One Nine Eight Five INTERVIEW
Insights from their design studio
One Nine Eight Five is a sustainable British design studio, who create beautifully unique textile homewares. This week, we sat down with their founder Eleanor to talk all things design, manufacture and craftsmanship, as well as, the trials that come with building a brand.
SGB: What inspired you to first start One Nine Eight Five?
Eleanor: Well, I always knew that I wanted to have my own thing but I never really knew what that looked like. It wasn’t until I had my first job out of university, which was working for H&M as a print designer, that I began getting more of an idea of what my own thing could be. So, I moved to Sweden and went out there to work for them for five years. It was being there and seeing the realities of fast fashion and the amount that was being made which opened my eyes to consumption and sustainability, two things that have become very considered within my own brand. I also found that being a designer there, although it was really great, meant that I was on some kind of wheel which meant I’d just be churning stuff out. This made me realise that I wanted to work and create things at a much slower pace which people would then really appreciate because of the nature of their production.
SGB: How did you move from knowing what you wanted your brand to look like, to getting it off the ground?
Eleanor: It was quite hard to think about what to do because I had kind of been groomed into a designer that just looked at trends and at what everyone else was doing. And I was like ‘what is it that I actually really like?’. It was quite hard to think of what that was. But I took some time out after finishing walking away from the fashion industry to reground myself and discover what it was that I wanted to do and achieve. When someone is like ‘you could do anything’ it’s quite hard, like, what do you do? Core values and manifestos were a good place to start for me and allowed me to start building a business that I truly believed in.
SGB: So, why textiles? Where does that passion come from for you?
Eleanor: I’ve always been creative, more in a 2D approach. As a kid, apart from maybe a bit of Lego and Meccano, I wasn’t really into making things. It was more drawing and collaging for me. I just loved it. I was brought up in a creative house anyway, so we’d always go and see exhibitions and I was very much immersed in art from a young age. When I did my foundation, I discovered textiles and it just felt really nice because it was flat but then you could turn it into something; I loved the versatility of the cloth and the different textures. Another thing that I think influenced me, is my heritage. I’m half Iranian and I’m really inspired by that side of my family and all the patterns, the culture and the colours.
SGB: So, why homewares? You mentioned that you started your career in the fashion industry, so what was it that made you change direction?
Eleanor: My speciality is print design, I’m not a fashion designer, I wanted to really focus on my skill set. Before starting my own brand, I worked on a few homewares collections for another brand and started to get an idea of ‘oh okay, this is where I can really push the textile element’. Working with a square cushion vs designing a dress is such a different thing and I really just felt like I had found my niche. Also, I think for homeware people are a lot more mindful of how they shop. They’re a lot more thoughtful and purchases more considered. They know they’ve got to see it every day, it’s not quite the same as a dress that you might put on maybe once or twice or perhaps even leave it in the wardrobe with the label still on.
SGB: Where do the inspirations for your designs lie?
Eleanor: In terms of design, I almost reverted to what I was inspired by back at university when the brief was just ‘be as creative as you can’ and of course merged this with the commercial knowledge that I had gained from working within the industry. I’m inspired by architecture, the mid-century era with art and design in general. I like the shapes, symmetry, bold colour and geometrics along with the idea of function from this era. Yeah, I just love it all. If I see anything like that I get very inspired. It’s powerful to dictate what things are going to be and draw things from what really inspires me. It’s just me, so it’s lovely to have that freedom.
SGB: In terms of building up your brand and you being the sole creator, have you had to overcome any hurdles along the way?
Eleanor: So, I suppose with it being just me there are a few struggles. In one way it is great because I’ve got no one to answer to but the other side of it is that I do everything. So you know, then you need to balance everything. It’s wonderful in many ways, and hopefully, as it grows and when I do get some help I can maintain that but also get more chance to focus on the creative side. As well as this general struggle, it was initially quite difficult to find the right manufacturers. For me quality is key, I wanted to make products that were environmentally friendly but also ones that would withstand the test of time. Finding manufacturers that could deliver both of these things but who also on top of that believed in me enough to want to work with me was really quite tough too and something that I wasn’t expecting having come from working for such a big company.
SGB: Let’s talk about sustainability, what’s your approach to this current issue?
Eleanor: I’m often led by the material options that I have available to me and sustainability. As an example, the small accessories that I do, they weren’t even in the plan but I had all these offcuts from my cushion production, that I wasn’t prepared to throw away, it became a case of ‘what can I do with these?’. They were perfectly good pieces of fabric, small, but there was nothing wrong with them. As a small business, you have to think about every penny and every piece of fabric that you have. Everything counts.
SGB: ‘Sustainability not being at the detriment of the design’ is embedded in your brand ethos, did you find that there were hurdles to overcome to get to this point?
Eleanor: I think in terms of compromising on design, it’s becoming less of an issue the more time goes by just because of the innovation that’s there and also the change in the consumer's expectations. People are now expecting a level of sustainably and ask ‘what’s your policy?’ and that’s lovely. When I started there was a hell of a lot of ‘green washing’ whereas people are now having to stand by what they say which is awesome. Due to all of this, there is almost a domino effect on the suppliers, production, the kinds of fabrics that are available; all of which is making it a lot easier to not compromise on quality and my designs.
SGB: How have you found the manufacturing side of things, you mentioned earlier that finding manufacturers was a struggle, to begin with, but what does this side of your brand look like now?
Eleanor: So yeah I guess to begin, I’m very aware of the processes that go into the manufacture of my products, especially with the print side of things as that’s my specialism. I have lots of experience in both digital and screen printing from uni days and I also have a good understanding of how that works in production, due to my time working in the industry. I find this helpful as I understand what goes on behind the products. All the factories I work with are in the UK so I get to visit them, as a result, I have really good relationships with them, so that’s lovely. If I’m honest, the manufacturers that I’ve got have become like friends which is nice because even though I work on my own, I do have a group of makers and craftsmen around me who are an amazing support. I couldn’t do what I do without them.
SGB: What are the upsides to being a small brand?
Eleanor: I guess one of the main perks is the freedom to be niche. I just kind of go with my gut and with what I love because if I love it then, someone else is going to love it. I think as a small business your strength is being a niche, you can’t please everybody. So yeah, I’d say that’s a really good perk for a small business.
SGB: What impact does colour have on your designs? And what impact do you think your use of colour has on the consumer?
Eleanor: I mean colour is key for anyone’s mood. It is scientifically proven that different colours bring out different emotions and also different colours mean different things to different people. So, there are a lot of things to consider. For me, I think one of my strengths is colour - I mean if you don’t like colour then you’re perhaps looking in the wrong place, you can’t miss my designs if they’re in the room. I love playing with different colour combinations and putting things that you wouldn’t necessarily think would work, together and creating a statement via this process. That’s what cushions are for, right? They’re the cherry on top of the cake. They give that final touch to the grey sofa or something that is quite muted and neutral. I like to think my designs have the power to transform a room.
SGB: Is there anything in the pipeline for One Nine Eight Five?
Eleanor: Yeah, I definitely want the brand to grow but I’d really like it to grow organically, as it has been doing. I’m looking at working with, as much as I love velvet, some other fabrics. I have some new linens that I’m working with, which still have that lovely hand feel to them that I’m after. Using new materials is something that I’m excited about as it gives the designs a slightly different feel and look which adds a new dimension to the collection. I’m also going to start creating artwork, which is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. A lot of my designs are hand-drawn away, so I’d love to start exploring One Nine Eight Five becoming a bit more creative in that sense.