Anna (left) and Grace of Patternity by Karoliina Barlund
Patternity is an organisation focused on pattern, comprising a pattern research/consultancy department, an award-winning creative studio and a pioneering events and education hub.
Interviewed in London in October 2016
Anna: ‘My business partner, Grace Winteringham, and I founded Patternity not so much because we’d spotted a gap in the market but more because we’d discovered a shared aesthetic and values and wanted to work together. Our ideal was to create a brand that looked good but also had longevity and meaning. I have a background in art direction and photography and Grace is a textiles and surface/product designer, so on a practical level we have complementary skills sets. We had good jobs but wished we could work in the creative industries in a more purposeful, less commercially-driven way. I was successful at my job at a branding agency but sometimes felt frustrated that I was using my creativity on projects that somehow weren’t worthwhile. Back in 2009, Patternity was nothing more than a blog we curated and we both continued to work in our day jobs for two or three years.
Now we both work on Patternity full-time and have a studio, another member of staff, and are recruiting a fourth. Much of our business comes through our design studio; especially product collaborations. We’ve designed bespoke pattern to apply to brands ranging from Clarks shoes to Chinti & Parker cashmere knits (above) to ceramics for Fortnum & Mason in our recognisable, bold, monochrome aesthetic. This is our biggest revenue stream, and a growth area, so we’ve just signed with an agent called ITB to represent us in licencing deals. Included in most of these commissions is each campaign; photoshoots, films and all the promotion materials. It’s a lot of work but it allows us to keep the standard of quality up and it sets us apart.
We do 3D design installations like the huge a kaleidoscope in Trafalgar Square we made for Airbnb – and we also hold events; we recently held a marbling workshop for the Royal Institute of Architects, and a creative workshop using block printing for audio brand Sonos. We also do ticketed events [talks and workshops] that are open to the public, which sell out thanks to our dedicated community of pattern fans.
Having a good, engaged base of followers; 36k on Instagram – helps to sell ourselves. When we do a project, we’ll build in a social element to the pitch so when the range comes out we’ll include a certain number of posts in the price of the project to publicise it. We design all the content ourselves so it doesn’t spoil the aesthetic of the feed. Our numbers aren’t as high as other people but they are authentic.
It’s taken a lot of work to build it up to where it is now. The blog started out as a spotlight on pattern, and to make our name as expert curators. Now it has grown into a huge, highly organised, searchable pattern archive. Images are tagged, so you can click on ‘stripes’ or ‘red’ or ‘geometric’ for example. The images are 90% not ours but we’ve never paid for any of the images – I think people like the way we curate it – and interspersed with that is our own imagery. The blog is a brand-building tool and it’s brought us great clients. Maintaining and organising it and the Instagram is a big job, and we have Liv, whose main role is to work on this. It’s also the meeting place of our community. Additionally, (although it will change to be open source again soon) – the website became a product, when we introduced a subscription service, meaning you have to sign up and pay to view the whole archive.
Looking back, running a business was actually easier back in the beginning. When your first commission, or first article in the press comes in, you’re overjoyed. You’re leaner and able to do things more cheaply. Once you’ve become established you need a constant flow of commissions just to keep up your overheads like staff wages, studio rent, loan repayments and subscription costs.
While we set it up we were saving money, as the blog didn’t make any. As we got more Patternity work I was able to cut down to three days a week at my job. Eventually we were getting more commissions and we both had a gut feeling to follow that. We knew it had the potential to morph into a real business not just an inspiration source. We’d always had a philosophy, and it’s easier to start with a philosophy and build a business rather than have a business and try and crowbar in a philosophy. Our core values keep us going when times get tough.
The values are;
– Encouraging people to be more aware, more appreciative and find beauty in the everyday.
– To think about patterns not just in a design way, but be tuned into inner patterns or wider patterns – and start thinking more, be more curious and appreciative.
– To connect to something greater and think of the interconnectivity plus giving back.
Pattern isn’t something we’ve invented, it’s universal and cosmic and we’re connected to it. It’s a positive force and we remind ourselves of this when we’re struggling with the demands of being a commercial business that has to make money and deliver what the client wants – a challenge that could otherwise bring on a few grey hairs and wrinkles!
Our all-time favourite projects were; our festival called Pattern Power Super Stripe in 2013, a month-long cultural festival featuring about 40 events focussed around creativity, science and wellbeing. We launched new collaborations there including a rug, our ceramic collection (above) and curated an exhibition of photos with Getty Images. It nearly killed us – but it was worth it. It was one of our proudest moments and it was the best press we’ve ever had.
The other was a project with the Imperial War Museum on the history behind Dazzle camouflage. It extended into product and a film and the museum gave us permission to use historical archive film which had never been seen before. We’d love to do more projects like that. The Dazzle ships were a perfect fit for us and we were so lucky to work with such a brilliant institution. Education and research work is so important to our company ethos and a big part of how we are positioning ourselves for the future.
Last year, we’d reached a point where the business was doing well and we were proud and excited to have started work on our first book, a coffee table photography book (above) that lays out our pattern philosophy and research – when we started to encounter a series of problems that almost threatened to engulf us. Both Grace and I were having tough times personally; my Dad became ill and later died; we were notified that we were being kicked out of our studio; we’d undertaken a complete revamp of our website including the back end – which ran into countless difficulties. I was trying to write the book – which was far more time-consuming than I’d anticipated – and on top of this we had to do all our day to day work. Although I don’t think of us as ‘an internet business’ to all intents and purposes we are, and when our online presence was under threat it was emotionally and financially draining. The IT problems were a catastrophe – the single most stressful thing to have happened on Patternity’s timeline. We’d taken on extra staff to help but as it crumbled we had to lay them off. It goes to show how important technical things are. Some creatives don’t want to spend their time managing stuff like that but if you don’t look after your systems, you might not end up with a business to be creative in! Ditto your accounts. We’d been very fortunate to have a good accountant (my Dad) so our books were in excellent order from the start. It’s helped us when we were in the situation of applying for loans; from Creative Industry Finance and The East London Business Centre – to help us expand our business. We also have a business mentor from them – so that’s a good tip for people. They help support certain projects when you need help financially to grow.
Now I think back to that year, and can’t believe so much all happened at once. Consequently, Grace and I appreciate each other – and our wonderful team – even more. Like any relationship, a business partnership isn’t always easy, requiring nurturing and maintenance. Thank god we have the same sense of humour when things were bleak.
If I had to give anyone starting out now some advice it would be this; dig deep into yourself and your spirit and figure out why you want to be creative – what are you doing it for? If I was doing this motivated by ego or personal satisfaction I’d have quit ages ago. When I think of the pattern community we’ve built up, with people who feel part of something, people who’ve said to me ‘I thought I was the only one who looked it things like this’ – that keeps you going.
Look after yourself, stay healthy, try yoga or meditation and take time out to relax and spend time in nature. It helps to keep things in perspective and gives you the inner strength you need to be resilient.
Think about what your signature is. We almost always work in monochrome, not because we don’t like colour, but because people know us for that aesthetic now, and they commission us because they have an idea of what they’ll be getting. It’s important to stick to what you do well, not to be too swayed by what other people want you to do. I know this from commissioning people as an art director, successful people become known for one particular thing and that, ultimately gets you more work than being a Jack of all trades.
Finally, don’t go on social and get depressed comparing yourself to everyone else. Focus on what is right for you.