Today’s Designer Interview is with Rachelle Wong who we had the pleasure of meeting at New Designers back in the summer. Rachelle is an Edinburgh based surface pattern designer, who is also a recent graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. She specialises in printed textiles with a strong interest in pattern and has recently made her skills and designs transferable to ceramics.
When did your interest in design first start and how did that come about?
I can’t exactly pinpoint when my interest in design first started, but it was, and still is, influenced by my mother. She was into all sorts of arts and crafts: from cross-stitch to folk art painting, she did it all and I always had itchy hands and wanted to join in! One of the many things that stuck with her through the years is her beloved sewing machine, which is older than me, may I add! So it’s no surprise that I wanted to follow the same path as her, choosing a hands-on subject that I really love.
What steps did you take to get to where you are now as a designer?
My first massive step was going to art school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I wasn’t suited for a “sit down and study” subject but instead needed something a bit messier- I haven’t had an exam since my first year at university! Don’t get too jealous though, the coursework was insane but I loved every minute of it.
My course at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee was amazing; I was constantly challenged creatively, which encouraged me to explore different materials and diversify my creative knowledge by working with other designers. This is where I realized that for my degree show collection I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself in just making fabric “pretty” but instead, bring together my passions of textiles, food and tableware to create a range of products that promote eating as a ritual activity and good design.
During my final year, I knew I needed to get some real life experiences so I started making opportunities myself. I sold my work locally to give them more exposure and through that, I managed to sell some work internationally as well! It was great to receive customer feedback and learning which designs sold best and what seemed to be my strengths.
How would you describe your style?
I grew up in South-east Asia so the arts and culture drawn from this region influenced my development as a designer and therefore always finds subtle ways to sneak into my work. However by using fresh colour palettes and contemporary patterns, my designs appeal to the global market.
I would also say my style is experimental, I’m always pushing the boundaries with my hand embroidery and looking for new materials to stitch into. It can be pretty painful sometimes pushing a needle into what seems like a concrete wall: I have a pile of broken needles to prove it and need to invest in a thimble!
However even with being experimental I am always inspired by what I feel is home and tradition to me. Inspiration can be drawn from crockery kept in the family’s cabinet displays to spices that flavour my home cooking. These give me endless avenues to explore into and is always a topic close to heart.
What kind of designer do you want to be known as?
I want to be known for my love of patterns that are constantly creative and original. Also as a designer who puts customers first in the whole design experience. I am really into the whole “Meet your Maker” experiences because they allow customers to know a designer on a personal level rather than a name behind a brand. They are always pleasantly surprised when they discover we share a mutual love of Oreos or something (yes, they are my favourite biscuit!)
What are you currently working on?
I have just moved into an Edinburgh based studio, it’s still a mess with all my ideas thrown everywhere but I am hoping to design an exciting new collection soon! That’s all I’m saying, I’m not giving away anything else yet though, you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled!
The studio is great with a whole range of facilities such as a ceramics workshop that allows me to further experiment my stitching into porcelain. I’m really excited to try and perfect that technique, I’m still learning so much everyday.
What advice would you give emerging designers wanting to build their portfolios?
Honestly, I am still building up my portfolio but let me firstly and most importantly say this: there is no right way in doing it! Don’t just think of a portfolio as a big black case that you bring to interviews, it’s also about building an online presence. Show “behind the scenes” types of images that allow viewers to receive an insight of your everyday lives as a designer so that they know you’re more than just a name behind a brand and can find common interests with you, which make your work more relatable to them
Always ask for people’s opinions, it may be difficult to hear criticism sometimes, but you’ve got to be prepared for it in the big bad design world. But remember, these are just suggestions, in the end it is up to you to ensure your personal style shines through and that’s what I believe makes a strong portfolio.
What would be your dream design gig?
Everyone who knows me knows that I would love to see my work in Anthropologie- I crave everything in their shop! Other great retailers that I would like to see my work in are John Lewis and Oliver Bonas. It would also be great to see my work on some kind of food brand packaging; it would be pretty cool (and embarrassing) to run around the supermarket yelling, “I designed this!”
Looking ahead what are your major goals for the next couple of years?
I never really thought to launch my own business, but ever since graduation, life seems to have pushed me in that direction – I’ve been blessed with renting my own studio and have already been getting a quite a bit of interest in my work!
I want to establish myself as a surface pattern designer and my mission is to spread beautiful pattern around the world! In doing so, I hope to create a solid customer base who loves pattern as much as I do.
Ooh, this is a difficult one – I love too many patterns! But I am going to choose contemporary batik as I feel it reflects my upbringing because its pattern was established in South-east Asia. The use of wax to create beautiful textile pieces fascinates me and I love the detail the fabric captures. Its compilation of various textures and patterns echo my different characteristics and emotions, that when put together, creates a distinctively unique piece.
Rachelle Wong is an Edinburgh based surface pattern designer, who is also a recent graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. She specialises in printed textiles with a strong interest in pattern and has recently made her skills and designs transferable to ceramics. Rachelle’s work is inspired by what she feels embodies home and tradition and what it means to her. Her work is mainly, but not strictly, inspired by multicultural nation of Southeast Asia, with her work displaying rich colour and detailed pattern. Her interest also lies with hand embroidery and through this practice as a traditional craft skill, she aims to communicate that tradition is not just a Grandmother’s story, but also a series of human, tactile and visual experiences.