This month we talk to designer and illustrator Sian Elin, about her eponymous homeware brand.
Our conversation with designer and illustrator Sian Elin starts with the creative process behind her vibrant designs – does she have any particular necessities to get the ideas flowing? ‘Boring music is pretty key,’ she laughs, ‘I like to have music on while I’m designing, it helps me get into the flow, but it can’t be anything too engaging or interesting – I’m very easily distracted!’
Sian recently moved from Cardiff to Bristol, which meant leaving behind her studio space and switching to working from home. Was that a difficult decision to make? ‘It wasn’t actually that tough, it seems counter-intuitive – a lot of creatives like to have a space away from home in which to work – but I actually prefer working from home,’ she says, ‘it’s more relaxing, I don’t have to worry about extra overheads and I mix it up with lecturing work [Sian is visiting lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University], or attending trade fairs, so I don’t get too isolated.’’
Having launched her eponymous brand in 2012 – Sian is something of a veteran when it comes to running her own creative business, what has she learnt over the last six years? ‘That starting your own business is never straightforward,’ she says, ‘it’s been brilliant but also a pretty intense few years; the entire process has been full of ups and downs.’
Sian Elin is on a definite ‘up’, with her designs stocked by Fenwicks, Heals and Oliver Bonas, alongside her own online shop. ‘It’s fantastic seeing my work in those stores,’ she says, ‘my friends message me if they spot one of my designs somewhere – it still feels a bit unreal.’
Art and design have always played a large part in Sian’s life – following her Art Foundation year she went on to study Graphic Design at the University of Reading. ‘To be honest, illustration was my first love,’ she says ‘but I thought it was sensible to study something more vocational – to ensure I could get a job at the end of it.’
After graduation, Sian moved into book design working for Oxford University Press and Penguin – and developed a strong understanding of brand, ‘My main aim with Sian Elin was to work creatively on something I loved, but I also wanted to create a thought-through, cohesive brand – and to create a clear design identity.’
Her bold, Scandi designs are unmistakable, so does she feel she’s achieved the cohesion she was aiming for? ‘I’d like to think so… I’ve worked hard to try and create a unique style, and a range of designs which sit well together.’ Her publishing work involved visiting trade fairs, like New Design, in hunt for new illustrators to commission. ‘Increasingly, I’d find myself at trade fairs speaking to designers and illustrators and thinking I’d love to be doing what they’re doing – so I started to build up my own portfolio on the side.’
In 2012 Sian and her partner moved to Israel for six months, which gave her space and time to build her first collection, ‘East Meets West’ inspired by her travels to India, the Middle East and South America. ‘I spent a lot of my time in Israel designing, pulling together the first collection, getting it photographed and ready for launch.’
On return to the UK Sian took the collection to Tent. ‘I thought it was best place to start as a new designer – it’s a great, creative event and it felt more manageable than some of the larger, more corporate fairs.’ Despite her design background, it was something of a nerve-wracking experience ‘I definitely had a bad case of impostor syndrome when it came to launching Sian Elin,’ she says, ‘I was happy with the collection but also hung up on my lack of experience in textiles – it made me worry that I might not have the right background to go it alone.’
Sian’s worries were misplaced, however – the feedback was positive, and, more significantly, her designs received a lot of positive press attention. ‘The press coverage was unexpected and amazing in terms of what it did to help the business – it was a real kickstart to the whole thing.’
Sian’s design process can take months from initial idea to end product. She begins by collating ideas on a board, including an overview of trends, ‘It’s important to have a sense of trend,’ she explains, ‘and if I can find a way of interpreting that so it fits with my aesthetic then that’s great, but I don’t subscribe to rigidly following trends.’
Next, she starts sketching out ideas; ‘I take my time; working out ways of creating something unique but with a Scandi, bold graphic feel. I enjoy creating work that looks bold from afar, but on closer inspection is full of detail and texture.’ Sian’s hand draws or hand paints her design, then does work on the colour digitally. A range of samples are made – Sian works with manufacturers in the north of England – then they are reviewed and adjusted until Sian is happy with the end result.
Sian works on two collections a year, S/S and A/W – how easy is it to get into a good workflow? ‘I can definitely procrastinate with the best of them,’ she laughs, ‘I find that the administrative side of the business can really take over, so I can spend days working on the business and not doing much design.’
‘A big lesson for me over last few years is that I can’t fit design work around everything else – I need headspace before I can do the creative stuff. I feel that if you’re working up something new you need to give it uninterrupted time, so you can get into the flow and allow the space for ideas to develop.’
What’s next for the brand? ‘I’m currently working on the A/W 2018 collection – which will be quite different to what I’ve done before, in terms of both design and the product range. I’m also hoping to get into licensing this year – it seems the natural next step for the business.’
Does she have any advice for designers thinking of launching their own brand? ‘On a practical level – getting your manufacturers and suppliers right can be a long process – expect it to take a while. You also have to get used to the pressure of carrying the business largely on your own.
‘Know that mistakes are inevitable – but you’ll learn from them. Remember it’s important not to beat yourself up and make sure you enjoy the process. It is fantastic to have the creative freedom to do what you love and create work you’re really proud of.’
Describe your work in three words: Scandi. Colourful. Graphic
What are your making rituals? Cup of tea, sparkling water, chilled music, heating on!
Tea or Coffee? Lots of tea and one ‘coffee shop’ coffee
Mountains or Sea? Both! Preferably at the same time…
Night Owl or Early Bird? Somewhere in-between?!
I wish someone had told me… That working the hardest doesn’t always get you the results… it’s important to take steps back along the way and assess where you are in order to move forward in the most efficient way.