We’ve been big fans of Ian and Felicity Campbell Cole – the creative minds behind the eponymously named design studio, Campbell Cole – for quite some time now. Our admiration grew that little bit bigger when we got the opportunity to see behind the curtain of Campbell Cole, working alongside both Ian and Felicity to create The Strap, our first collaborative product that was launched earlier this month. In that time, we received a fascinating insight into how both Ian and Felicity work and how, more importantly, they combat the many different challenges of growing a design brand while still maintaining the authenticity of an independent design studio.
To unwrap that relationship a little further – and to gain an insight into the inner-workings of one of our favourite brands – we found a little time in the design process of The Strap to sit down with both Ian and Felicity to find out how they’ve done it, what they’ve learned along the way and how they work together day in, day out.
What were your first jobs?
Felicity (F): I was really keen to get a job from a young age and worked as a sales assistant in a clothes shop while I was still at school. Then once I’d finished, I became manager of a lovely local independent women’s wear shop. It sparked my interest in fashion, as I loved the buzz of helping people find clothes that made them look and feel great. After studying Fashion Design at Uni in my mid-twenties, I went on to work as a men’s shirt designer.
Ian Campbell Cole (ICC): Oh um, pot washing, checkouts at Asda, even vacuum packing smoked meats at one point… I studied Industrial Design at Northumbria University. My first ‘proper’ job was working on the design graduate scheme at Pentland Brands. As a junior designer I worked across the brands on a variety of different projects. After 12 months, I was offered a full-time role as product designer at Speedo in Nottingham where I was responsible for designing goggles, flip flops, training aids and bags.
How did you first meet?
ICC: We met about 10 years ago in Nottingham, just as Fliss was finishing her degree.
Are you always creating together?
F: We’re decorating our house at the moment, so it does feel like it. We spend a lot of time looking for inspiration and hunting for things for whichever room we’re planning next. Luckily, we have very similar taste, and both enjoy doing it. And Ian has the patience to agree that we should re-paint a room when I’ve decided it’s not quite the right shade!
How do your roles differ within the business?
F: I oversee the day to day running of the business and customer service. Ian looks ahead, thinking about future products and projects. We share product design, creative direction for the brand and look after production together.
ICC: If you fancy a coffee or have a big idea that may or may not ever quite make it, email me. If you want to make sure something actually gets done, email Fliss.
What initially inspired the start of Campbell Cole?
ICC: We wanted to create something that represented our values and taste, which we could proudly call our own. Personally, I’d enjoyed working for Speedo… I travelled a lot, spent time in factories all over the world, and worked on some interesting projects. However, I’m not that into swimming so the product category didn’t particularly excite me, and I was ready to move on.
I started to look back at a project that I’d worked on at Uni, where I’d designed a bag for commuter cyclists. I managed to negotiate a freelance contract with Speedo to give me the time to pursue the project further. For one reason and another, the bag couldn’t be manufactured but during this time I’d met various factories and potential suppliers in the UK, which laid the foundations for Campbell Cole.
What has been the biggest problems in starting out for Campbell Cole? What has been the biggest breakthrough in that time?
ICC: To be honest, the first couple of years were all a bit of a calamity! Although we both had experience designing product, and a clear sense of what we value… we struggled to develop the product we wanted for the right price. Initially, we tried working with a few different makers and factories, but none were right, either because of quality, lead-times not being met, or price being too high. The first tote bags we developed arrived 6 months late and were far too expensive so just didn’t sell. It was a nightmare.
One of the biggest breakthroughs came when we were introduced to the factory that still makes our small leather goods today - including our OPUMO collaboration The Strap. They have years of experience making for higher end brands but also embrace working with independent designers. Luckily for us they are very close by, so we visit them regularly and have developed a really good relationship with them.
Is there certain things you disagree over?
F: The longer we work together, the less we disagree. Maybe it’s because we’re learning our business together, so we’re observing what works and what doesn’t at the same time.
How does working with another person differ to working alone?
ICC: Having each other’s opinion is really important to both of us. Plus, being able to pick each other up if we’re having a tough week… and someone to share the successes with is pretty nice too.
How do you draw the line between work time and time together away from the office?
F: In the beginning we worked all hours on all days, it was exhausting. Now things have settled we try to work a ‘normal’ Monday to Friday and feel much healthier for it. Our weekends usually involve walking our dog and eating some good food somewhere. Inevitably, work chat does creep into our time off, but to be honest it’s not necessarily a negative when your work is something you’ve created together. Often our best ideas come from when we are out and about because your mind is calmer and somehow has more space to wander.
What are the three most important things that you’ve learned along the way in the journey of Campbell Cole?
- Nothing ever goes quite to plan
- Work with like-minded people
- Take a holiday
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Do you have any superstitions, beliefs or self-imposed rules that you live by?
ICC: If something doesn’t feel quite good enough then go back and spend some more time on it. You’ll never regret the extra effort.
What do you hope to do in the next year that you’ve never done before?
F: We both really wanted to visit a country that we hadn’t been to before and although we’ve not booked anything yet, we’ve got our eye on Morocco.
Campbell Cole is renowned for its beautifully understated and minimalist accessories; but how did you come to fall in love and respect minimalist design?
F: It’s all about which designs stand the test of time and the realisation that I’m more likely to go off something if it is very on trend, or highly decorated. Ian and I consider all our purchases very carefully and the things we really enjoy wearing or having in our home, are usually simple, understated pieces.
What’s the sweet spot when talking minimalism and carry bags/accessories?
F: We tend to let functional needs lead our decisions when designing, however I think the sweet spot comes in making sure that this is not absolute, and at the expense of creating products that lack character. For example, our Simple Card Holder is a really simple piece of design that utilises two pieces of leather to create a very simple, two-pocket card holder. It does not need a dot emboss, but it’s much, much better for it.
Shop and explore the latest Campbell Cole collection – including the limited-edition Campbell Cole x OPUMO camera strap – at OPUMO.
Want more in the design duos series? Then read our conversation with Cath & Jeremy, the founders of family-run design studio, Feldspar, who are dedicated to making beautiful ‘objects for life.’