Monday, 27 July 2009

6.1 / Sustainably stylish / Tamasyn Gambell

What: Printed textile designer
Where: London, United Kingdom
Website: Tamasyn Gambell

The Gambell…
I am a printed textile designer and run my own eco luxury brand, which sells fashion accessories and notebooks. I graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2005 and moved to Paris where I worked as a freelance textile designer at several couture houses. I then moved to Stockholm where I worked as a print designer for H&M. After six months there, I realised it wasn’t for me and moved back to the UK where I went about starting my own company.
Why textiles…
I always thought that I would study fashion design but during my foundation year in art and design I discovered screen printing. As soon as I picked up a squeegee I knew I wanted to be a print designer. I love the physical element of it and the way it makes you directly involved with the fabric.

After seeing Chelsea College Of Art with its huge print tables (it’s still the most wonderful print room I’ve ever worked in) I knew I had to study there. It was amazing being able to experiment with all the different processes and the unpredictability of screen printing that appealed to me.

What, where…
I grew up in Earls Court in London which is home to many a colorful character. I think being part of such a multicultural and diverse environment has had a huge impact on me. Everyone was so different and I grew up with adults who hadn’t necessarily followed a traditional career path.

London also has some of the best design schools so I think this made my life choices clearer. I always went to the graduate shows at the Royal College with my dad and knew quite early on that I wanted to do an MA there.
Mama and Father…
My mother is French and my father English so we spent all our holidays with family in Paris or Normandy. I think part of the reason I wanted to work in Paris was to explore that side of my heritage – I’ve always wondered if I would have been different if I’d grown up in France.

Having a glamorous French grandmother definitely got me interested in fashion from a young age. She would have loved the fact that I have my own scarf company.


My family is an intriguing bunch. My mother's grandparents were anarchists – her grandmother ran away from the south of France to Paris where she rallied and marched for equal rights and was legendary for being able to tango on a coffee table in the bar she worked in.

Her parents were communists during the war and my grandfather was imprisoned in a concentration camp for his beliefs. He had amazing strength of character and survived four years. He was well known for whistling famous operas to keep the other inmates spirits up. My father’s grandparents were famous opera singers who toured Europe and were friends with Toulouse Lautrec. My father's mother was a twin born in Chile and married my grandfather who was from a very wealthy family but gambled his fortune away and died when my father was five. He was sent to a children’s home and stayed there until his many part-time jobs could buy him a plane ticket and he went travelling for years, occasionally coming back to London to work for a few months, which would further fund his travels. He was a real adventurer and loved to draw. I inherited both those loves from him.


My mother was brought up on politics and literature and is a fierce intellectual. She is a very strong character and was heavily involved in the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), taking us to marches and demonstrations in our buggies. It is from her that I get my interest in environmental issues and my stubborn nature!
As a child I was quite bossy and loved anything gold or lamae! My grandmother called me a ‘force de la nature’ due to my determined nature. I used to dress up a lot and wanted to be a tight rope walker so my mum advised me to start ballet lessons as they would help with my balance. I was always drawing, cooking or getting lost in my and my sister’s imaginary worlds.

I had a fantastic and happy childhood. My parents were both extremely creative and I had amazing themed birthday parties. My favourite was a circus party where my dad and his friend hired a horse suit and my mum dressed up as the circus tamer. My dad hand painted circus posters and we performed a levitation act in front of lots of bemused parents with my dad's invention – fake legs that I stuck out of a sheet, while pretending they were my real legs – creating the illusion of me floating! After the party my mum forgot her drawn-on moustache and confused the men at the petrol station when she paid for petrol while looking like Salvador Dali!
Then vs now…
As a teenager I thought I was incredibly mature. I wore a lot of black, DMs, elaborate eye make- up and was really into grunge music. A couple of friends and I ran a fanzine where we managed to blag our way into various concerts and often to interview the bands. We had a great time!

I have chilled out a lot but am still quite stubborn and ambitious. I’ve always worked hard, but can be too hard on myself.
Encouragement and approval…
My parents were really encouraging of me choosing a career in art and design and I think their backgrounds and the fact that neither of them had a traditional upbringing meant that they didn’t expect us to do the expected.

We didn’t have much money growing up and I have never been materialistic, which has let me do something I love rather than something that would make me rich.

My father grew up in a children’s home and was a really talented artist but never had the confidence or support to pursue his passion. I have memories of being a young child and watching him draw and paint and as soon as I started showing an interest in art he was very encouraging. We would always take pencils and paints on holiday with us and escape from the rest of the family to draw. As I got older we would go to art galleries together and he loved it that I went to art college. My family is quite unconventional and has always told us to follow a path that makes us happy, rather than one that makes us rich!


