In Conversation with Clare McEwan
What made you decide to start a brand?
I had been working as an artist in education for about 5-6 years, facilitating lots of art and design projects with children and adults. It felt like time to shift the focus back to my own work - which had always continued in the background. I was curious about a new process - to create experimental artwork and use it to develop a product, with minimal compromise. A tricky balance! Textiles and fabric were a natural fit having studied textile print design at art college, my love of surface and texture was ongoing and seemed ideal to apply to cloth. Scarves came a little later down the line of research. I liked the idea of a wearable artwork, textiles moving between 2D and 3D on the body, off the gallery wall or frame. Although, a scarf is also like a canvas to work from and a silk square offers consistency and creates a timeless piece. It feels like a very personal, intimate way of interacting with art and design.
Does your brand have a message?
Forging an original path with colour and craftsmanship.
What or who are your influences?
For composition, texture and colour, artists like Antonio Tapies and Robert Rauschenberg had an early influence, with their approach to painting and print. That colour can be arrived from the materials you use within the artwork, not just from mixed paint on the palette. For 3D works - it wasn't until late into art college that I felt connected to the medium. I remember going along to the Eva Hese retrospective at the Tate Modern. Hesse used such a range of materials, non decorative and difficult, and she managed them spatially, in such a powerful, sensitive way. I have read differently, the potential of any material ever since. In terms of style, it's words like, timeless, comfort and innovation. Clean lines and luxurious, natural fabrics inspire me. A few design names I always look to; Dries Van Noten, Max Mara and Marni - for texture, material and colour.
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started the brand?
It's going to take a whole heap of time to gain trust and traction.
What advice/warnings would you give someone looking to start their own brand?
Make sure the brand is really from you and you like what you're doing enough to repeat and repeat. Otherwise, I imagine it would be easy to lose interest, to run out of steam, to lose focus. Dig deep into your creativity and keep curious about how to improve. Oh, and beware the vast number of people out there that want to make money out of new businesses, be very selective about where you spend your cash flow and read between the lines.
How would you say the fashion/retail climate has changed since you started your brand?
People of all ages are thinking carefully about how they spend their even more precious funds. There's more interest about where our clothes come from. The novelty of cheap trend continues to fade, or maybe I like to think it does! There seems a greater choice in the higher end of the high street market. Presentation seems slicker and bolder - vital to compete in e-commerce. New brands seem more likely to talk about sustainability. In fact brands now have their voice to use everyday with social media - being able to tell much more personal stories. Which is pressure and opportunity!
I think people are spending more on less. Quality, longer lasting, sustainable, fair trade, 2nd hand, DIY, all words I'd use to describe the variety of demands we're making on our wardrobes. The balance in some parts, shifts towards spending on experiences rather than things - a rise in tourist travel. The things we do buy are becoming so much more precious, considered and personalised.
Is there a brand out there that you wish you had started?
That's difficult! Instagram means it's an avalanche of beautiful, inspiring brands at my fingertips everyday! So I'm trying to think about brands I've experienced as much as observed. Two stand out. Grannmarkt 13 in Antwerp - a serene and elegant space mixing fashion, art, food and gorgeous interior architecture, making me want it all - curating a spirit of a place. Silo restaurant in Brighton. A low impact, local, seasonal restaurant. It's a simple space with impeccable service and clear ethos. Most importantly - the food is beautiful, I learnt new things about taste and flavour and I wanted to tell everyone about it! The care and attention to detail was such a pleasure and privilege. Where it feels beyond just commerce. This level of customer experience is a definite goal.
What goals do you have as a designer?
To make collaboration integral to my business. As time passes, I'm tuned in more and more to my strengths and interests and realise I don't need to do everything myself! I love the scarves and will continue with them, but I'd also like to create imagery alongside others, sharing skills and ideas. I'd like to develop work in areas like; furniture, interior design, sound, fashion and public works.
What motivates you?
At the heart of it, it's about being free to work with the concept of beauty, everyday. I rarely use the word beauty in artwork, but I think that's what I'm exploring and seeking, in all its forms. I'm obsessed with finding, re-arranging, composing, editing and refining imagery. This level of autonomy is addictive and that's my motivation!
What is the best part of your job?
I've probably just described the best part - managing my own creativity, trying new materials, techniques and learning new skills. I'm never in a comfort zone! And if I creep into one, the work suffers. The 2nd best part is sharing it with others, I feel lucky to have this wave of communication to use and connect with people. The 3rd, getting comfortable and enjoying being part of a trade industry. Among all the messy creative stuff, is it any good? etc, there's something very satisfying and straight forward about setting a price for a product and it being accepted.
What is your life motto?
Make time for kindness. Hold the door.