What is your background? What where you doing before coming to ISCD?
My background is in art history and art appraisal. After finishing a BA Degree in Art History, I went on to study art appraisal at Sotheby’s in London. I then worked in some of the auction houses in the UK and South Africa and spent a few years working in art galleries and assisting with curating exhibitions and selling art. I moved to Sydney in 2001 and after a health scare in 2013 I came to the realization that what I really wanted to do was to create art. This was a huge challenge for me to get my head around because as much as I’ve always loved art, I never felt I was good enough to actually make it!
What did you study at ISCD?
I started with the short iSTYLE Colour course which I absolutely loved. I then completed the CERT IV in Design which was wonderful and from then it was a no brainer for me to go on and do surface design.
What is the key skill you learnt at ISCD that you use the most?
I learnt so many useful skills at ISCD however I think probably the most significant one for me was an increased understanding and awareness of colour. Those early days of mixing colours and painting endless chips in CERT IV has been beyond helpful in everything I do now. I use colour much more confidently and in so many more effective ways. At some point in the not too distant future I would really love to complete the Colour Design Diploma at ISCD.
What are your favourite three instagrams or blogs and why?
I absolutely love Instagram – it has been one of the most useful tools in promoting my business and my work and I have met some incredible people, including clients and suppliers through Instagram. Some of my favourite Instagrams are #ihaveathingwithfloors, #ihavethisthingwithtiles, #textileartscenter and #designseeds. I also follow a few sites like #businessmindset101 which means that I get positive quotes and affirmations coming up in my feed during the day and it is actually an extremely powerful subliminal tool and just glancing at it while I scroll through can often change my mood. My favourite blogs are WGSN for trends, Patternbank for inspiration and Pattern Observer for great tutorials and information.
Who is your favourite designer and why?
My favourite designer at the moment is German rug designer Jan Kath. I love how he combines traditional elements from oriental carpets with minimalist, more contemporary elements.
How did you come up with your business idea?
My business just kind of evolved. I’ve always loved rugs and art – anything on a flat surface really. The rug design brief in CERT IV really inspired me to create more rug designs and since then I haven’t been able to stop! A friend wanted one of my designs made up as a rug so I had to make it happen (although to be honest, I had not the faintest idea how to do that). Somehow I worked it out and things have just grown and developed from there.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your own business?
That’s a tough question! There have been so many challenges. For me personally, time is probably the biggest challenge I’ve had to face in running my own business. As my business has grown and I’m working full time now I find juggling family commitments and home life very challenging. Most nights I’m sitting up at my computer at 1am doing stuff I wasn’t able to get done during the day and that makes me tired which makes the next day even more challenging.
How do you stay motivated?
It’s not difficult to stay motivated when you absolutely love what you are doing! One of the ways I keep on track with what I have to do is to make a “to do list” every Sunday evening for the week ahead. It creates a sense of order for me and as I complete each task, I tick it off.
What would you say to others looking to launch their own business?
I’d say go for it! Believe in yourself, arm yourself with the best skills you possibly can, never stop learning how to do something better and more efficiently and be very clear about what it is you want to achieve through your business – money/success/personal fulfillment – whatever it is, be honest with yourself and then pull out all the stops no matter how scary they are and do what you need to do to get there.
How do you find dealing with clients? Any tips on how to grow your client base?
I love dealing with clients – mostly the clients I meet are interior designers and architects and their clients. They usually have quite a specific idea of what they want in terms of design and colour which makes things much easier for me. I think once you have an idea of what your work with the client will actually involve to always be completely honest and upfront with them, to get an idea of their expectations and to outline your terms and how you work so that there are no misunderstandings down the line. I have a strong work ethic always giving the best I possibly can and going that extra mile if I need to. For me reliability, honesty and open communication is the basis of any relationship and it’s a good idea to start that with a client (or supplier) early on and build on it.
For growing your client base my top tip would be Instagram and social media! Put your work out there no matter how hard it is to start – there will always be somebody (probably a lot of somebodies) who love what you do and be willing to pay you for it – they just need to find you!
What does the production chain look like and how do you manage it?
The production of art prints is not too complicated – once the client has approved the colours and quote I send through my files to the printer and they are printed onto the paper or canvas with a really quick turnaround time. The rug production however is quite a long process from beginning to end.
Usually the client has a general idea of size and a general colour palette in mind. We then select the appropriate colours from the ARS colour system (which is a bit like a Pantone colour book only they are wool or silk pompoms in a great big heavy box).
I have compiled a portfolio of my designs and collections which I am continually growing and changing. The portfolio is online so it is easy for the client to log in and have a look. The client then chooses up to 6 designs they like which I then colour index according to their specified colours. The client also needs to decide on the materials they want. Their choice often depends on where the rug will eventually be placed. High traffic areas require more durable and sturdy materials. In the case of wall-to-wall and commercial grade carpets for hotels/bars/casinos etc. we use carpets predominantly made of nylon and the design is printed onto it rather than woven into it. I will soon have a selection of samples of the various options which I can show clients to help them in their selection process.
For the handknotted rugs, once the design, materials and final colour scheme are finalised I create a CAD which is like a map of the design. I supply this to my rug manufacturer in India. He then has to calculate the amount of yarn required and he quotes me to produce the rug. I then submit the quote to the client. Once approved, the yarn has to be dyed which can take a few weeks. Then weaving starts. This can take several months as the rug is handknotted, one knot at a time. Once the weaving is complete, the rug is hand washed several times to eliminate any dye residue. Thereafter, it is finished, also by hand. This involves cutting and trimming the pile and sewing up the edges. Our rugs generally take between 3-6 months to produce or more if they are very large. If there are a number of rugs being produced I will go to India to inspect them and ensure that they are perfect before they are shipped. If not, my manufacturer will send me detailed photographs. There are taxes, duties and other custom requirements to be addressed before the rug is permitted entry into Australia. Once all that is cleared, they are opened, inspected again, repackaged and delivered to the client.
Managing the production abroad is not always easy but I am very lucky that my manufacturer is always honest and upfront with me and has always kept to his word. He speaks English perfectly so we do not have communication barriers to overcome. Being able to trust him with my designs and my work and knowing that he will do what he says he will do is crucial to the success of my business. We communicate daily and he sends me photographs regularly. Keeping a record of every detail discussed and every stage completed on file is also helpful in managing the production process.
What are your top three goals for this year?
Goal number one is to officially launch my business and show and tell people what I’m doing. Goal number two is to create a printed catalogue of my first rug and wall art collection. This is currently being printed and should be ready in about a month. Goal number three is to start a growth fund where a percentage of my profits are directed towards providing education to some of the children of the artisans in India who make my rugs.
What are your business plans for 2017
I’m hoping that 2017 will be the year of the trade show. I want to do at least one in Australia and would like to visit one or two abroad with the intention of exhibiting there in the future. It is my goal to keep pushing the boundaries of art, design and rug making, to keep growing my client base and to keep creating beautiful rugs and wall art!
You can follow Ruth on Instagram & Facebook @ruthieldesigns or you can visit my website at www.ruthieldesigns.com.au