefore me, which I think is one of the really powerful things within the creative field that there was a network and there was a base willing to hear and support me and maybe that is because actually it is much more common than we think which is probably a downside, but beyond that it meant that I felt much more powerful and much more able than I thought I would have, basically than I thought was possible.
What else do I want to say about how do you make your design a commercial success?
Beyond making the work, beyond putting narrative into the work and beyond using your voice at all points in time. Never underestimate the value and magnitude of what your voice can be, I would say that the ripples that I had one individual moving out to the wider field was actually magnificent and that meant making my work a commercial success was actually much closer to my fingertips than I had actually realised working from within my studio and being a very work focussed individual in that way. That is it.
John: That is brilliant, thank you so much that is such a good insight particularly for people just starting out and actually a lot of what you said is true for everybody. A lot of what you said about the voice of brands and being yourself and being true to what you believe in is true even for big companies actually. It is just so many big companies do not get it right and so, but obviously it is particularly poignant for those who do not necessarily have the resources to get their voice out there in any other way.
Last but not least we turn to Phoebe Gormley.
Phoebe has had a passion for women's wear and tailoring since being a child but not every child then decides at the age of 21 to leave university early and set up their own tailoring shop. Even if they did do that they do not tend to do it on Savile Row and even if they do do it on Savile Row they do not tend to historically and hopefully that is going to change now be a women's wear tailor on Savile Row. Phoebe was the first women's wear, I was going to say first I think you are still the only one aren't you, but we are going to say first because we are going to realise soon we are in the 21st century, the first women's wear tailor on that famous street. It has certainly had its ups and downs and Phoebe I am sure will tell you some of them, but her success has been undoubted, being featured in the Forbes 30 under 30 and many other publications. We are particularly lucky to have Phoebe with us today because she is actually on holiday at the moment and it is really kind of her to break off from holiday to join us and Phoebe I will hand over to you.
Phoebe Gormley: Thank you so much John, good morning everyone.
Thank you John and Lucy so much for organising this event today and it was so lovely to hear more stories from Simone and Elle about how they have got to where they are today. John, you stole my punchline, I liked the build-up and then I give that away. It is fine, I will get over it.
So I thought I would start with a little background on how I got around to starting my business and before I jump into that yes apologies there are no slides, I am not as organised as my wonderful counterparts. I was planning to do this from my studio but got persuaded to a last minute trip to the Highlands and John said the weather in London was lovely but I can confirm the weather in the Highlands is very Highlandish.
So I grew up in a little town in Suffolk which had three pubs, three churches and a fabric shop, and the least materialistic mother, which was a great starting point and if you were too young to be allowed into the pubs and you were not that interested in going to the churches and the nearest city with decent clothes shops was an hour away it did not leave many options other than to start making your own clothes and what I loved about making my own clothes was it is a form of creativity that to me was a utility as well, you know I could create something and then wear it or use it.
I am not a good artist, definitely not, so what I loved about making clothes was that you could sew something and then unstitch it and try again unlike a painting where once it is finished or you have got like the blob of red in the middle that you did not want to have then it is all panic. What I loved about making clothes was how you could decide you wanted it this way for a while and then be like actually I think a bit shorter six months later and change and change and change.
So I started making my own clothes when I was about 14 and using my mum's old 1970s sewing machine and I was promised that if I got all As in my GCSEs that I would be allowed my own sewing machine and on results day we drove to John Lewis and I brought the sewing machine that I had been dreaming of and it was a glorious day, I can still remember it.
Then I started cutting up some old suits or my dad's that were very 80s and that he could not bring himself to wear anymore. I started chopping them up and swanning around this town in Suffolk wearing them and someone said if you want to dress like that you should be in Savile Row not in Suffolk and I had never heard of this place and I thought to myself well I had never know that there was scope to be somebody who made clothes that was not in a production line or in a work room, back room.
