Makers Month: The Design Process of Custom made

Hey, so today we thought we would have a little chat with Anna from Custom Made about her business and how she got started.  Custom Made is one of those businesses that always looks so polished at all the craft fairs and so we thought a little insight into her design process might be fun.  Also it gives us an excuse to look at all the pretty on her website!

Could you tell us a little about you and your business?
Hi! My name is Anna Butler and I run a company called Custom Made. We design and manufacture a range of jewellery and accessories in a studio in Oxford, UK. We sell Custom Made via our online shop, and have round 35 stockists.
I did a degree in Fashion design, and prior to starting Custom Made I was a menswear designer.

How did you start?
I know lots of peoples motivations for starting a business are different. I felt like I needed a change from my  job as a menswear designer. I felt like I needed a new challenge, but I didn’t know what that was, so I took a big leap and left my job with no plan. A couple of months later I started working on Custom Made without a clue what I was doing. But with the driving mantra being ‘ I will not fail at this’ it all worked out in the end. Not that this is the end! 

It would be great to know how you design your products, how you do develop a new design?
This is probably the hardest question to answer. I feel like every items/range is different. I spend a lot of time sourcing raw materials. Often raw materials can really spark my imagination as to a whole range of product. One little piece of metal can spark the thought process for a whole collection. Or just putting three colours together, those three colours can mark the start of a new collection. Then the ‘hands on’ work starts. With laser cut jewellery for example, I lay out on my desk lots of chips of coloured acrylic, metal components and simultaneously draw shapes in illustrator then print them out and play with the shapes, laying the metal components onto the drawings. It’s a very satisfying process. It often takes a little while to get all the components for new products into the studio to get samples made. I love this part of the process and get very excited when the final pieces arrive to get initial samples made. Our postman thinks I’m crazy ‘oooh new chains’ or ‘ooooh I’ve been waiting for this cord’

Do you have lots of designs that you go through before deciding on a final piece?
I don’t. I usually know what I want things to look like and because I draw in colour I can usually tell exactly what colours I want pieces to be in. I don’t do tons of sampling. I do probably an A4 page of drawings to get something right. I also make little mock ups. You can often find me with looking in a mirror with a mock up earring stuck to my ear with blue tak!

How many ex-ideas do you have around your studio?
Not many. I do have bits of raw materials (laser cut pieces) I have ended up not using but these bits are often very useful when designing new product for mock ups etc.

Do you ever go back to a design idea?
Sometimes I do go back to a design idea. Sometimes something that I think doesn’t quite look right initially, I will have a different view of later. I have a work bench where I leave work in progress. I will keep revisiting items and tweaking them if they aren't right first time.

What is your favourite piece ever made?
A few seasons ago we made a little geometric cat brooch in acrylic. It took me AGES to get the drawing right for the piece. It was the ears! I just couldn’t get them right. Anyway, the brooch was so popular so fiddling around with those ears for ages paid off.

Does another designer have an item you wish you had designed yourself?
There are lots of superb designers whose work I really love and admire but I like buying work from them to wear or hang in my home. Buying beautifully designed work is a real treat. I don’t wish I had designed these pieces myself, I am happy they have been designed for people like me to buy and enjoy! I’m a real sucker for art and prints.

I love finding out more about how people design - think its the designer in me waiting to get out.  This last picture is one of my favourite Custom Made products, I kept looking at it at craft fairs until I finally gave in and bought it.  So simple and looks great with anything.

Hope you liked seeing into Anna's Custom Made world, we are treating you this month aren't we!
H, xxx

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H and Sammy