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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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Clare Edwards


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