My friends are mostly creatives too, so we all support each other. None of us ever have any money but we find creative ways of making do with what we do have!

Working abroad…
I absolutely loved Paris and learnt a lot about myself while I was there. The city has a real energy to it and everyday brought something new. I was addicted to the flea markets and found some real gems on my ritual weekend jaunts.

I worked as a freelance print designer in several Couture Houses which I was really excited about. I learnt that you have to be really pushy as no one is going to come to you at first. It’s quite a fickle and elitist world that forgets you quickly. I was on the phone for at least an hour every day ringing round making appointments and hassling people. It was a real challenge as I’m quite shy and I used to have to psyche myself up and pretend I was this ultra confident person!

Stockholm was a beautiful city and I loved its quirkiness but it didn’t have the same buzz and appeal for me as Paris does. In the summer it was incredible and I lived near a huge lake and would go for runs at sunset. I was unhappy in my job and spent a lot of time questioning myself and my creativity so I felt quite raw by the end of it. I learnt that working for a commercial company can be very exciting but I felt really limited and stifled.

Swedish design however became very influential on me and I learnt a simplicity and pureness of design there, which I didn’t fully understand before.

I miss elements of both cities and could easily live in either again.
Free time…
I run my own company producing eco friendly scarves and accessories. I also work as a freelance writer for WGSN and design collections of printed fabrics for various designers in New York.


In my spare time (that which is left), I love going to markets and travelling. I recently visited southern India and fell in love with it. My boyfriend and I made the trip to spend some time at the Welfare Project I work with, based in Munar and built a holiday around that. There is something about waking up somewhere different each day that I could get quite addicted to. The scenery, people and food out there blew me away! We are already planning our next trip.

I also love going to galleries, museums and the cinema and cooking really relaxes me.
I love cooking and find it really therapeutic. Going running and my daily cycle to the studio keeps me sane. I can also be found in galleries, museums and cinemas or having a relaxing natter with friends.
Acquiring knowledge…
After seven years of college, I was ready to get out there and learn on my feet. Working as a freelancer in Paris taught me how to design away from the print table. I had always been very experimental and tended to neglect imagery a bit in favor of new techniques and color combos. But not having a workshop space forced me to focus on the imagery I used.

I spent loads of time researching and drawing, which I feel made my work progress a lot. I also learnt the business side of the textile industry and what it is like to be your own boss. I set time aside each morning for what I called secretary hour where I would put on my poshest voice and ring around scouting for work, and promoting myself. I’m naturally quite shy so I would dread doing this, but in the end I just pretended I was someone else and quite enjoyed it.

When I came back to London and decided to set up my own business selling scarves I attended some free business advice sessions in Deptford. This really helped me get my head around the financial and practical side of things and gave me the confidence that I needed.

The rest I have picked up along the way. The PR side of it is always tricky but I have a great placement student and together we have learnt loads about contacting press and promoting the brand.

Talents and interests…
I am really interested in all elements of art and design and love seeing new things whether that’s in a gallery space or on the streets. I find London a really exciting place as there’s always something new to do and see.

I am a very talented market haggler and always manage to find something. My proudest finds have been my art deco dinner set with beautiful hand painted motifs and my vintage printed dresses which never fail to inspire me.
Taking the leap…
It’s never been a conscious path for me, things have just fallen into place. I was at a point when I couldn’t imagine working for someone else and I didn’t want to be a freelancer so it seemed logical to start my own business. I knew that people liked my designs and felt confident in myself that I could sell them and make exciting products, so I just went for it!

I think the amount of training I’ve had has really helped me. When I lived in Paris and worked as a freelancer, I had to be confident in my work as I had to sell it. I’m not naturally that confident a person, but I have always been confident in my work as I put so much into it.

I think its more the fact that I couldn’t not do what I love. It’s such a huge part of who I am and my identity that I would feel lost without it.
On the side…
I have just launched a new notebook range which I am really excited about. There are two ranges, a paper back and a hard back version. The paperback one is made using recycled card and are individually printed and bound by a young British bookbinder. Its pages are reject sheets from local printers in Holborn, all pages are plain with a blue side and a white side.

The hard back range is bound in vintage scarves which have been overprinted in our unique designs. The spines are in contrasting colours. These were bound by a family bookbinding company in Essex and use recycled paper stock from a 100 year old British paper mill.

With each range, no two notebook is the same.

I am a complete hoarder! I love old ceramics and my flat is filled with mismatched crockery. Anything with print, an interesting colour or texture will draw me straight to it. When I was a teenager I was really into swing and jive. I was totally obsessed with that period and took lessons in jive dancing and collected 1950s dresses and toy cars. I am currently really into old prints and packaging. The flea markets in Paris are full of gems, luckily my boyfriend loves them too so we’ve framed loads of them in our flat.

