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We sat down with one of our most famous collaborations Julie Dodsworth to chat about her inspiration, her big break and what's next for this talented designer.
Read the exclusive interview below and check out Julie's graphical timeline here...
The Mat Factory: Were you artistic as a child?
Julie: I always loved to paint as a child. When I was eight I won the Huddersfield City Council's Safety in the Home art competition. The design was a child's hand reaching up for a cooker. It was such a thrill to win and tell my mum and dad. I won a five shilling book token. I remember I went with my granddad to buy the book and it cost 25 shillings, so he was obviously out of pocket on that day, but I still have the lovely book we bought.
The Mat Factory: How do you feel your time in the plant display business affected your designs? Do you think it influenced you?
Julie: When I went into homeware, there was a concern that my husband and I were very, very busy people. So, how are you going to have another business when there's already one that's more than fulltime? With a little restructuring and sharing our goals as a team we had the very sound start. What followed was an inspiration explosion. We'd been in business for 25 years and with this new direction I was exposed to all these new designers and designs. The ideas, designs and creativity translated back over into the display business again. It was most certainly more of an enhancement than a detriment. Both businesses actually flourished because of it, rather than one at the expense of the other.
The Mat Factory: Are you ever influenced by other designs or designers?
Julie: Not from my own industry. All my inspiration comes from canal life. A boat goes past, the seasons change, the light plays on the flora - it all plays a part in my designs.
The Mat Factory: What types of products established you in the beginning of your career in the homeware business?
Julie: I started with what are called "cornerstones" of homeware...china, mugs, crockery, kitchen textiles and home fragrances. The cornerstones lead to many avenues of home and gift. Licence number one was with McCaw-Alan in Northern Ireland. Those first products went to launch in 2011.
The Mat Factory: Were there any obstacles you had to overcome at the start of your career?
Julie: Oh, of course. Right at the beginning, I was asked "are you a celebrity, a well-known brand or have a TV programme coming up?" Of course I had none of these things, but I just kept going. When the brand started to be established the extraordinary part of the story was that I was just an ordinary lady. That was the simple and very original story and the designs were strong enough to see me through.
The Mat Factory: You're fond of what you've described as a "vintage" style. Why do you think your audience finds this appealing?
Julie: I think it's because it's familiar. There's something comforting about things that are familiar. Whether they come from your childhood or something that you remember fondly about grandma's house, there's a comfort to them.
The Mat Factory: They do have a very homely feel to them.
Julie: Yes warm and homely. People like homemaking. The beauty of the JD range is that the designs are eclectic and therefore the customer can make their own story with it. They're not looking at the china, for example, and being sold that one design. They're seeing many designs that they can put together themselves, and putting their own little stamp on it. That's what homemakers just like me and you like to do.
The Mat Factory: It certainly seems like the designs are very personal.
Julie: Oh, yes. I've no commercial training. I simply paint colours and designs for my own taste. Somebody once gave me some really good advice when I started out. I asked, "Should I be looking at the market?" And they told me, "No. Just paint things you would like." I've followed that advice ever since. The little names for my designs are from very ordinary family life. Nothing more. Days at the seaside, walks in the dales and little favourite places. I have a little design called Sand's End; it's just where we used to take the children on the east coast. Wild hart is the very first shop I saw our product.
The Mat Factory: What made you think The Mat Factory was a perfect fit for your artwork?
Julie: It's all about personality. When you collaborate, you've got to have a bit of chemistry. The Mat Factory approached me at a fair in Munich, and I just went with my heart. Just a little click with the person you're going to be working with. It's really important.
The Mat Factory: How do you want people to feel when they see one of your mats at their door?
Julie: "Feel" is a good word for it. Because colour isn't really about what you see, but what you feel. Homemakers want to feel that their mat and other decor are nice to come home to. And the very fact that you can wash it and keep it clean means that there's a practical side, too.
The Mat Factory: How do you feel your mats fit in with the rest of the home?
Julie: The lovely Strawberry Fair range fits beautifully, the range is really developing. And, we've even got little brushes now to match the mats.
The Mat Factory: What do you think are the keys to success in business?
Julie: Listening. Listen to what your customers want, the things that they like, when they need it, and at a price they feel comfortable with. The shops the retailers are the experts...Always listen.
The Mat Factory: Do you enjoy the world of business as much as that of art?
Julie: The business side of it is something you've got to do. The collaboration must make a success of the products for themselves and their employees. They're not there to make my dreams come true. Responding to what they need when they need it is vital. For a lady my age who wanted to be a designer at school and spent her whole life doing a different job, this is an absolute dream come true. But as said, it's got to sell.
The Mat Factory: What advice would you give to yourself just starting out?
Julie: The advice I give myself all the time is to just keep going. You just keep working at it. Hard work and common politeness is the essence of every good business. Julie Dodsworth will be working with a host of new design partners, including Barbour, Churchill China, and Darlington Crystal, as well as unveiling a new range of products for The Mat Factory in the coming months.