England by Design August 31 2014, 0 Comments

My family and I planned a trip to England to visit relatives and see the sights once school was out and before the summer took our girls in different directions. We had a wonderful week in London, staying in Chelsea, then a breathtaking beautiful stay in Devon by the sea, and finally a relaxing rest in the country in Nayland, near Colchester. We tried to see as many sights as we could manage in London, riding the hop on hop off buses, touring museums and visiting great neighborhoods with interesting shops and outdoor markets. We made the pilgrimage to Abbey Road and mugged for the obligatory photo.

 

My in-laws joined us a few days later to visit our English cousins Josh and Sarah in Oxford, where they own and run their fair trade store Indigo. Their business began in 2005 when they were traveling in India and bought a few fair trade bags from the Delhi Bazaar they sold at the Oxford Market. The shop today now has products from all over the world, including the UK, with high quality and a fair trade policy weaving it all together. They are as concerned with fairness as with beauty and design. As they explain on their website, "When the artisan is respected and able to work with natural materials in a way that satisfies them, they are much more likely to give love to what they create." One of Sarah's favorite lines she sells is Nkuku, who specialize in eco-friendly, fairly traded homeware and gifts, inspired by the traditional skills of artisans throughout Africa and India.

 

Walking around the shops near our hip Chelsea neighborhood we came across one with colorful lamp shapes hanging in the window. On closer look we realized they were made of recycled water bottles. These unique one-of-a-kind gems were created by the Pet Lamp Project, started in Spain to encourage designers to make beautiful objects using plastic bottles so they don't end up in landfill.  In 2012 they started working with weavers in the remote village of Eperara-Siapidara in Pacific north-west Colombia, who have traditionally woven fabric from straw that they dye in bright colors. This collaboration produced an exuberant range of Pet Lamps that are now available to buy in upscale international design stores. The response of the public and the press has been overwhelmingly positive and Pet Lamps were recently nominated by the London Design Museum for best product of the year.

    

Continuing on our neighborhood exploration we took a peek at the local Anthropologie and found great use of tables and wash bins to house collections of impulse products, including kitchen timers from Kikkerland

 

All around London, from flea market stands to bakeries to menswear boutiques, and fishmongers, imaginative, purposeful, design was clearly on display.

 

I must admit I was a little obsessed with how various retailers imposed order on their products, since beginning my design research for a point of purchase retail store display for 12 Small Things. With help from my friends at Ditto I now have a modular box design made of recycled cardboard that can house and organize scarves, jewelry, housewares or holiday ornaments, depending on the season. Ditto is also designing a framed topper to show videos of the artisans at work.

Now back in San Francisco, I am working with my designer friend Meredith Peck to add the graphics to the display and make special hangtags for the products I'll be selling. I'm building three prototype displays to test at different retail stores in the Bay Area for the holidays, and the timing is getting a little tight. But at least I have a better sense of how I want to present my artisan goods, thanks in part to my London research, accompanied by great meals, exquisite scenery and a wonderful extended English family!