Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Interview: Charlie's Aunt

Hello, there! I have a new guest today, the extremely talented Emma from Charlie's Aunt. I fell in love with her bag designs and she was kind enough to share a few words about her and her work with us.
I'll see you back at the end of the week with my first Me Made May recap! :)

Introduce yourself: tell us something about where you live, your origins, hobbies, etc.
I live in Suffolk, a rural county in East Anglia, England. I was brought up here but later moved to Australia, where I lived for about nine years. I have dual British and Australian citizenship and would describe myself as vintage British with Aussie attitude. I love the British countryside, tea and scones, and quilted jackets, but I adore the openness and humour of the Australian people.
My hobbies include running four times a week, and making jewellery (although not at the same time!). I also play the oboe and piano.

High Tea Clutch

How did you start your shop, Charlie's Aunt? How did you choose the name?
I am a journalist by trade and I work for a regional daily newspaper (The East Anglian Daily Times) by day. I dreamt up the idea for Charlie’s Aunt while I was living in Australia. It all began after I wrote my first book, "Making Vintage Bags", which contained my own retro-inspired patterns for 20 handbags. The book has since gone on to sell more than 50,000 copies and is one of the publisher’s bestselling titles.
Because it was clear from the reaction to the book that people quite liked my handbag designs, I decided there would be a market for patterns. I have always been fascinated by sewing patterns – the diagrams, words and templates – and the way flat pieces of fabric can be turned into a fully functional three-dimensional or wearable item. After many years of making/selling clothing and accessories and tinkering with different ideas, I think I have finally found my calling. I started the business on money I earned from the day job.
The business is called Charlie’s Aunt because I have a nephew called Charlie. We lost Charlie’s mum, my sister Sarah, to breast cancer in 2002 when Charlie was just six years old. He is a big part of my life and very important to me. Sarah used to model my designs – she was beautiful on the inside and out – so it seemed fitting to name my business after her offspring. I have not been fortunate enough to have any children of my own, so being Charlie’s Aunt is the next best thing.

Anglia Bag

Do you have formal training (art, design, sewing, etc.)?
I have formal training as a journalist, adult education teacher and musician but no art or design qualifications. It all comes from my head and heart. My father was academic but also extremely creative. His mother used to make clothing for all eight of her offspring during WWII without using a pattern. I guess pattern design and sewing is in my blood. I have Ann Ladbury’s "Guide to Simple Pattern Cutting" to thank for my early technical know-how. 

What are your main sources of inspiration? What are your favourite materials to use?
My inspiration comes from vintage clothing catalogues such as Sears, old sewing patterns, and traditional British fabrics. The woollens and tweeds that I favour for my bags are not to everyone’s liking but to me, they are an integral part of the design. Most pattern designers sample in patchwork or quilting fabrics, where I favour the more rustic wool plaids, tweeds, corduroy, moleskin and linen cloths. As I said, although some might find these a little dull, I am totally in love with tweed and at least it makes my patterns stand out in the crowd.

Casablanca Clutch Bag

Do you have any advice for who sells or wants to sell online?
Selling online has been largely successful for me. I have an essentially “niche” product and the internet enables me to reach customers all over the world, which is absolutely necessary when selling such a niche brand. 
However, on the downside, I would have to say that you have to constantly keep reminding people your shop is there, either through blogging, social networking or endless self-promotion! That side of it I find quite challenging, but if you have a good product and heaps of enthusiasm for it, you can’t go far wrong.
One piece of advice is to make sure you charge accurate postage fees in your listings because you can easily get a shock when you arrive at the post office with a parcel. I posted some fabric to the US once and it cost $40 to post! I had only charged the customer $10 … and he didn’t even bother to say thanks when it arrived! Not good for business.


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