Emily Jo Gibbs is one of the fantastic and acclaimed new members we welcomed to the Design-Nation portfolio in February. Her wonderful stitched textile work caught our eye many years ago and we’re thrilled that she’s decided to join us! We caught up with Emily to ask a few questions about her practice, her inspiration and workspace.
Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.
I started making fashion accessories in textiles and metal in the final term of my Wood Metal and Plastics degree at Wolverhampton University. On graduating I briefly studied shoe making and leatherwork in Leicester and Walsall. Then in 1993 inspired by interest in my work from designers and press; including Koji Tatsuno and American Vogue, I moved back to London and embarked on setting up my handbag making business. I had a Princess Trust loan, a Clerkenwell Green Association workshop and Enterprise Allowance! That was the beginning of a hectic decade – a vast amount of making hours, very steep learning curves with hugely exciting and glamorous moments.
My current practice, my ‘flat work’ phase, began in about 2009. This work emerged from a need to make work that was personal and unconnected to business motivations.
Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?
My mum has been a huge influence; I grew up sewing at her knee. I didn’t follow any formal textiles education a) because she had taught me such a lot even before I started secondary school and b) because she had put me off the fashion industry.
Design and creativity where highly regarded by my family and I grew up in an atmosphere that really valued being able to make things. My form tutor at school was Henry Pim, the esteemed potter so generally my early years were steeped in making.
What inspires you?
In the current climate I have found the stories of inventiveness and collaboration between designers, engineers and medics hugely inspiring and they give me hope. Brilliant people employing creative thinking and pragmatism.
What is the best thing to have happened in your business to date?
I’m very lucky as I have lots of exciting highlights. In 2018 I was selected to make a new body of work for Collect Open and this was a long held ambition. I made The Value of Making, which was a turning point for my practice.
What is your workspace like?
I work on my kitchen table, which isn’t always ideal and quite inconvenient for everyone else, but the light is excellent. I live in a 1960’s town house in South East London, our kitchen / diner / living room is all open plan so I’m in the heart of things. Usually the day is quiet because my husband and kids are at work and school, it is quite a change having everyone at home (although my teenagers seem to be getting up later and later, one has become nocturnal!). I’m an avid radio listener.
Do you work hard on your PR or do others help you to market your business?
I don’t have a PR person or company but I do try to take every opportunity offered and follow things up. I have found membership groups often offer PR opportunities, which I try to make the most of.
What are the main challenges in your practice?
My work is very slow to make, so the challenge is for customers to understand and value the time they take to make. I also think there are challenges to overcome regarding how textiles are valued.
Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?
I’m really interested to pursue an idea of depicting different makers in different working environments; I’m particularly interested in the intersection between handmade and high tech and would like to do a project with a car factory or somewhere similar.
If you could collaborate with someone new who would that be?
If you weren’t a designer what would you like to do?
I think of myself more as an artist and a maker, I don’t want to be anything else. I find the teaching part of my practice rewarding. I think maybe if I were to start my journey again I might have studied ceramics.
Why did you join Design-Nation? What is helpful about being a member?
I joined Design-Nation because I believe it is really important to be connected with other creative people and I have a lot of respect for the organization and for many of the members, some of whom I know. I’m always looking out for exhibition and promotional opportunities. I hadn’t appreciated how incredibly helpful, responsive and proactive the team are, I’m so grateful for all the support at the moment, I’m really glad I joined.
Do you have you any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that we should know about?
I have just sent some pieces to Jennifer Collier for her show at Unit Twelve celebrating TEN years. The show will open in a virtual format on May 7th. I’m also working on a portrait commission that was finalized before lock down.