I am a people person, I definitely wanted to be with people, customer facing and engaged in that way and when I found out about Savile Row, I mean obviously growing up in the countryside all of London feels glamorous and exciting but particularly a street like Savile Row which is so historic, prestigious, exciting and unique. I do not think there is another street in the world like it. I loved that.
So I started applying for internships in the school summer holidays, I started interning around there when I was 15. The first day I wore one of my dad's suits that I had cut out to make my own and someone actually spat on me and said you suits think you run the world and I was not that happy to be spat on but quite liked the idea of being someone who could run the world.
I carried on with my internships and each year I would come back and I would say next year I am going to intern with an amazing women's wear tailor, next year there will be a women's wear tailor, next year, next year.
It kept not happening and I kept thinking ok well any minute now, any minute now, and it rolled around to university application times and I should say I went to a really great boarding school that had a huge textiles department, not just art but textiles and a really really enthusiastic teacher who if you were interested, if you were engaged, she was delighted and I do think amazing teachers make such a big difference on people's careers and she definitely had an enormous impact on mine.
So sixth form rolled around and then university applications rolled around and my dad was an entrepreneur as well and he said obviously you are going to do economics or business, finance and going through my teenage rebellion phase and I say no dad actually I have decided I am going to do costume design. He said oh god please help me, why would you want to do that?
I wanted to do it because like I said I am not a true creative, I am not a fashion designer and what I loved about costume was it was not about let me make this collection and see if someone buys it. Costume is about who is this person, what are they trying to convey to the world and what are they trying to hide from the world and how do they feel about themselves in the morning and what does their day look like and what are their insecurities and who is this person and how can I make clothes for that.
I really loved the psychology of clothes and I do think when people boil clothes down to being frivolous they are missing a trick because to me I think it is the way that people communicate everything how they feel about themselves and how they want to be presented and taken by other people and the only way you can do it without words on mass to my clothes today, obviously I did not pack a suit with me on holiday so I am in my pyjama shirt and that is my holiday sense that I am sharing with you all today. It is so hard doing a zoom call when you cannot tell if people are laughing or enjoying it but I will have faith that people are smiling.
Where did I get to, university applications and costume design.
I was the first year where tuition fees jumped from £3,000 a year to £9,000 which was 2012 and for that I had gone from a great school with super engaged teachers and loads of facilities and everything you could need to a university that I got one hour contact time a week and we had one essay a year and the title was "an amazing costumie person?". I just said, it just blew my mind that we were not being academically challenged, that university to me was not about fast paced deadlines growing and growing it just was not enough.
I was keen to seize life and go at 100 miles an hour and university, which mainly is ironic because most people would think that was exactly what university is but to me it was not enough, one hour a week and I had too much time to myself to write a business plan.
So I wrote a business plan and it transpired that I thought I could start a woman's tailoring company and going back to the theme - how to make a design a commercial success - before I start wrapping it up is the great thing about starting a business like mine at the time was that as it is a bespoke business people come in and they pay me and they place the order and then two months later I pay my suppliers when they have finished creating the product for me, so it is a really great business to try to start from a commercial success point. Definitely does not have the quantities that a business like Elle needs and where maybe she is holding stock or she needs a certain volume. The great thing about mine and that I would encourage people to consider is that the question how to make a design a commercial success, well what is a commercial success? I think that completely depends on you and your narrative of what a commercial success is.
You know we see Elle building a huge business where she is going to need a lot of scale and I have no doubt she is going to achieve that, that cup is amazing, I am going to be investing in one for myself and Simone telling us about how she is a sole trader and a "jobbing designer" and they are both amazing commercial successes so it is about I think changing the narrative away from there is only one version of commercial success and giving scope for lots of different stories to be true and finding pride in all of them and I also think something I wanted to add was that your business cannot be a commercial success without you and your mental health sustainably lasting throughout the duration of your business, so I think it is really important that not only we worry about commercial success for our designs but how founders and people who run their own businesses can maintain the resilience needed to last them the duration of time that is needed. As Simone said ten years, the amount of time that is needed to create your business from a little flourishing plant to the commercial success however, you define that.
