In issue 15, UPPERCASE visits the London studio of Donna Wilson, the prolific textile and homewares entrepreneur.

Donna Wilson, April 2012

Donna Wilson, April 2012

Art was the only subject that I was good at in school. And so that naturally progressed into attending art college. I think I chose textiles because it was very hands-on and I liked the process of printing. Knitting, didn’t come straight away. At first I was more interested in the printing and visualization, drawing. When we did get introduced to knitting, it was very basic and just using a domestic machine. At the Royal College of Art, when you study textiles, most people end up making samples for industries—making little square samples that they will sell to the fashion houses or big commercial companies and things. But I was always like “I want to make a product” and I didn’t really know what it was going to be, but I wanted to make something, from start to finish so I could then sell it. 

Between my first and second year, I started making these little dolls which were just made out of old jumpers. I used to go into charity shops and buy all the skin-coloured jumpers I could find and the little charity shop ladies were like Ohh, these are nice. What are you going do with these? I didn’t have the heart to tell them I was going to cut them up! One of my tutors saw the dolls and said, why don’t you take them round to some shops? I went round to a shop on Kings Road called Couverture... They would buy twenty a month and I would get about 400 pounds a month—which helped me through college, to pay my rent and stuff. 

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Back at Royal College again, my tutor, who had seen these dolls said, right Donna, what can you do next? You can do these dolls, that’s something on the side, but how are you going to challenge yourself more, how are you going to develop it into something more interesting? And so, at that time I was also looking at the way that children draw things and how uninhibited it is and how free they are… You can draw things like a cat with ten legs and three eyes and it doesn’t really matter. So I didn’t want to create things that were scary and ugly but make it them a little weird and different so and that’s where the first creatures came from and I remember doing one called “Angry Ginger” and was ginger with a hairy chest and ugly teeth and people just, kind of, related to them somehow and they all have their own little personalities and people saw themselves in them. 

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I sold those at my final show and I showed them again the next year with Designer’s Block which brought another audience and more members of the public to see my work. That’s how the business started. But for me, it was really important to create the whole thing from knitting the fabric and choosing the yarn, choosing the patterns, choosing the techniques. The eyes and the stitching became quite a trademark and I though I think there is quite lot of this sort of thing going on now, I’m always keen to do new ones and try and move the products on. That’s why I’ve branched out and done other things as well [such as furniture, accessories, tableware]. I definitely want to keep the creatures as part of my range because I’m known for that, but also have other things to pursue. •

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When I was child, I was always drawing and painting. I had a quite inspiring grandmother who kept encouraging me and my sister to draw and look at things really closely. She was a bit of an amateur artist herself, so she would get our little doodles and drawings framed and then would sell them in local art shows in the nearest town. So from quite an early age I realized that you could sell your work and make money from it. I remember getting 90 pounds once, from a drawing, and I was completely over the moon with that.

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PHOTOS AND VIDEO BY JANINE VANGOOL
PRODUCT IMAGES COURTESY DONNA WILSON