Q&A with Karen Mabon
1. Hi Karen, please tell me about Local Heroes and how you became involved?
Local Heroes is an exhibition of contemporary Scottish design which aims to reinvent the public perception of the traditional Scottish ‘souvenir’ and present Scottish design at home and internationally. Stacey Hunter, the curator of Local Heroes approached me during the early stages of the project to see if I would be interested in designing a new product – this really appealed to me because it’s so rare to be commissioned to create a product you haven’t developed before. I jumped at the chance!
2. The Local Heroes project says it aims to “leaves behind stereotypes”. How important is it to you to break the mould and be totally unique in your work?
I feel that the internet has played a really important part in allowing brands to grow and cater for more niche tastes, but it’s also because a very crowded marketplace. In order to stand out, I think you have to be really confident in your designs and their originality. I started my brand because I felt there was a gap in the market between the beautifully drawn and unusual prints of high end designers like JW Anderson, Vivetta and Miu Miu, and the often derivative high street versions. I wanted to create something unique and fun, but at a more reasonable price point.
3. What myths do you wish you could bust about the design industry?
That the biggest part of my job is designing accessories and prints! Sadly that forms a really tiny part of what I do, often late at night or scribbling things down on the back of a bus ticket. Most of my job involves emails, admin and packing boxes. I think people often wrongly assume that design businesses operate differently to other businesses – we have to do all the same boring things too! To be honest, in my case a lot of the myths are true – I’m pretty messy and chaotic and my head is all over the place.
4. I’m LOVING that silk pyjamas are now being worn as day wear. Did you intend your Recency Café pyjamas to be worn in this way?
I love the idea of pyjamas as outwear – there is something inherently glamorous and F. Scott Fitzgerald about silk loungewear. I think society is a bit more accepting these days of the blurred boundaries between occasionwear. There’s also a freedom about wearing non-restrictive clothing in a lovely fabric which just brushes against your skin. The Regency Café pyjamas are fun because the print makes you do a double take – you maybe don’t notice the greasy fry ups and coffee stains!
5. What’s your favourite thing about Scotland?
I like the pubs. Maybe a weird thing to say. But I’ve had my best times there… first dates, meetings, after work pints, Sunday lunches after Autumn country walks, every Christmas Eve for the last 10 years…
6. Is promoting yourself on social media important for upcoming designers? What advice do you have?
Yes definitely. I don’t have rakes and rakes of followers, but I feel that we really do engage with them on a personal level. It’s such an invaluable resource for feedback on everything from pricing to garment shapes and sizing. Like I said before, it’s definitely a crowded marketplace so being a totally unique voice on social media is almost as important as having a unique product line. I think people can quickly see through brands which aren’t being authentic, or trying to copy the style of another user. My advice would be to try and create a mix of inspirational imagery and first-person photographs to prop up product images. As a customer, I look to Instagram to see what my favourite designers are looking to for ideas and what goes on behind the scenes. Also, try not to obsess over your competitors – I do this too much and it’s not healthy!! If you are original, there is room for everyone to coexist!
7. What are you excited about (life or career-wise) coming up soon?
Work wise, I have a capsule collection launching next week which I designed for the British handbag brand Radley, which I am so excited about! It’s called ‘In The Bag’ and is based around the contents of a handbag. Life-wise (although sort of work wise) on Saturday I am going to Los Angeles for a week of showroom appointments with buyers and press out there which I am ridiculously excited about because I’ve been desperate to go there ever since I was a teenager and watched The O.C religiously. I suppose it’s a sort of pilgrimage really.
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