I think I have gone over my time but thank you so much John and Lucy for having me and it is a pleasure to be included.
John: You have not run over at all Phoebe, that was fascinating, thank you so much and you have left plenty of time for questions so thank you.
Maybe we will stay with you Phoebe for the first one which is you have obviously got a particularly unique business for having problems in a pandemic, in that yours is one of the last types of business which it really is quite hard to do online, it is a very personal business, it is very much as you were just saying, you do not need the quantity to make your products a success but you do need to sell some and have people there sort of in front of you I assume to make your products.
How have you used social media or online, or anything, have you used any of those things in order to try to keep your brand and design profile out there in this last period?
Phoebe: Great question John. I was actually just feeling really inspired listening to Simone's answer about social media because I am still not a social media person and I want to keep my life very private but I think she is right in what she says about having a voice and I think part of that is for me anyway, I want my brand to just be for everyone, so I do not really want to have such a strong voice but if you try to appeal too much to everyone then you lose your ability to really deeply appeal to a specific set of people and I think that is something that I need to be ok with and some learning that I am definitely going to take from Simone's talk but over the pandemic yes my business was not the business that you wanted to be running over a pandemic.
Obviously we couldn't get within 2m of people to take measurements and we rely a lot on work wear and occasion wear for our orders so it has been pandemonium but I released a range of cotton Covid masks which are still available on the website and was astounded by how well they sold out and the New York Times actually did a front page piece on the future of Savile Row during the pandemic and I was featured in that. It talked about what I was doing to fill the time and I mentioned these face masks and then for the following few months I was just packing up daily orders to all across the States of cotton face masks and further afield, Singapore and Australia and all sort of things and that was a great learning experience for me to move away from quite an unscaleable model of I need to interact with every single person face to face for hours towards more of this is my voice, these are my designs, this is my ethos and my business and people being invested enough in that to buy something without needing to meet me and have that personal interaction and personal exchange and that was a whole new different skill set that I am definitely going to be taking forward to make my business more stable in the long run.
So that was a great learning experience actually and not something that I would have done if the pandemic had not happened and it forced me into considering alternative ways to make more stable income.
John: And it just shows that as actually all of the speakers today have shown that adaptability is really important and actually putting your face behind the brand and making it something that people can relate to is also very important. Thank you Phoebe that is a really interesting answer to the question.
Ella and Martin I was going to come to you next actually. We have had one question about whether your cup is recyclable or whether or not there is anything, you know the extent to which you have considered those sorts of questions. I do not know Elle if you want to talk about that? Obviously your product is by its nature good for the environment because it saves paper cups but perhaps you can tell us how you went through the process of deciding how to make the cup from that perspective.
Eleanor: So obviously we put a lot of effort into trying to source the right materials. Which is something I talked briefly about earlier and I think one of the main things that we considered when we were building the cup is we wanted to build something which was designed for life so something very durable.
Obviously there are certain limitations with a plastic lid like this, something like that cannot last for ever but stainless steel potentially can. We decided to go for stainless steel for the body of the cups because of its longevity and high end of life recyclability without degradation so around 90%, I think, of end of life stainless steel is collected and recycled into new stainless steel, without too much loss of quality. It also has quite a low carbon footprint when compared to glass or ceramics and obviously as I mentioned it is incredibly durable so you could potentially use it every day and it would last for decades and then the lid is comprised predominately of free floating parts which was really important for us because I wanted them to be able to be disassembled at end of life, so the plastic parts in the lid can be recycled pretty much in the same way that you would recycle any other plastic through your household recycling system. We also used one polymer for the lid and as I mentioned none of the parts as far as possible, are adhered or bonded for ease of recyclability so also something that potentially we are working on at the moment is obviously there is a big issue around sorting black and obviously the lids are black. Not being recognised and picked when it is going through the recycling system so something that we do advise our customers to do is actually return the lids to us and we can disassemble them and recycle them ourselves.
