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Social Media’s Marketing Potential: we talk with alumna Emma J Shipley

16 September 2018 by Meghna Sarkar in Alumni Stories, Fashion, Features, Home, Interiors & Auto

How can designers use social media to promote themselves and their work? Emma Shipley, graphic artist and TexSelect alumna, shares her story.

Social media, a brilliant tool for self-promotion, is proving a marketing lifeline for many emerging designers and creatives. One click is all it takes to share your creativity with the world – and Emma Shipley, a TexSelect alumna and 31-year-old British graphic artist and designer, is doing exactly that. She’s admired by her 12.8k Instagram followers for her intricately detailed sketches, and her feed is like an online exhibition of her fantastical creations. Her Emma J. Shipley label, launched after her year with TexSelect back in 2012, includes scarves, wallpapers, furnishings, notebooks, tote bags and a host of other merchandise, all printed with her signature vibrant illustrations.

The fashion industry thrives on social media. Visual content, in the form of carefully curated posts, effective advertising and intriguing stories, has the power to incite thousands of potential customers to talk about a brand or a designer. Different approaches can work. While Zara’s Instagram feed looks like a fashion magazine with tastefully styled editorial shots, brands such as Kate Spade maintain a more personal approach with videos and images of the in-house design processes.

“Instagram still feels very personal in comparison to other channels,” says Emma, speaking to us in her east London studio. “It’s also such a big part of our lives. People look for your Instagram profile even before googling you. It’s a great tool in terms of creating brand awareness and visibility as a legitimate business.”

Building a social media presence doesn’t happen overnight. Emma targets her audience with visually engaging posts, but her key goal is to convert followers into real customers. “It’s easy to look at people who have thousands of followers and think that they are really successful,” says Emma. “People can buy followers on Instagram these days. It’s more important to focus on the actual audience and the engagement that you can build with them.”

This approach has worked in her favour. In 2016, Emma collaborated with English luxury brand Aspinal of London after the company discovered her through social media. “The creative director of Aspinal messaged me on Instagram about a collaboration,” recalls Emma. “I didn’t have a large number of followers then – it was about catching the attention of the right people.” Emma designed the Pegasus Collection for Aspinal  for A/W 16, celebrating the brand’s iconic feather symbol. As with all her other designs, this classic range of luxury bags and scarves portrayed Emma’s vivid imagination and love for various myths and cultures – an exclusive launch at Harrods in London further helped to raise her profile.

Emma’s impressive online presence isn’t limited to Instagram. She regularly updates her website, maintaining it as an E-shop and creating newsletters that pave the way for holding personal conversations with her consumers. “When it’s a small operation like ours, we need to focus on other areas and keep growing them,” says Emma. “I don’t think any of these channels exist in isolation. Instagram might be a very important medium but it’s not the only one, it is just another cog in the machine. The visibility is great but you can’t solely rely on it to grow your business.”

Emma’s vivid individualistic style is tailor-made for Instagram. Every image on her feed intrigues the observer, thanks to the sheer detail and colourful creative composition. She says: “I am inspired by classical textiles, botanical illustrations, scientific diagrams, mixing in elements from my travel, myths and legends, to create a fantastical style that’s very detailed and focuses on hand drawings as its basis.”

Her Animalia collection is currently displayed at Harrods, showcasing armchairs, wallpapers and rugs with intricate hand-drawn animal motifs in a host of eye-catching colours. Emma’s designs add an unmissable vibrancy to every Instagram shot, infusing a sense of fantasy into mundane interiors. There is a focus on conveying a dreamlike reality, be it through juxtaposed behind-the-scenes shots or through carefully planned indoor shoots. From the Fable Collection, inspired by fairy tales and British folklore, to the Audubon Design, with its romanticised illustrations of birds, Emma’s work is a social media treat. “A little bit of my soul is there in all of my designs,” she says. “There is always something unexpected in my work.”

Emma was winner of the Emerging Brand prize at the WGSN Global Fashion Awards as well as the Newcomer Award at the UK Fashion & Textile Awards. She is grateful for the boost that TexSelect gave her back in 2012. “TexSelect is a great platform in terms of exposure and people getting to know about your work,” says Emma. “When you have the TexSelect seal of approval it means you have been vetted already, picked out from a much wider pool to be put in front of the industry.”

The future looks bright for this designer. Her goal is to create timeless pieces that instantly connect with the buyer. “My customers don’t buy my work because it’s in trend: they buy it because they like the design,” says Emma. “For me it’s about the evolution of design from one season to another with a recognisable style or signature at the core. Design that lasts for years to come.”

Instagram: emmajshipley


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