An interview with Wallace SewellAn interview with Wallace SewellAn interview with Wallace Sewell

An interview with Wallace Sewell

Wallace Sewell are a UK based design studio and were established by Harriet Wallace-Jones and Emma Sewell after graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1990. Wallace Sewell now supply over 200 stockists in 20 countries. They have been a Design-Nation Member since 2001 and are now celebrating 25 years in business together.

Design-Nation: How did you meet and when? Why did you decide to start a business together? What sort of challenges did you have in the early days?

Wallace Sewell: Harriet and Emma met in 1985 whilst studying on a BA textile degree course at Central St Martins. They specialised in weave and after graduating, were both fortunate enough to gain a place at The Royal College of Art where they completed a 2 year MA. The country was in recession in 1990 when Emma and Harriet graduated. Jobs were scarce and so they shared a studio, endeavouring to gain freelance work and finding two heads were better than one when brainstorming and finding design projects. They also both taught as visiting lecturers at various colleges.

DN: What was your first memorable product in the Wallace Sewell collection and why? Do you have a favourite product or range?

WS: Wallace Sewell was initially a trading name for Emma and Harriet who were still both sole traders. Emma’s preoccupation was structure and performance yarns whilst Harriet focused on large, asymmetric stripes and blocks. Exhibiting their work side by side was a perfect fusion of colour, structure and composition, complimenting each other perfectly. Their two signature looks have always symbolised Wallace Sewell’s unique branding. Product ranges change each year, especially the scarves and so each collection and each year, a new product is their favourite.

DN: Congratulations on your 25th anniversary this year. What is the secret of your success?

WS: Harriet and Emma began the business as friends and design colleagues. Whilst their characters are greatly different, they share a preoccupation and fascination with European mid twentieth century design and colour theory such as The Bauhaus, its teaching and design ethos, and wonderful and influential tutors such as painter Paul Klee and colour theorist Johannes Itten, whose students included Anni Albers and Gunter Stölzl.

DN: What has been the most challenging aspect of your practice and business in the last 25 years?

WS: Many issues and challenges crop up on a daily basis, quite often practicalities relating to production and delivering on time. But possibly the most challenging issue is to constantly keep ideas and products fresh and inspired - challenging each other and their ideas, in order to realise our design potential to its full.  

DN: What inspires you?

WS: Both Emma and Harriet are inspired by painters and current exhibitions, as well as their urban and rural environments. They often begin by being influenced by a particular quality they’ve developed as a starting point.

DN: How do you approach working together in partnership? Has this working relationship changed over the years?

WS: Initially, they both worked together in their Clerkenwell workshop. Now, Emma lives in North London whilst Harriet has moved to Dorset. In many ways, this has liberated their design process - both working at different locations and Harriet travelling to London each week. When Harriet is at the London studio, they experience a frenetic and highly productive day, brainstorming, discussing designs that they’ve both been working on individually.

DN: Do you work hard on your PR or do you have someone doing that for you?  What’s the most important thing to consider in promoting your work?

WS: We do not actively work with a PR company but within our small team we try hard to promote our work. Social media channels are important for us, especially Instagram, as our products are visually eye-

catching. When promoting our work, it is important for us to endorse that we design by hand and produce our products with the UK textile manufacturing industry.

DN: Where would you like your business to be in another 10 years?  Is there anything else you’d like to do?

WS: Wallace Sewell is constantly expanding and changing its product range. The team has grown, yet kept its intimacy and individuality. Other ambitions include new projects collaborating with other brands and further consultancy, as well as developing the Wallace Sewell core brand and what it stands for.

Interview by Laura Jacometti. Images courtesy Wallace Sewell, with thanks to Kate Walsh.

As part of their 25th anniversary celebrations, Wallace Sewell will be hosting a pop-up-shop opening party in Foulbridge this July.

Wallace Sewell Pop-Up-Shop, 11 July, 4.30pm

Mitchell Interflex, County Brook Mill, Foulridge, BB8 7LT

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An interview with Sue PrykeAn interview with Sue PrykeAn interview with Sue Pryke

An interview with Sue Pryke

Ceramicist Sue Pryke has been a Design-Nation member since 2011. Her background is firmly rooted in the crafts, having started her journey into ceramics at a small pottery in Lincolnshire. She is now an established multi-award-winning designer-maker who has designed for leading high street brands and continued to make her own work. We caught up with her as she prepared for The Contemporary Craft Festival in Bovey Tracey, Devon this weekend. Sue Pryke will be on stand A51.

Design-Nation: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

Sue Pryke: I’ve been lucky to work with several inspiring ceramicists and designers over the years.  My first job after graduation was at Wedgwood as a young junior designer, so much history and expertise to inspire and learn from. Early on I worked with Queensberry Hunt; David Queensberry was my mentor whilst I was at the RCA and I used to work from their studios on project work whilst studying.  They set up their world renowned tableware design practise the year I was born, such a breadth of experience and pool of knowledge!

DN: If you weren't a ceramicist what would you be?

SP: Probably a florist. My parents were growers in the east of England and the idea of having a florist’s business with my mum was mooted as I was leaving school.

DN: What inspires you?

SP: Everything! In the past I would have drawn from the tableware industry’s heritage, especially whilst working at Wedgwood, decorative and functional detailing, which has been banked as a visual vocabulary. That’s still there, just not at the fore any longer in my work, as I now feel more inspired by landscapes and other cultures. 

DN: You've been known in the past for designing product for mass manufacture, for high street brands like IKEA and Next. How does it feel to be back in your own studio, focused on small collections?

SP: It’s great to be in control of a collection from start to finish, working for IKEA and other brands you’re only a cog in the wheel. Even if you’re responsibilities are to oversee a collection from start to finish, it’s not 100% of the process. It’s quite refreshing to work on a small scale too, as IKEA is enormous. Some of my tableware pieces are produced in the world’s largest volumes. Focusing on small collections of craft pieces again is like coming home; I’ve gone back to doing what I set out to do when I graduated from the RCA in 1994, when I had a studio in Clerkenwell and was slip-casting work for bespoke collections, independent stores and the high end craft market.

DN: What are the main challenges with production?  

SP: Not being able to make work fast enough! 

DN: Do you work hard on your PR or do you have someone doing that for you?  

SP: I do all PR. I have help with office work and production, but I enjoy working with the press and social networking communities.

DN: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?  

SP: It is early days and I’m still working on my strategy and vision! 

Interview by Laura Jacometti.

Images courtesy Sue Pryke. For more information about her work, please follow these weblinks: 

Sue's Design-Nation listing
 and Sue's own website

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