You know another focus for the future unfortunately we are not quite there yet but we are working towards getting rid of all virgin plastic components in the lid and hopefully at some point in time we can use recycled ocean plastic to form the body of these.
John: Brilliant, that is brilliant, and more on the sort of business side of things while you guys have the floor. You obviously both, the way you work together is really interesting. I mean Elle for you it must be very hard as a start up to get help where you need help but without having obviously, you have got a patent which is obviously an expensive thing to do, and the right thing to do, but there are a lot of outlays when you are first starting out aren't there and obviously the way you are working with Martin is really, it is not innovative, lots of people do it but its less common to see people who invest in your business in return for, I think Martin very aptly quote it as sweat equity and I suppose the question on that Elle is, what advice have you got for designers who are tuned in today about how you decide how to involve different people on what basis to involve them, how did you decide to go down this route with Martin or perhaps down a different route with somebody else? If you could briefly just explain your thinking.
Eleanor: So I think it was so funny I actually lived just down the road from Tangerine so I think it was about less than a mile or something crazy like that. So I was doing my research, as I mentioned we needed someone to come in really quickly and help us solve some really complex design challenges so we had already got to a certain point with the factories in China and we needed someone to basically just step in and take the reins.
So basically as soon as I went down and I met Martin and the rest of the team and obviously as he very kindly said you know he liked the idea straight away so it was pretty easy and I would say it is really all about people. For us obviously we have worked with a lot of different people along the journey so even in the last three years many different people have, I guess come and gone but I think what was really important about Martin and the team and what we felt straight away is, we just felt supported so they really took the time to listen to everything that we were saying and I think it is just having open channels of communication.
They have been great as in they just picked up where the previous designed left off and just plugged in and helped us with any suggestions and knowing that they are there at the end of the phone or via WhatsApp at any point is really really reassuring so I think it is probably just about that fit and whether you can work with people.
Martin: I think it is very much about trust because with all of the start-ups that we have been working with from the very beginning we are not being paid for the work we are doing, we are trying to really find a clever way of helping them. Obviously, in the most efficient way that we can because we run a business we have to make a profit, we have to trade. Also we have to give them good advice around what they are doing along the way, what to invest in and it is very very important that they invest in IP at the same time as investing in design because you need to be making sure that you are protecting what you are doing as you go and getting good advice.
Also we know when to then pass them on to experts who will give the right advice around whatever protection of the IP that they are looking for at the same time as also advice around what manufacturer to choose or what issues to think about or where to invest in fixing something and improving something to protect the viability of the concept in the long term and what to do next as well, how to take something the next generation thing to market at the lowest cost in the fastest time to deliver on the subjectives.
It is very much about working together to get those things to function properly.
John: And thank you Martin for your comments on that as well because I think that actually helps the design agency people who might be in the audience as well or those who are designing for third parties about how they might be able to get involved with helping the Elle's of this world.
It is really good to hear both sides of that and of course I think in a lot of respects it is the same for both, it is the same considerations about trust and being able to work together and the rest of it.
We are coming close up for time but we have got more questions so for those of us who are able to stay online for a couple more minutes then please do feel free to do so, if you do need to go on the hour precisely then thank you very much for joining us and we will be emailing you if you have attended this live, we will be emailing you both a questionnaire but also a recording of this which, feel free to share with any friends or colleagues who could not join live.
I am going to carry on and Simone we have had a great question for you, that actually, the reason that it is a particular great question is it plays really nicely into last year's topic as well that we did about when you are copied.
Now I appreciate there are limits to what you can talk about but do you think that the question is whether you think that in a way larger organisations might take inspiration or copy your work whether or not in some ways inadvertently they are helping you because they are raising your profile and advertising your work. The topic last year was whether it is ever good news to be copied which was a deliberately provocative title but what is your perspective on that sort of topic generally?
