And that was just the beginning of her career! Read on to find out what pulled her Stateside from the UK, how she liked working in-house for a major retailer, why she's made the transition to freelancing, and what her grand mission is for our industry. You can also get loads of insight from the information and experiences that she shares regularly on her blog Pattern Occurring.
Thanks Anne Marie!
You were educated as a designer in England. What university did you attend and what was the surface pattern design program like?
That's right. I am a Brit and studied Textile and Surface Design At Newcastle College and Cleveland College of Art and Design. My tutors at both were amazing. They had lots of industry experience and really hammered home "Draw, Draw, and Draw some more." They knew that to get that first job you really needed to have solid fundamental skills and college is the best opportunity to hone that skill. Also I was so spoilt as we had a great print technician who knew so much, while also having massive screen-printing facilities. Before choosing a school, I had been to several of the London colleges for open days and they had very limited space. The last thing I wanted was to have to wait to use anything.
Please tell us a little bit about you first job in the industry, after you were fresh out of school.
While at college we did a collaborative project Hallmark/Tigerprint, after the project I was fortunate to be selected for an internship with them. Through that I stayed in contact. You could say my first job was designing a calendar for Marks & Spencer. I really value the role of internships as a student. They give you great insight into the real world and let you try on different hats; in-house vs agency, etc
As for my first position, it was for a textile studio in London called Brewster, which really was one of the best studios then. I had a wonderful design director and mentor in Fiona Paxton. She taught me to question "is that flower the most beautiful it can be?” it really pushed me to critique my work, to get the best out of every print. In my 2 years there I produced over 1,000 designs which were sold mainly to runway and high street companies. As part of that job I got to travel to Paris several times to sell prints at Indigo, which was another huge opportunity for learning.
What brought you to the United States?
I followed a man, hee hee! No—my husband was hired by Teague, a design firm in Seattle. At first, I thought “Ahhh! There’s no fashion industry there! I can't design polar fleeces forever!". Nonetheless, it was one of those meant-to-be things and I started talking to Nordstrom and they brought me out.
I had several roles at Nordstrom, my first being textile and colour designer for their Brass Plum brand. That was super fun with a 6 week cycle of research, development, and production. I was never bored, that’s for sure. Then I moved into a freelance position for 3 1/2 years. That was a wonderful opportunity as I got to just go in and make art every day. Making textile designs for a huge company was exciting especially when I worked on bedding for HOME. I loved it whenever I popped down to the Nordstrom café for lunch and there was a bed set up in my print. So fun.
I learnt how to write emails, how to make brand appropriate prints, and Ned Graphics. There are definite pros and cons to both. I loved being able to see where the prints go and watch people on the shop floor checking out my prints.
What differences and similarities did you experience between working in the UK and the US?
Oh, do you really want to go there? Ha! 34 to 37 days paid vacation a year in the UK as opposed to 10 in the US. But on a more serious note, both have taught me so much. In the UK it was how to be different and work efficiently. Here in the US I’ve learnt how to make designs that sell and to pay attention to the details.
In-house I had built a relationship with my design directors, who backed my decisions. You get the time to show them your worth and then you eventually are able to choose how you work. Being a freelancer was really a blessing, because when I had my babies I was able to take 6 months to really be with them.
However, working as a freelancer you don't always get to be an influencer and trend leader, which is one of the areas I am good at. So if you want to just show up, make art, and leave, freelance is perfect for you.
As with any creative industry, it’s normally about who you know and making lasting connections along the way, I’ve also prided myself on my versatility, so nearly any request isn’t out of scope for me.
You've done work for apparel, interiors, and products. Do you have a preference? Why?
Oh no this is my current struggle. I love everything. I am greedy. If there is a new trend I want to play with it and try it for different markets. I love it all.
What opportunities are there for designers in the Pacific Northwest of the United States?
Loads if you put yourself out there. You have to be willing to try new things though. Also, now that you can share large files online you can work for anyone. I think they want to see your face sometimes so you may have to create a collection for a specific customer and approach them. It is rare that I get someone knocking on my door.
Specific companies in this region include: Nordstrom, REI, Eddie Bauer, Nike, Milkprint studio, Pink Light Studio, Tommy Bahama, Union Bay.
Ok, this is why I started a guild here in Seattle in 2008 and (after ending it) then went on to create my blog Pattern Occurring. I desire for the profile of textile design to be elevated, while also giving textile designers a better understanding of historic textile movements. I hope that textile design will be a more valued component of the design process and not just viewed as a service or an afterthought. I truly believe colour and pattern are why a customer is initially drawn to a garment. Good textile design is essential to the commercial and emotional impact of the products we interact with everyday.