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Meet the Judges: Fi Douglas, bluebellgray

17 June 2016 by Roger Tredre

Photo credit: David Pike

The creative director of Glasgow-based bluebellgray is one of the judges of Texprint 2016. Here, Fi Douglas tells us about her working life.

In little more than seven years, Glasgow’s bluebellgray has emerged as one of Scotland’s most dynamic textile exporters, leading the floral trend, and working with design boutiques and stores worldwide.

Company founder Fi Douglas is a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. She set up bluebellgray to explore her love of colour and all things floral. But while her oversized water-colour blooms have become a brand signature, there’s much more to the business, as Fi told us.

Photo credit: David Pike

Can you explain the scope of your job?

As creative director of a brand my job involves every part of the journey from initial design ideas to getting the item onto the shop floor. Every day I have to balance the creative side with the business side of the brand. I work with my team to come up with the initial concept for the new season’s collection. Usually we travel somewhere as a starting point. I then paint or draw designs based on our research, working very basically with paper, pastels and paint.

My team then work to develop the designs onto products. We have brilliant suppliers all around the world making our products – and working with great suppliers and factories is one of the best things about my job.

Taking a product from initial conception to being on the shop floor takes around 18 months to two years and will involve various rounds of sampling and sign offs. I’m constantly looking at product and coordinating collections and products.

The brand and marketing side is also a big part of what I do, steering the brand in the right direction and keeping it on track. Being the creative director involves thinking about so many of the visual aspects of the business from the packaging to the merchandising and beyond – with the support of an amazing team! 

I also work with our finance and operations teams on all the other aspects of the business. It’s really important to keep a good understanding of that side of the business too. And I work with our overseas partners to make sure they have designs that are relevant for their markets and to ensure the brand ‘voice’ is consistent worldwide.

Fumiko lampshade

What’s a typical day like for you?

It’s a cliche but every day is different in my studio. I have an amazing team around me to help realise my designs and make them a reality. I have two little toddler boys so I have to get them organised before heading to work; it’s a short 30-minute commute in my car.

My studio is based in an old townhouse in the West End of Glasgow with super-high ceilings and lots of really big windows so the light is amazing. I’m such a believer in the importance of a great space to work in that makes you feel good, I think it makes you more creative.

I start with a quick catchup with my team before answering emails for a few hours. I try and update my Instagram daily but our other social media channels are dealt with by the marketing team. On a typical day I will meet with the creative team to look over samples that have come in, making colour comments etc.

We work on a lot of products – currently 13 different product lines, everything from sheeting to tableware and beach towels – so we have a lot going on all the time. I might meet with the graphic designer to look over a new brochure design and the marketing team to make some decisions on our website and sales etc. We might have a customer coming into the studio to meet with us or an overseas partner coming to work through the new collections for their country. 

I constantly strive to get more creative and design time. I block out days just for creativity and painting, and turn off my inbox! I’m a big believer in creative time, switching off from technology and just going for a walk, or travelling to interesting places and just letting your mind free. It’s hard to have new creative ideas when constantly at a computer. We have a weekly yoga class in the studio: the main reason is to give the team some downtime to just think or zone out. We strive to eat lunch away from our desks and do creative things like little work-shops, or trips just to free our minds, with no pressure attached. 

Where's the growth coming in your business at the moment?

Our biggest growth is coming from our own website and selling directly to customers. I think customers like it because it means they can see the full collection and have the biggest choice. We have also started sourcing other product other than our own that complements our collection on our website.

Fabric and bedding are growing really strongly for us – they are consistently our two strongest areas. Bedding in particular is now a worldwide product so we are seeing brilliant growth in new territories such as the US and Canada. 

Wisteria fabric

What are the specific challenges of designing for Bluebellgray?

We have very high standards! I want to give our customers the best products possible and a brilliant experience so if something isn’t amazing we won’t add it to our collection, even if we have done a lot of work on it.

It does become more challenging the bigger you become – there is a tipping point where the line between commerciality and the exciting creativity can go too far in the safe commercial direction. It’s so important that the exciting new things keep coming through to keep everything fresh and modern. Sometimes it’s a challenge to encourage stores to buy the less safe new design choices. 

Where do you find your inspiration?

I find my team inspiring every day. I work with 13 incredible, amazing creative people who bring something really special to my life. Their outlook and aesthetics are constantly inspiring and they make my life better and more full creatively. We constantly spark off each other.

I also love travel for inspiration, looking at things that you have never seen before can be incredibly inspiring and exciting. I’ve just come back from a trip to Marrakech which was amazing – it was bursting with incredible colours and imagery. 

How important is it for you to support the next generation of designers?

I feel really passionate about supporting the next generation of designers. Design is an ever-evolving thing and to keep the world a wonderful, inspiring and exciting place we need to make sure the new designers coming through have the support and encouragement to reach their potential and allow their creativity to flourish. 

What do you look for in great textile design?

For me it’s about originality, people ploughing their own path, looking for inspiration in the real world rather than looking at other designers’ work as a starting point. That pureness of inspiration shows in the end result and creates really exciting designs. A great sense of colour is important to me too – interesting colour palettes are a thing of magic! 

 

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