Homegirl London pays homage to Gillian Kyle. Fancy a Tunnocks teacake or caramel wafer washed down with Irn-Bru? If you do there’s no one better to share it with than with Gillian Kyle. She’s the Scottish textiles designer who takes inspiration from iconic Scottish foods for her range of quirky home accessories. From touting her homewares at craft markets and festivals back in 2009, she’s now an international success selling aprons, mugs, coasters, tote bags and tea towels across the globe. I caught up with Gillian to talk wafers, teacakes and other wonderful Scottish stuff …
Q: Tell me more about your Eureka moment – when you first decided to use iconic Scottish foods in your designs?
A: On graduating from Glasgow School of Art (GSA) in 2008 design jobs in Glasgow and Scotland were so thin on the ground that I knew the only way to avoid moving to London was to start something myself. I just thought ‘start making some things, and see what happens’, and so that’s what I did. After chatting with my partner Tom one night about the Scottish psyche and our weird and wonderful relationship with food I did some drawings of Tunnocks Teacakes, Scottish Plain loaves and bottles of Irn-Bru. I quickly printed these onto t-shirts, aprons, tea towels and tote bags in the GSA textile print room. I sold a few things right away to other students who had seen me printing them and took them to a few local craft fairs. Things grew from there pretty quickly – what I was doing seemed to strike a chord! I launched the business officially the January after graduating with very little clue what I was doing; it was a real baptism of fire, but also the best way to learn. Over the last two and a half years it’s been a case of consolidating what we have achieved, developing a solid creative direction and growing the business.
Q: How do you keep the inspiration flowing to create new designs?
A: I’m really just fascinated by popular culture, products and branding, identity, nostalgia and memory – and this is what underpins most of what I do. We have just released a new range of designs inspired by the old-fashioned menu-boards of classic seaside cafes. There is just so much wonderful tradition, history and beauty in some of these places – just seeing the wafer cones piled high on the counter and the Formica table tops transports most of us back to simpler times I think. As we grow it’s really important to me to develop a strong Scottish identity in terms of design. That doesn’t have to mean using typical Scottish imagery – it’s more about the personality of the brand we are trying to create. Manufacturing here in Scotland and the UK wherever possible is a huge part of that too. We want to keep adding to the product range with new designs and items – it’s important to keep things fresh.
Q: Aside from Tunnocks wafers and teacakes, what other designs ranges do you make?
A: One of my bestselling designs is called the ‘Glasgow Breakfast’ which is a still life that immortalises a selection of Scottish delights such as Irn-Bru and Scott’s Porage Oats, to a “healthy” Scotch Pie and a Wham Bar. I think it’s particularly popular amongst the male portion of our customers and seems to hit the right tone with a bit of humour, in choosing to group all of these treats together, and the reality that these are all just as popular now as they have been for decades!
Q: Which celebrity would you most like to share a Tunnocks teacake and can of Irn-Bru with?
A: I think it would be quite entertaining to share a Teacake with Mr Kevin Bridges (comedian). A fellow Glaswegian that I would like to meet and I’m sure he’d keep me amused – although I suspect he might be a Caramel Wafer man …
Q: If you had to pick the wafer or teacake as your favourite treat – which one would it be? And do you like it with a cup of tea or Irn-Bru?
A: This is a controversial question, however, my personal preference would be a Teacake with a cup of tea – preferably in an old-fashioned tea cup (that was always the way in my Granny’s house).
Q: What are your 3 bestselling items?
A: It’s got to be the fine bone china mugs or the aprons. In terms of designs, the Tunnocks Teacake design and the Teacake Wrapper design (all over print) are still extremely popular, especially down in the south of England, followed closely by ‘The Glasgow Breakfast’. It’s been quite surprising how popular the aprons have been, especially as gifts for guys, I guess it’s a nice house warming present and I think that people really like the bold colours I’ve gone for and want to have some colour in their kitchens!
Q: Tell me more about your organic credentials
A: It’s really important to me that the things that are produced under my name cause minimal environmental and human damage. We try to make things that will last well and are not destined for landfill – we also try to use the best and greenest materials that we can. Once we discovered the truth about the damage that traditional cotton production causes to people and the environment we felt that compelled to use organic where we had the option. For example, 2.5% of the world’s farmland is used for cotton growing, but more than 10% of all chemical pesticides and 22% of insecticides are used in its production. So that’s 8 x more pesticide being used on cotton than on other crops! This is obviously terrible for the environment in the cotton-growing regions – many of which are very poor – but the real cost is the human one. According to the World Trade Organisation, pesticides are responsible for 20,000 deaths and 3 million chronic health problems each year among farmers and their communities in developing countries – that’s massive. Dependence on pesticides also leads farmers into a circle of debt that can be very hard to escape – pests exposed to pesticides build up a resistance to them, so each year the farmer has to borrow money to buy more pesticides to grow the same amount of cotton. There is a massive problem with farmer suicides in some parts of India as a result of these debts. Most folk see cotton as such a benign, natural thing – but the reality is really quite shocking. Organic cotton goes a long way towards solving these problems, and it feels and looks wonderful too.
Having said that I’m not a saint and I don’t manage to buy organic products myself all the time, although I do try and they are slowly and gradually getting easier to find. I’m really hoping that the concept of organic textiles will filter its way into the public consciousness in the same way that organic food has in the last few years.
Q: What’s going on for the rest of 2012?
A: On the back of the work that I’ve done with certain Scottish brands, Glenfiddich (single malt whisky) contacted us last year and commissioned a range of bespoke ‘Gillian Kyle for Glenfiddich’ products which has been a real hit. Since then we’ve managed to secure another 3 similar projects with other key, Scottish brands – so that’s been keeping me busy at the drawing board these last few months. We’re really excited about this autumn / winter because we will be launching a very exciting new range that we are in the process of pulling together right now. The range is based on really fun collaborations with some up and coming Glaswegian illustration students, still in keeping with our Scottish identity but a really exciting addition to what we already do. I can’t say much more at the minute, so you’ll just have to stay tuned on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Gillian.Kyle.Scotland). Oh and did I mention that I’m due to have my first baby in 5 weeks? I guess that might keep me even busier than usual!
Below is a selection of Gillian’s fabulous products. To give you an idea on price points; mugs £10.50 each, aprons £17.95, tea towels £8.50, 4 coasters £12.75. To buy go to Gillian Kyle. Credits: text by Homegirl London. Images courtesy of Gillian Kyle. Special thanks to Gillian Kyle and Karina Mather.