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Texprint alumna story: Bonnie Kirkwood, woven textiles designer

15 November 2015 by Kathrin Huesgen in Alumni Stories, Fashion, Home, Interiors & Auto

Texprint 2004 alumna Bonnie Kirkwood has set up her own business in London designing sophisticated woven fabrics for the high-end global market.

We’re meeting in her London studio in Woolwich, a ten-minute walk from Woolwich Dockyard Station, out in south-east London right next to the Thames. Bonnie Kirkwood, a designer of bespoke woven textile designs both for fashion and interiors, was selected to participate in Texprint back in 2004 and has been building her business ever since, while also working as a consultant with fabric mills.

Her designs are intricate with a traditional focus but modern edge. They are beautifully woven, based on carefully selected silk, wool and fancy yarns. She has a true passion for colour, recognised when she won the Worshipful Company of Dyers Colour Award back in 2007 during her MA in Constructed Textiles at the Royal College of Art, London.

Our discussion explores the hard-working realities of running your own studio. One of the biggest challenges, Kirkwood notes, is “that you can’t physically do everything yourself”. The reality of her business sees as much time allocated to admin as to the actual design work – evaluating production and manufacturing opportunities while also seeking to remain focused on her customers.

In addition to this, the set up of the loom and actual weaving time is a long process in itself, not to mention the time required for research and the thinking that goes into the artworks, mood boards and technical sketches her designs are based on.

How do you remember Texprint and how did it help you?

Texprint for me was after I finished my BA degree at Winchester School of Art. That was in 2004 – that’s 11 years ago. It was a huge help. Texprint provides a lot of support and opens your eyes to the realistic commercial world outside the student life and the student courses.

You are helped with all the information you need for invoicing, pricing, copyright, dealing with customers, and Texprint was there every single day to support me during Premiere Vision and the view in London.

And then you’re obviously meeting everyone else who is selected for Texprint… and everyone is so different. You gain a good network of potential future designers and contacts too.

How did Texprint help you understand the reality of the commercial world?

By being part of the private view in London and having the stand at I think it probably shaped it more as I knew that I wanted to eventually work in this way and sell samples. It was a very good experience to try that out at Première Vision Designs. you are exposed directly to the industry and the commercial world. Without that experience I think it would have been quite hard to understand and comprehend. Then Texprint supplies you with all the information on pricing and copyright etc.

Did that change your ideas about what you were going to do? Or did it shape it more?

I think it probably shaped it more as I knew that I wanted to eventually work in this way and sell samples. It was a very good experience to try that out at  Première Vision Designs.

How many samples do you produce per season?

Approximately one hundred.

That’s a lot!

Yes! I have to work to at least two main seasons per year – spring/summer and autumn/winter with mid seasons too. The collection needs to be new and refreshed for each collection, but also I am designing for all levels of the market and a variety of customers. Also, interiors is now just as fast-paced as the fashion industry. So there is no let up in between seasons either.

And you are consulting as well? On fabric concepts?

Yes, mostly with Italian furnishing fabric mills. I put together the new trends and colours to follow, then work directly with the mills to develop the designs. This is mainly for the UK high interior design market. They then sell the production to the relevant companies.

Ten years is a long time. Was there any time where you felt this was going to be really difficult?

All the time! Building, maintaining and growing your own business is a continuous hard process. During the initial years after Texprint I was working full time in design positions in fashion and interiors – at Designers Guild and Paul Smith, gaining great experience in the industry, but this meant that with starting my business, working evenings and weekends was necessary.

What do you think about new challenges for the industry, such as sustainability?

It has to be sustainable, and it will. I think a lot of people talk about it but no one’s really taking a hold of it. But hopefully in the next five years it will all become a huge part of the design and development in textiles, fashion and interiors as well – for people to understand and accept it as well.

Will the challenges of sustainability change the way Texprint works?

Maybe it has to start with the young designers and the students. The students themselves become interested and can push sustainability. And then Texprint [picks up] on that and accepts those students within the selection as well. That would help promote it.

Your advice to the new generation?

Make the most of being part of Texprint. Be sure to stay in touch with other students and the team – and be aware what an amazing experience Texprint offers.

Contact Bonnie:   www.bonniekirkwood.com+44 (0)7813 666907 / bonnie@bonniekirkwood.com

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