Simone: I think that is a really tough question because on one hand you can see it as a means to propel your career and your name but that is only going to happen if you are confident enough to take the case either to court, like lawyer up, which is going to be a financial investment, a time investment and actually a lot of the time you can still lose even if you are well within your rights to take someone to court and it is very emotionally taxing. It is something that people do not talk about beyond it being financially going to cost you money it is actually emotionally very very scary going up against bigger corporations who seem to have bottomless pits of money.
So on one hand I would say no it is not the best, it's not the way that people should plan into their business to make a name for themselves and also you are almost assuming that people will automatically do that and what I think I have found is that from the outreach, I found that this has happened to many people and they haven't done anything so people are not going to know about your designs being you, being behind the design unless you speak up.
So I think it is, if you are willing to use your voice as I have said before to call on your network to basically stand up for yourself, you can get your name out there more and you can stand your ground and it can be beneficial because it will go towards people understand that as a creative you have values and that you are willing to stand by the work that you have invested in making and invested your time in creating over the lifespan of your career but as I say it is not the best way and there are definitely better ways, things that we as designers and creatives are not taught enough about actually.
Unfortunately, I did not speak about that when I was speaking but it is something that I really should have is that when we are going through the educational process the focus is very much about being creative and making it work and it is not about the business element of it which is how do I make my work whilst protecting myself if I am not so for example, the TOPL lid design is very much easily to protect by intellectual property. You can very easily say look at this we have designed this system and it has got this ring and, very easy, how do I protect a shape, you know and we have not got that built into our educational system so that when this does happen to us we do feel kind of stranded which is one of the reasons why I am really happy to do this talk because we do not actually talk about it enough as creatives and we do not necessarily know what to do until it is actually too late.
John: That is one of the reasons that Martin and I have been doing this talk for so many years, sometimes more about intellectual property and sometimes not and why we have got those materials together because we have discovered through the years that actually when people do come to us and "lawyer up" as you said, they sometimes do not necessarily have all the right records, the right rights that they could have had and it is a shame because there are things you can do and it does not have to cost a fortune, I am obliged to say.
It inevitably does cost money and the less prepared you are for that eventuality the more expensive it can be frankly because you do not have the documents all lined up and so on and that is why hopefully throughout this talk people are realising that you do not have to go into any fortune just to try talking to a lawyer or even getting advice from other designers about just making sure that you can prove you designed it, who designed it, whether if people helped you design it you have got some records that show that they gave the rights to you and all that kind of thing. There are some quite simple steps people can take to make sure that they are sorted earlier and the more sorted you are the more people will take you seriously when you have a go at them.
We have had a lot of success with, for example, writing to people about registered designs, it does not go to trial because they go, oh gosh did not realise you had that, ok fine we will stop.
It does not always happen, of course, but it does sometimes happen and the more you look like you have sorted out your rights, you have sorted out your records, you have sorted out what is yours and what is not yours the more people will take you seriously rather than trying to push you around and so a lot of what you have said there Simone is absolutely stop on and I am grateful for you being quite so on topic, its perfect.
I am conscious we have overrun and I do not want to take up too much of people's day so thank you to all of you again for speaking at our event, it is an honour to have such creative and inspiring people speaking at our event, it makes up for my lack of personal creativity but it is an inspiring group of people we have had here today, all of whom have given some really interesting insights into what they do. I am only sorry that we could not do this for another whole hours, there is all sorts of things I wanted all of you to talk about but we have just run out of time so thank you so much for joining us today and thank you to you in the audience for joining us as well and we hope you can all join us next year for what will be our tenth anniversary of our involvement with London Design Festival and hopefully we can do it in person so that we can celebrate that properly rather than having to dial in on our laptops.
Thank you all very much and see you again soon.
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