Indie Oxford Interview: Custom Made
Today on the Independent Oxford blog, I talk to Anna from Custom Made about her indie business journey, the process of creating and why she left the corporate world behind. >>
Tell me about how Custom Made began.
My background is in fashion. I did a degree in fashion design and when I finished university spent six years working as a menswear designer for a high street chain. I really wanted to do something different. I was burnt out, working way too many hours and the job had become unrewarding. I have to say though, the experience and knowledge I gained in those six year were invaluable, and really helped me when I set up Custom Made. I literally came home from work one day and said to my partner ‘I’ve had enough’ and he said ‘well you can leave you know’ So I did! I had no plan when I decided to leave but quite organically started working on Custom Made straight away. In the early days I was working 3 days a week as a freelance designer and working on Custom Made the other two, and any other spare time I had.
Have you always lived in Oxfordshire?
Pretty much except for university in Manchester for 4 years. I like it here.
Where do you find the inspiration for your pieces?
I find inspiration all over the place. I am super inspired by colour and shape and pattern. I’m constantly studying colour. I had a collection last year based on a study of mid-century furniture for example. Sometimes I will literally start with three or four swatches of coloured acrylic sat on my desk.
Tell me about the process behind the Drop Curve Necklace.
I have chosen the Drop Curve necklace in mint & pink as this collection of pieces has come together in a very organic way. There are a few pieces in this collection and they sit together based on colour and shape. As I mentioned I usually start with a few swatches of acrylic sat together and go from there. For my acrylic ranges I have a library of metal shapes (which I am always adding to) I like to work with, and I add the acrylic pieces around them. The acrylic I laser cut from sheet. I usually start with shapes I draw in adobe illustrator and then lay the metal shapes onto the drawings. But, pretty much once I’ve cut some shapes the finished pieces are always different from the initial drawings because I cut shapes in various colours then sit and play with them. This is, I find, how I end up with the best pieces. I have an area in my studio for new work/work in progress and sometimes pieces sit for a while and I spend odd hours moving pieces around.
How has Covid affected you this year?
Wow…this is the weirdest year of business I have ever experienced. Well its the weirdest year of my life to be honest! But business wise, so weird. When lockdown was announced I honestly thought I would have no work to do. I started to plan long term projects, starting stock for Christmas in March (I usually start in July), studio revamp, accounts, new product planning etc etc. Then orders started coming in to my webstore. Like…a lot of orders.
My time is usually split between wholesale orders and webstore orders but a larger portion of the business is wholesale. With stores being closed wholesale slowed down but my webstore became super busy. It’s been very heart warming actually because many orders were from friends checking in with friends that were having a hard time, and friends and family checking in with people they couldn’t visit and sending them a little gift.
I refocused the business very quickly on the online store- adding new pieces weekly-ish, running offers and doing fun things. I made it a place (through our social media) where people could think about something other than coronavirus!
To say thank you for all the support I’ve been doing a giveaway once a month where three sets of friends can check in with each other via Instagram and get the chance to win a pair of earrings each. That’s been very popular. I’ve also been doing a monthly Custom Made playlist over on Spotify.
I am very very grateful to customers and our followers on social media, friends and Independent Oxford who very kindly shared Custom Made and really got behind supporting small business during this time. Its been such a great help. So now, post lockdown things are gradually changing, wholesale orders are getting more regular again but its going to be a long road and its quite hard to plan as thing change constantly. Its all about constant change and jumping on new things all the time.
What is your vision for Custom Made?
I am constantly amazed, surprised and grateful that people buy pieces that I dream up in my head and then make. I now understand that feeling will never go away. If I can keep doing that for as long as I want to that’s good for me. As long as people still enjoy my work, I’ll keep making it. Perhaps that makes my job sound too easy? It’s not I can assure you. I enjoy a calm life and I would love to keep it that way! Busy, but calm.
Lastly, what are your favourite indies in Oxfordshire?
Oh so many!
I like a cocktail at The Handlebar Café.
Cheese from the Jericho Cheese Company.
Pizza at Mama Mia since I was a kid.
I like The Wonky Food Company. I bought a selection pack of relishes as a Christmas present then we ate them ourselves. Must do that again.
Truck Store, I am a sucker for coloured vinyl.
Hamblin, The Stockholm loaf is the best bread ever.
Shop at the Old Fire Station, they have a wonderfully curated selection of jewellery, gifts and home products.
I could go on and on and on…
It’s so great to learn about the design process behind the products we love, and this emphasises the real connection we have with designers when we buy indie. We are investing in their creativity, and their passion for creating a space where real connections can be made, as well as nurturing our own community of friends and family.
If you’d like to read more indie stories, check out our Indie Interview series on the blog.