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August 9, 2021 —

Meet the Maker: Lisa Claire Stewart of Studio Lowen

Having taken the leap to launch her own design business, Studio Lowen, Lisa Claire Stewart creates beautiful accessories and printed designs from her cosy garden studio off the Cornish coast…
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,
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Hi Lisa, how would you describe your work?

This question is always so hard to answer as I make a lot of different things. I’m quite multi-disciplinary, so my collection includes hand-painted recycled leather accessories, leather earrings made to utilise all the off-cuts, ceramics, plywood card stands and a range of prints, cards and wrapping paper. Studio Lowen is a bit of a mix!

Photo: Chloe Wilkinson @studioninetyfivex
Photo: Chloe Wilkinson @studioninetyfivex

Photo: Rebecca Rees 00047.jpg
Photo: Rebecca Rees

What inspired you to set up your own business?

I always wanted to do my own thing. Both my parents were self-employed and my grandfather too, so I guess running my own business was always in my family. I never really knew exactly what it was within the creative industry that I wanted to do, and to this day I still don’t – but I always loved the idea of having a shop!

The turning point really was when I left my full-time design job to focus on my freelance work. I was going to a lot of networking events and was getting fed up of carrying my business cards in a big plastic box, so I set about making my own business card holder from some recycled leather I had sourced. As a surface pattern designer, I wanted something unique with a design on, so I painted my own. I made a matching pencil case and when I showed these to my friends, they wanted some too – so I opened an Etsy shop and never really looked back!

What’s behind the name Studio Lowen?

We had just built a studio in the garden. The studio was to become my creative happy place, and the Cornish word for happy is ‘Lowen’. I also really liked the idea that each piece is made with happiness and joy, and that each order should bring the recipient joy and happiness too.

Photo:Rebecca Rees
Photo:Rebecca Rees

What did you do before setting up your business?

I grew up in Cornwall and did a degree in graphic design at Falmouth University. I spent my twenties working as both a kids wear designer for the children’s clothing company Frugi, and as an interior designer. I left full time employment in 2018 to focus on my freelance work, and about six months later I started Studio Lowen.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

It can be found everywhere, whether it’s a conversation with a friend, a vintage find from a car boot sale, or making something for myself. I also find a lot of inspiration when I travel and go to new places.

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Photo: Rebecca Rees
Photo: Rebecca Rees

How would you describe your style?

It’s fairly minimal in terms of form, but I love colour, particularly blues, mints and pinks! I love vintage and Scandinavian design, and I’m also a fan of all things quirky and unique.

Are there themes that run through your work?

My pieces are always fairly simple, but I would say that the natural world greatly inspires my work. Usually, this would be a botanical theme, a coastal theme or colours that are inspired by the garden or coast. I always try to re-use and recycle my materials as much as possible, so there is a subtle eco-conscious vibe running through my work. I save up my leather offcuts from making my pouches and re-purpose them as key rings, earrings, brooches, bookmarks or napkin rings to be as zero-waste as possible.

Photo: Rebecca Rees
Photo: Rebecca Rees

Photo: Chloe Wilkinson @studioninetyfivex.png
Photo: Chloe Wilkinson @studioninetyfivex

Describe a typical working day…

I get up early and have breakfast, take our dog for a walk, then come home to tackle my emails or any freelance work. Once that’s done, I’ll start making and developing new products, or whatever else is on my to do list, like packing orders.

What is the ethos behind your business?

Every piece that I create is made with joy, I love what I do! It is also designed in a way that it should make the customer happy and bring them joy, whether it’s through the aesthetic or functionality. Keeping waste to an absolute minimum is so important to me to and I try to be as eco-conscious of my processes as possible. I try to always use plastic-free packaging, but re-use packaging I have received to wrap some more fragile orders. It’s not by any means perfect, but I try to do my bit and think about how I can run my business differently to be kinder to our planet.

Photo: Rebecca Rees
Photo: Rebecca Rees

Photo: Rebecca Rees
Photo: Rebecca Rees

Describe your work process…

It’s usually a lot of thoughts that whirl around in my head for weeks, months – sometimes years! Then when I find some spare time, I will scribble it down and make prototypes to start development. My products also seem to come from things I need myself. When I did my first market my husband Sam kindly made me a beautiful stand from plywood. I needed some mini stands to hold my earrings and cards, so between us we designed them and made them. So many other makers asked where I had got the stands from so we decided to add them as a Studio Lowen product.

Sam makes the stands from birch ply and I sand and finish them off. We work really well together, I wouldn’t be here doing this without him, he’s the best! I also get commissions, which sometimes act as a starting point of a new product.

How do you source your materials?

I love the quality of real leathers and recycled leathers, but also the idea of utilising what is essentially waste and re-using it to create new products. Leather itself is a bi-product from another industry, and when real leather is used to make a product there are always offcuts – it’s these offcuts which are then diverted from landfill and instead bonded together to create recycled leather.

