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Designate Products

by Angie Boyer

Published: March 2009

Angie Boyer talks to Derbyshire based Andy and Kirsty Field, who design and make original interior accessories using reclaimed materials.

Tell me about your backgrounds and how you came to launch Designate Products.
Kirsty and I have known each other since we were eleven years old. After school we went our separate ways, but both followed a path into art and design. Kirsty studied Applied Art at Derby University specialising in wood and metals during her final year. Her degree show consisted of a series of wall mounted pieces produced from found objects and reclaimed timber that was labelled as functional art. Having originally concentrated on Fine Art during my foundation year, I took a change in direction and studied Interior Design at Kingston upon Thames University.

After a period of travelling we both returned to Derbyshire where we met up again having had no contact for the previous seven years. Before we knew it, we had started our own business as an interior design consultancy that specialised in achieving dramatic results on a tight budget. After completing various projects including two pubs and various domestic spaces, we decided to base ourselves in Matlock by acquiring a shop unit that we could use as a small showroom and to fill in the gaps between projects. We concentrated on revamping second hand furniture and selling unusual interior accessories, but soon found sourcing original items more and more difficult with many handcrafted lines being just too expensive for our customers.

Having taken delivery of a range of clock faces, we were disappointed with the quality and use of materials, so decided to try and produce a series of frames for them, using reclaimed timber and slate, to make them one-off pieces, which resulted in them selling very quickly. Inspired by these first pieces, we soon had a range of products that were received very well at various local craft fairs, through our shop and eventually on our first website.

It soon became obvious that to achieve the full potential of our product range we needed to get our work into other galleries and retail outlets, so we decided to try our first trade show. This, we soon discovered, was the equivalent of starting a new business, as there were so many elements and problems that had to be addressed and resolved. We realised that issues such as delivery, breakages, lead times, price points, minimum orders, packaging and sourcing materials in quantity had to be considered. We had to work backwards, as we were starting with retail prices for our entire range and now had to find out if it was viable to produce them at the equivalent trade price. However, we were confident that the products were original enough and, undeterred by the cost of the stand, we booked our first trade show, Select West in Exeter in 2005. With over 30 orders taken, we soon realised it was the way forward for our business. Kirsty is the natural maker, having acquired various skills throughout her degree course and from her father, who made all their kitchen cabinets from old pallets. She also has a fantastic eye for colour and is constantly coming up with new ideas.

Having come from a more technical area of design I have found the making process quite liberating and much prefer the hands on approach. Having a superb furniture maker and a couple of joiners close to our workshop has been helpful when advice is needed.

Are your products made entirely from reclaimed materials?
We always state that reclaimed and re-used materials form the basis of our products and this is something that is essential to the overall aesthetics of our work. The wood we use has, at some point, been used within the construction of buildings and we try to incorporate this within the products by keeping notches, nail holes and saw marks prevalent. It tends to be soft woods, although we have used parts of old oak beams in the past. The roof slates again come from demolished buildings, the fabrics from old sample books, buttons from car boot and jumble sales, and rusty chains from many farms throughout Derbyshire.

Do people appreciate and support the ethical and environmental aspects your work?
Without a doubt there has been a swing towards a demand for ethically sourced and produced items over the past few years. We are approached at every trade show by people starting up businesses, both internet and shop based, that specialise in fair trade, eco sourced products. Some trade fairs now highlight stands/businesses that can fulfil certain criteria. The first question we get asked at shows is ‘where are the products made?’ There is definitely a growing interest in British made products. People tend to appreciate the fact that because the materials are reclaimed they are more difficult and time consuming to source. There is a story behind every single item we produce and this is definitely a selling point for both us and our stockists.

Tell me about your range of products.
One of the mistakes we made, right from the start, was to launch our business with a large, comprehensive range of products. After the first year of trading our existing customers were starting to ask when were we going to produce new items. However, since that first trade show we have never been able to produce any stock items. For the past four years we have been working on a made to order basis. For this reason the vast majority of our time is spent making. With the benefit of hindsight, we should probably have held back some lines and introduced them gradually. Rather than introducing new products for the sake of it we have concentrated on fine-tuning the products we make to ensure that they are the best they can be. One of the appealing aspects of our product range is that our trade customers, and indeed their customers, get the chance to select from different elements, i.e. types of clock face, colour of frame, type of inserts and even sizes, to produce a unique item. Our range of button clocks is constantly evolving as we introduce limited edition runs of certain fabrics and some of our customers even supply their own fabrics.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
The most enjoyable part of our business is being able to be creative on a daily basis. There is a great sense of satisfaction at being able to make products that other people enjoy. The trade shows are often a welcome break from our workshops and are invaluable for gauging trade people’s opinions of our range and gaining feedback from our existing stockists as to the public’s reaction to our products.
Also being able to keep the best pieces of work!

What has been the greatest challenge?
Making the change from producing one off items to supplying the trade was a big challenge and, as our customer base grows, we are still facing the same challenge. We are constantly looking at ways to increase production without losing any of the character and appeal of the products. Likewise sourcing reclaimed materials in larger quantities is, and always will be an issue. However the greatest challenge is probably the setting up and running of a business, initially as a couple and now as a family, with children aged two and four. It is a constant juggling act with our work and family lives dictating each other and then having to deal with the pressures that they cause – luckily, because we work together, we can be very flexible and there is always a solution to any problems.

What plans do you have for the future?
We are very excited about the future of Designate Products, with many ideas for new products in the pipeline. We are looking at new premises, which could put our two workshops under the same roof while still retaining our current showroom and office – logistically this could really benefit the streamlining of our business. We have always relied on the trade shows to obtain new customers and this year we are looking forward to trying new avenues and entering different markets with our new lines.

Do you have any advice for people who are just starting out, such as the Newcomers at BCTF?
We were certainly a little naive when we first started our business. We have learned and are still learning by our mistakes. For anybody just starting or thinking of starting a business within this field we think the main points to consider are:

  • Planning – try to consider all aspects of the business involved. Do this by talking to as many people as possible. BCTF is an ideal event to obtain valuable information from like-minded individuals.
  • Don’t forget the boring bits – being creative is great but admin, accounts and marketing are vital for a successful business and should not be pushed aside. Allocate time on a regular basis to keep on top of them.
  • Commitment is essential. Most self-employed people will say their work/business is all consuming in relation to their daily lives. Spare time becomes a rarity as 12/15 hour days become the norm. You should not start a business half-heartedly.
  • Last of all, choose a product that is small and lightweight, some of our orders can weigh over 100kgs, which are not only expensive to dispatch, but hard work to manoeuvre and package!

www.designateproducts.co.uk
Office T: 01629 760033
Workshop T: 07974819235

 
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