Pros and cons…
I really like the independence of it all and having my own studio. I love being able to screen print and spend time developing my own designs, so that I am not only printing on fabric but papers and potentially other materials.

I also like having freelance projects that take me away from my own head space and enable me to explore other peoples briefs. Working for WGSN is great as I am able to see new things and I get to write which I love. It’s a different kind of work but I find it very stimulating and I love taking photos, especially doing street shots and city guides.

Its really hard from a financial point of view as I am at the stage when there’s a lot of money going into the business and not enough coming out. I would love to have a business partner who would take charge of the PR of the company and manage the books. It’s a lot to do for one person and can get really stressful and tiring.

I would like to feel more financially secure but know unfortunately that’s probably a long way off!
A day in the life…
Very busy! I don’t sit still for long. Monday morning usually involves me cycling to my studio then the rest of the week is always different. It could involve me printing ‘til the wee hours of the morning or being out and about, meeting potential stockists or visiting museums/galleries or shops for inspiration.

I’m usually quite mucky and can be seen in my ink splattered boiler suit running around Holborn!

Jumping over hurdles…
When I worked in Paris my father became very ill with cancer. My career there was starting to take off and I was getting increasing amounts of work but I had to make the decision of either staying there or coming back to spend the last few months with my dad and help look after him. My mum works as a head teacher and he was alone all day so I felt I had to come back. We were extremely close and I wouldn’t have lost those last months I had with him for anything.

I did bits and pieces of work but it gave me the time to think about what I really wanted to do and it was during this time that H&M contacted me. After my father died I ran away a bit and moved to Sweden. Now when I look back I realize it wasn’t the best thing to do as I was away from my family and friends and felt quite isolated.

I overcame this though and made lots of friends there and feel that I got what I could out of the job. Sometimes it’s enough just to know what you don’t want to do (if not what you want to do).

My biggest hurdle in setting up my own business was financial. I entered the Cockpit/Nadfas award for sponsorship of my first year in business and was lucky enough to get it. I gained studio space and business support, which really kick-started my business.
Learnt about herself…
I have a strong design sensibility that is most successful when I am able to experiment and work for myself.
Best advice…
My mum’s always told me that regret is the most worthless of emotions so try and do everything you want to do – including things that make you feel mortified when you think back to them – but never regret anything as it’s made you who you are today and you’ll have learnt something from it!
Advice from Tamasyn to you…
Think long and hard about it before hand. Get as much business advice as you can and make sure its something you are really passionate about as your life is about to be lost to it! When you are working all weekend and late nights you have to love it!
I get out of wherever I am and go to a gallery or museum. For some reason I always get my best ideas on buses. I always have a pen with me to scribble them down on old receipts or scraps of paper.

Few of her favourite things…
One of my favorite places in London is the V&A arts library. It is very ‘old English’ with wood panelling and long walkways through the middle of heavy oak desks. The walls are covered with bookshelves and the head librarian sits at the main desk where you write the name of the books/magazines on a small slip of paper and they are bought out to you. I love looking at Vogue and Harpers Bazaar from the 1930s and 40s with their Surrealist photography and illustrations.

I have a wonderful book called ‘Textiles of the Wiener Werkstatte 1910-1932’, which is pretty worn now. They were a collective of designers who produced incredible modernist designs which really inspire me.

Most of my inspiration however comes from markets and objects that I pick up along the way – be it an old scarf, piece of fabric or ceramic.
Back in time…
Everything I’ve done has taught me something. I think at the time I wondered whether I should have gone to Sweden but it taught me loads and made me stronger.
Inspiring people…
Artists and designers like Moholy Nagy, Sonia Delaunay, Louise Bourgeois, Vivienne Westwood and Elsa Schiaparelli.
Immediate future…
Expand my notebook range and do a new range of recycled scarves based around old family photos and collages.

Dream life…
I dream of owning a huge old farmhouse and converting one side of it into a huge print studio with a 10 foot print table where my boyfriend and I can work all day. I would have a big garden with some crazy dogs and a pot bellied pig!

I would travel to Paris and London regularly where I would have a couple of boutiques selling a mix of antiques, vintage clothing and my work. My weekends would be spent in markets finding goodies to sell on and inspire my new collections.



Jamie said...

This is a really inspiring interview, there should be more designer-makers with an equal design/ethical grasp!

Rosalind Davis said...

wonderful interview. you really grasp a lot of Tammasyn's strong ethos and personality, a very interesting read!

Jane said...

Great interview, makes me want to learn how to print!

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