Textile Queen

by Imogen Heath in Bespoke stories

Imogen Heath talks to textile designer Lorna Syson about the best way to kickstart your own design business. 

A couple of years ago, I decided to start my own design business and turned to the Princes Trust for help. For those of you who haven’t heard of the Princes Trust, it’s a charity that helps disadvantaged people aged between 18 and 30 to go into business or get back into work. I was inspired by a group of designers I knew of who’d also had help from the Trust. One of these was the textile designer Lorna Syson, so I was delighted when Lorna agreed to an interview.

I hope this helps inspire others to take the leap. There’s so much to gain and almost nothing to lose. And you’ll quickly find out if starting up on your own is for you.

Tell me about your work. 

I’m a textile designer for interiors. I create luxury high-end products, ranging from my unique wallflowers, which I’m best known for, to more affordable printed cushions and lampshades, inspired by the British countryside. All items are designed and made in the UK, and I use sustainable materials where possible.


Tell me how you came to set up your own business. How did you get started?

After showing at New Designers in 2009 and selling one of my wallflowers to a window-display designer, I felt inspired to sell my own work. This year I was also shortlisted for a text print interview and was told that my flowers are so unique, I should run with it myself rather than sell it on. I started to exhibit my final-degree show across the country at exhibitions and designer-maker fairs. In 2009 I got involved with the Prince’s Trust and was lucky to be paired up with my mentor and now friend Peter Dickson. He really helped me fine-tune my business brain and take a new look at where I wanted to go in the future.

Tell me what inspires your work and sparks your imagination. Where do you turn for inspiration? 

The wallflowers were inspired by a trip to the Eden project. I love the modern feel of the botanical gardens and spent a couple of days testing out my photography skills and sketching. I went in late summer and the dahlia and chrysanthemum flowers were in full bloom. They were so beautiful. Because I make a real effort as a British designer to get everything made in Britain, I thought it was only right to keep the UK countryside as my inspiration – you can see this with my most recent print collection. I turned to the British countryside, especially hedgerows. The Bradbury print looks at the negative spaces in blackberry bushes and my new bird family specifically looks at British songbirds.


What do you enjoy most about the design process?

The process of designing takes you on your own personal journey. When I start, I have an idea of where I want the design to go, but the drawings and ideas take me on their own path. Often I end up with a design that’s completely different.


What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

There are many pros and cons. I love being my own boss and the day-to-day challenges this presents. I never get bored and get a real sense of achievement when a new shop orders or a commission comes in. At the moment I’m really excited about some robins I’m bringing out for Christmas and can’t wait to show them at Top Drawer [the UK’s leading event for design-led gifts, lifestyle and fashion accessories].

What are you most proud of?

The wallflowers and some of the great commissions I’ve received because of them. When I first showed them in 2009, I didn’t expect such an amazing response. I love it when clients send me photographs of the flowers in their homes.


What would be your dream creative project?

I’d love to work on an even bigger scale in a more commercial setting with the wallflowers. I’m doing some collaboration with larger companies – the main one being the Eden collection with Era Screens, which are three-dimensional screens for commercial spaces. That sort of work is really exciting.

They say that the first two or three years of business is the hardest. How was it for you? Have you any advice for designers who are just starting up?

I’m just coming up to the end of my three years and can’t believe how fast time flies. There definitely have been times when I’ve found it tough and I think the support of my family and friends has really helped at every stage. My advice would be to believe in yourself, build great relationships around you for the tough times and, when possible, take some time out to enjoy the good times.


What is next for you?

I recently moved into Cockpit Art’s Deptford studios and love being in such a creative environment with other designer-makers. I can’t wait to make the most of the opportunities Cockpit Arts presents. I’ll be at 100% Design for the third time in September. I’ve got an amazing space and can’t wait to show off the whole collection… Watch this space.


To find out more about Lorna’s work, visit www.lornasyson.co.uk

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