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Laura Charley Design: print designer and lover of orange

Charley of Laura Charley Design sits down to discuss her journey to embracing her most colourful life, and what she has learnt along the way.

If you would prefer to listen to this interview, press play here.

If you prefer to watch the conversation, it is available on IGTV here.

Georgia:

Let's start at the beginning. We went to art school together, but I have no idea how you decided to attend. How did that happen?

Charley:

I think it was inevitable. Since I was a kid, it's always been creative stuff that I've focused on. When I went to college I took all the creative courses you could. You weren't really supposed to take creative things. You were supposed to like throw some English in there: A "proper A-level”, so I kind of managed to weasel out of that.


So I did Art BTEC, photography and graphics. I always liked being someone that kind of like, mixes things up, it’s not just photography, or just drawing, I like bringing elements from everything.


So that led to a foundation at the same college, and that’s when my interest in textiles came up. I became obsessed with embroidery.

My work from back then, and my work now are really dissimilar, but I'm so glad I found it and went to the Manchester School of Art. I was really interested in embroidery, but it wasn't taking my interest away from other things, so I wanted to go somewhere where you could keep exploring. I ended up doing print in the end, but I still constantly change it up like I never hem myself into tightly I don't think.

Georgia:

How did you end up interested in print design, did you have any experience before your degree?

Charley:

When I was at college print was within Art, and then textiles was very fashiony. Which is why I felt that I needed to go to somewhere like the Manchester School of Art where it was a bit more freeing, where you could explore a few more options within textiles.

Georgia:

Was the course very flexible then?

Charley:

Yes, which is good for someone like me that still hadn't quite found my niche. I think I have now but it’s a mixture of everything. I'm really glad I kind of did all the twists and turns because what I do now is informed by, photography, graphics, and experimentation. I just like to play and have fun with my work, and I think if I hadn't have gone that kind of route, I might not quite found it.

Georgia:

Yes, I feel like many people assume these paths are straightforward. You study this, you learn how to do this, and then you become this. And it's like a line.

Charley:

Not for me! For me it was going in every direction possible. I dipped my toe in everything. There were some things, that were: "Well, no, this definitely isn't me" but other things I learnt, still inform what I do today, even in the most abstract kind of way.

I think my twisty journey has shown me that it's totally fine to explore. If you'd have told me at 16 that I'd be doing anything to do with clothing, I'd have been like: “No, I'm not fashion, no, it's never gonna happen. That's like, not who I am”.


I think different areas within Art have stereotypes about them sometimes, and it just never felt like I was the fashion person. I don't follow trends, but I think there's space [in fashion] for people that don't follow trends. My weird journey has definitely taught me that there's kind of a space for everyone in every area and if you just kind of explore and never think "I have to stay on this path till I'm 80".

Georgia:

I feel the textiles fashion divide is something that is really prominent, which is strange because there are so many overlaps.

Charley: I definitely felt that. There were textiles people and then there were the fashion people. Someone might approach you to do fabric pattern that they would do something with, but you'd not have much say in how your fabric would be used.


It's almost like you're either in one camp or the other and you feel a bit nervous about jumping over and dipping your foot in the other camp.

Georgia:

There are definitely points in my own journey that I questioned everything that I was doing. I wonder if you, might have had any of those points along your journey?

Charley:

Totally. There were so many times where I was just like: "what am I doing? This isn't me". That became more prominent when I specialised in print. I got a print focus tutor, and I think when you're in the realm of textile print and surface pattern print, there's this ridiculous pressure to follow trends and do designs that are commercial. University wasn't focused on you going out and just doing your thing. At times it felt like they were saying: "you're only going to succeed if you're doing traditional florals or geometrics, that's the only way people are going to either buy your designs or get a job as a designer”. I think a lot of people don't realise that if you went to work for a company like Paperchase, there's a team that works there of probably 10 or more people. Yet, everything that comes from Paperchase is like noticeably… Paperchase. There aren't 10 different styles from 10 different people, and that kind of put me off a lot because that's not who I am.


I want to do colourful, wacky things, and it just didn't feel right. There's nothing wrong if you enjoy doing that commercial thing, but it just wasn't clicking with me. So there were some real times in the third year where I didn't think I could do it and didn't think this it was for me. But I've come out the other side. Yes, that would work for a lot of people, and a lot of people would be really happy to do that. But it's not where I am. And that's okay. Because that's not what I want to do.

