Profiles: Carola van Dyke

Carola van DykeHomegirl London pays homage to Carola van Dyke Limited.  Carola originally started making and selling baby booties.  But her business really took off when she was heading for a trade show and decided to take a few cushions with her at the last minute.  These cushions were made from off cut fabric and they were a big hit at the show.

Carola creates gorgeous cushions from vintage fabric off cuts which she combines with a red topstitch sketching style technique to achieve something beautiful.  Her subject matter for the cushions is creatures; dogs, cats, birds and squirrels mixed in with a human few skulls.  Carola also makes a great selection of animal trophy heads and sells her paintings.  She’s been in business since June 2011 focussing on her cushions and textile taxidermy.  I caught up with Carola to find out more …

Q: Tell me about your design background.

A: I did BA in Fashion and Illustration at College of Fine Arts in the Netherlands 1992.  After that I moved to London where I undertook practical training and worked as a freelance illustrator and scenic artist for film and TV from 1992-2000.  Jobs included illustrations for several magazines, brochures and films; Wings of a Dove and Sliding Doors.  At the same time I exhibited my paintings.

We moved to Brighton and after my daughter was born I set up a children’s wear business called Tiny Tulips in 1999, it still exists, but only concentrates on baby booties now.  Years later I started a textile business under my own name, starting with left over fabrics from Tiny Tulips, but this has developed very fast and is now a limited company.  I’m mainly focussing on this company now.

Q: Why set up your business?

A: Spending most of my time with the baby booties business and 2 kids, I really needed to do something more creative.  So I started playing around with cushion designs.  This came at the same time that my husband was made redundant so I knew I had to make more of the baby booties business.  For this reason I made the decision to attend a big trade show and at the last minute I decided to take a few cushions that I’d just designed.  Mary Portas came along and bought them for her (then new) shop in House of Fraser, together with lots of other shops.  Things moved very quickly since then.  The booties sold well, but the cushions took over big time.  It was most certainly a massive learning curve from being a creative person to a business woman!

Carola van Dyke Cushions

Carola van Dyke Dog Cushions

Q: Where are you based and why?

A: We’re based in a converted cowshed workshop in a tiny village at the foot of the South Downs.  We live in this village as well.

Q: How many people work at your company?

A: I’m the designer and have 5 self-employed people working for me; machinists, cutters, etc.  Some work from home, others work in my studio.

Q: Describe your design style.

A: I would describe my style as eccentric, exuberant, colourful, quirky, eclectic and idiosyncratic painting with fabrics.  After having lived in the UK for over 20 years, I feel I have managed to keep some of the Dutch design values (quirky / humorous approach) in to my British product / theme.  I want the product to be beautiful, but should also bring a smile to your face.

Carola van Dyke Animal Heads

Carola van Dyke Animal Heads

Q: Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

A: My surroundings.  I live in the countryside and see everything in an entire range of colours (ok, only in MY head).

 Carola van Dyke, Deer

Carola van Dyke Doe Deer

Q: Tell me about your collections.

A: The cushion collections include; Countryside, Cats, Dogs, Birds, Moths and Skulls.  I draw out the animals first and then follow the anatomical lines.  All pieces are precisely cut out in different fabrics and then combined to create cushions with character and detail.  They are topstitched in red in a sketching style. Influenced by a love for colour, the designs are something unique and special.  Exuberant and vibrant in style, using handpicked textiles, they are all individually handmade in Britain in to quirky, beautiful designs.

Countryside Hare

Carola van Dyke Countryside Hare Cushion

Dog Cushion

Carola van Dyke Dog Cushion

Bird Cushion

Carola van Dyke Bird Cushion

 Skull cushion

Carola van Dyke Skull Cushion

Q: What’s your fascination with colour?

A: Colour and colour combinations have always fascinated me.  I think it goes back to my Dutch upbringing.  As children we all walked around in colourful clothes combinations (school uniform doesn’t exist), it was and is quite normal in the Netherlands.  We couldn’t afford Oilily, so I would spend afternoons with my mum, who always made my clothes, with all sorts of bits of fabric that we found or cut out from vintage garments, making it in to an outfit for my sister and I.  Every piece had to be well balanced when it came to colours, texture and size.  I still do that now, including the combination of old and new fabrics.

Q: Which designer do you admire and why?

A: Tricia Guild, as she understands her colour so fantastically well, has moved along with time, but still keeps her signature / style.  Other designers I admire are John Derian, Abigail Ahern and Piet Hein Eek.

Q: What’s the best thing about owning your own business?

A: Managing your own time and doing exactly as you please.  If for any reason I can’t make it to the studio before a certain time, I don’t have to explain that to anyone.  If you feel the impulse to suddenly slightly change direction, or add a new design, then you can, without it having to go through a team of people who are going to decide if it is commercial enough or not.

Q: What one piece of advice would you pass on to someone wanting to set up their own business?

A:  Set up a business that you truly believe in, that you understand well and have a passion for.  You will probably have to work from 5 to 9, 7 days a week, so the passion is quite important.

Q: What’s coming up for the rest of 2013?

A: Anthropologie USA just ordered and the UK said they are about to follow.  We started collaboration with ceramics company Magpie and the plates, mugs and tins will be launched at Top Drawer September 2013.  I’m very excited as they look amazing.

In terms of prices, cushions start at £75.  To find out more about Carola and to buy her products go to www.carolavandyke.co.uk.  You can also buy her products from Amara www.amara.com/shop/brand/carola-van-dyke.  Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Carola Van Dyke, special thanks to Carola and photographer Eamonn J McCabe.