I’m regularly asked about a vegan-friendly option, so I launched a collection of plant-based leathers using Pinatex, a material made from pineapple fibres. However, the pandemic has caused disruption to the manufacturing and supply chain of the material, so I have been unable to get any more for this collection. I’m trying to source a new vegan-friendly option, but I want to stay away from traditional faux leathers which are usually made from plastic, and instead use either plant-based materials or recycled materials.

Photo: Rebecca Rees
Photo: Rebecca Rees

Photo: Rebecca Rees
Photo: Rebecca Rees

Tell us more about your studio space…

I work in a studio at the bottom of our garden. It’s made from large recycled windows, which came from our friends conservatory. The exterior is clad in larch, while the interior is clad in spruce ply. It’s a beautiful space which faces south, meaning it’s super-bright, but also really warm on a sunny day.

Describe your neighbourhood…

I live a mile inland from the Cornish coast. We bought our little bungalow five years ago and it has been a constant renovation project that we’re still not at the end of, but we love it. We love being so close to our beaches Gwithian and Godrevy – during lockdown we realised how lucky we were when we could take a long walk to the three miles of golden sand. It feels like home to me, and I try and make my way down there every day.

Studio Lowen 4.JPG
Studio Lowen 13.jpeg

How valuable is the online community to your work?

I don’t think I would be here doing what I do without the online community, it’s that important. The amazing support of other makers, and the ability to engage with my customers almost instantly is fundamental to my business and my development as a designer. Whether I’ve got an idea floating around or I’m unsure of which colour to use, it’s so helpful to ask others what they think. It’s also incredible to collaborate with others and support other makers too.

Do you enjoy working as an independent maker – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?

I love it. I love being in control of my business and my day, and I love that I don’t have to ask permission to take an afternoon off or have a lazy morning! The challenges are managing my time and being responsible for every aspect of my business. It’s hard work to keep on top of everything – the overwhelm is totally on your own shoulders and you have just got to make it work. If you have a bad day, you have just got to get on with it and that can be tough. I do miss having some company, it can be very lonely. But luckily, I have my cat and dog to keep me entertained!

What has been the greatest hurdle in starting your own business?

Managing my time, oh my! It can be so difficult… you can make a plan for something and then have a flurry of orders – then the plan goes out of the window. I always prioritise my orders, so sometimes when I’m busy with those it can mean that everything else is put on hold, whether it be new developments, photography, or my accounts. It’s a tricky balance.

StudioLowen7

How do you approach marketing and PR?

In all honesty, it’s totally ad hoc – there is no marketing plan or PR. I just make it up as I go along and hope for the best. I don’t schedule my social media posts, I don’t plan my discount codes or even my product launches. I just go with it, and if I have something I want to say on social I just do a post whatever the time of day. I suppose it’s something I should do and maybe one day I will, but right now things are going ok. Fingers crossed!

What have been your business highlights so far?

It’s so difficult to choose! I suppose my biggest highlight is having the support of all my customers, which has enabled me to make my dream a reality and work pretty much full-time on Studio Lowen. Another highlight was seeing my products featured on the homepage of Not on the High Street and Etsy. Lastly, I love seeing my work in beautiful indie stockists around the UK.

Photo: Jon Wigmore @jonwigmore
Photo: Jon Wigmore @jonwigmore

Which pieces do you most enjoy making?

I enjoy painting the surface decoration for my botanical collection and I absolutely love making my unique collection of ceramics. I am by no means a professional ceramicist, I just really enjoy it.

Do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?

My creative hobbies are my work, and so I’m very lucky that I get to do it most days. I am currently learning to develop my leather skills and experimenting with traditional leather craft methods. I find a lot of calmness in my garden, and I love learning about plants and flowers and thinking about how the plants will sit next to each other – there are so many things to consider, the season, the foliage, the colours. I find it very peaceful.

91-Magazine-interview-meet-the-maker-Studio-Lowen

Any good advice for makers who are just starting out?

I just wish I’d had more confidence to start sooner, so I would say put your work out there and see what happens. If things don’t sell immediately, don’t panic, and don’t be disheartened. Sometimes things take a while to take off, but also if something doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter – just try developing it or try something else. And don’t get too caught up in what other makers are doing and try to always be uniquely you. Go with your gut instinct!

What does the next year hold for Studio Lowen?

I have just launched my new napkin ring sets, plus a brand-new collection of recycled leather pouches and glasses cases using a British recycled leather in gorgeous colours.

Quickfire questions

Describe your work in three words? Colourful, handmade and unique

What are your making rituals? Tea! Always tea!

Mountains or sea? Sea

Night owl or early bird? To be honest, I’m neither!

I wish someone had told me… that my jean zipper was undone on my walk the other day!

See more from Studio Lowen via the website and on Instagram.

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