Georgia:

When I was looking at universities, there was always this selling point of, we prepare you for industry. 70% of our graduates now work in industry. We incorporate live briefs and trend led projects. I don't know if you feel the same way, but maybe there's some focus on finding out who you are as a designer, a little bit lost.

Charley:

Yeah. It kind of felt more like you're pushing me towards a mould where I can fit in within the industry rather than helping me find what I want to do. I know that they want to say they've got loads of people in big companies, that's amazing! And I know lots of people that would love to go work for these companies.


Uni for me was definitely more of the technical. I learned a lot more technical stuff and worked on developing my style, much to the dismay of tutors.


When I explained myself, they all got where I was coming from, and were supportive in that way. I think some of [the problem] comes from the way you're marked in these academic settings, with a lot of the focus on if can you create commercial things that speak x, y and z. Obviously if I'm there trying to push my wacky colourful stuff on the world there's gonna be a bit of conflict.


I definitely would go to uni again. I'd do it all over again. And it would have been at the same at any uni because I think it's just the way things in the academic world are taught, especially in that area.

Georgia:

For people that aren't planning to study studying or have studied an art creative based subject, there is often a question of how you are graded. It's like, how can they grade that? Isn't the beauty in the eye of the beholder?


Charley:

Even my parents will probably say that their idea of success was me going on to be a designer for some company. That's what people expect of that route, and I think there's a few people obviously, like me, who like just don't quite fit that mould. I think even finding out which things aren’t quite right for you is good, because it tells you: "no, this isn't my thing, but I've learnt something from it".

Georgia:

And so as someone that didn't want to go into being a commercial designer for someone like Paperchase, how do you feel about the other options that were presented to you?

Charley:

It kind of felt like everything they suggested was be all and end all, and there wasn't really much else going. I feel like I'm the more small scale indie business thing, and I think that's the bit they missed.

Georgia:

So after you graduated, what happened?

Charley:

I went into an internship at a printing factory. I was getting insider knowledge on the whole process, from people’s designs being emailed, to going through the printing process on an industrial scale.


It was really interesting. All of this was really important when I started doing my own stuff, how to communicate with these places and get the best possible outcome. I think it can be really difficult approaching people to say: 'I would like so many metres of my fabric printed'. It's something I really struggled with at first, and if I didn't do the internship, I don't think I'd have mastered it.


All this while I was still working my retail job. I used to work for lush, who are quite well known for their colourful packaging, and I did some internships with them in their design department. So that was really cool, because it's obviously a lot more my aesthetic so I wasn't having to bend my style as much as I would have had to like in other places. I enjoyed it, but it still wasn't for me. I liked having control of my art and my designs from me doodling, to it being a final product.


So, after seeing the behind the scenes of all the sampling, how they go about production and whatnot - you've got all that information, take it and kind of use it. I had my little Etsy shop when I was still at uni for little items just to help with uni costs. And I'd say after those internships I just went for it, to see what would happen. Then last November, I went full time. Just me. In my little colourful room. Now I'm stepping it up again, so we'll see where it goes from here.

Georgia:

If you'd have told yourself all that time ago that this is where you'd be, what would you say?

Charley:

I wouldn't have believed it at all. It was a really strange pathway, but it got me exactly where I needed to be. Now I can't see myself doing anything else. At the moment it feels like I keep bringing in more elements of what I enjoy. I love doing small business styling posts and sharing my love of colour with the world. That's what's really exciting to me.


I found a path that brings more than one part of my personality together. It's taken a while, but I found it. And I needed all the steps, I wouldn't take any of the steps back. They really got me to where I needed to be.

Georgia:

If you could go back in time and tell your second year of uni self a bit of advice, or something to give a bit more confidence, what would you say?

Charley:

Go with your gut.

There's always going to be someone giving you advice. But if people question you, just go with your gut. Try things out. Take what they say in the board. But if your gut is saying this is my style, this is what I'm happy doing, then go with it. I think you're going to be 100% more successful, doing something you enjoy, rather than trying to conform.

I think my main thing I learnt, was there are millions of people on the planet, millions. You're not the only person that likes wacky colourful things.

There are people that want your colourful, wacky stuff. Just because it's not the mammoth market that retail stores all go for, doesn't mean it's not gonna work, and if it's what making you happy, and filling with you with joy, and you can capture that - you’ll be able to fill other people with joy.

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