Sophie Tatlow, the co-founder of Utopia Goods, joins us to discuss the design process in creating the Stringybark collection of botanical linens. Often humming with bees, the Stringybark tree is one of Australia’s most robust, varied and valuable trees. It was the first eucalypt to be scientifically named, and in fact gives us the name Eucalyptus. The Stringybark print is a creative nod to The Grampians of Western Victoria and the oblique-shaped leaves of this magnificent tree. Available in the palette of the earth – clay, moss and indigo.
Raymond Paul Schneider: When did you first start to develop this new collection?
Sophie Tatlow: The design process can sometimes feel like the “how long is a piece of string.” Our influences are far and wide, and as such the beginning of a particular design can begin as a very loose conversation years earlier, a reference that inspires, months of historical textile research or a walk on a weekend away outside of the city. This particular print is special for a number of reasons, and is an ode of sorts to where Bruce [Slorach – co-founder of Utopia Goods] grew up as a child.
Raymond: What was the overall timeline from conception to achieving the final design?
Sophie: Our designs can sometimes develop over months, others we discuss particular color palettes or species of plant for years. The stringybark has a beautiful and quite unique rounded leaf, unlike many other species of Eucalypts. It’s a unique shape and a nice reminder that Eucalyptus have over 200 various species within Australia. It’s nice to show our audience something they recognize but in a new light. Typically, a design is six months from inception to completion.
Raymond: Please describe your overall creative and design process.
Sophie: Inspiration and Conversation – Every print begins with a theme or focus built on many, long conversations about what it ‘could be’. We discuss the plant, tree or flower that we’re going to feature, within context of what has come before and what is planned for the future. Researching both the actual plant and always a vast archive of botanical illustration and textiles.
Creation Begins – Bruce begins mapping out the repeat. It’s technical, mathematical and creative exercise underpinned by many conversations about the final look and usage. The repeat is drawn then painted by hand, drawn as one artwork and then separated layer by layer. It is a true art and craft, it’s laborious, creative, thoughtful, and has taken him years to finesse.
Print Repeat – The design is reconfigured many times as a puzzle to create the repeat. Once the layers have been drawn by hand, they are then scanned into the computer to have the silkscreens produced. A layer per color. Five colors, five individual printing layers.
Color – Anyone who has had the joy of visiting the showroom, or has met us in person or follows us on Instagram knows, color is where most conversations begin, lead and end. Color discussions begin in nature, and in all honesty, are never-ending, new editions of colors are added to our hand-printed fabric collection, or a print may even be given a new palette or scale for a wallpaper, scarf or tray within our collection.
Printing – Once final design and artwork is sent to India, screens are made and printing begins. This process alone can take anywhere between 1-3 months, and depends heavily on the weather and special calendar events of the Indian Calendar, i.e. Holi and Diwali.
Good things take time, and things made by hand, are made for the heart. They cannot be rushed.
Raymond: Did you have a specific audience or theme that you had in mind?
Sophie: Our clientele reach is far and wide, and we’re very grateful that our product resonates across the world. Being that our subject matter is so personal to us, having it appreciated by the wider design community is very special, and to see our work in homes and projects local to us in Sydney and as far as Switzerland and New York is a real honor. The interior design and architectural sector are front and center when designing a fabric and considering what works well in a palette or scheme. We’ve designed fabrics and rugs for Australian Government House, large Australian homesteads, commercial design buildings, boutique hotels to residential apartments.
Raymond: Please describe the methods, tools, and materials you used to develop and prototype this design?
Sophie: Every print is considered in a new and different way. Honoring various eras and traditions of textile hand printing, and therefore process, color or scale may prove to be a new “challenge” to overcome. We’re proud to have a bounty of more than 40 prints in our collection, and see each new addition add more detail and storytelling to our range.
Raymond: Please describe any challenges that affected the design and perhaps steered you to an entirely new final design?
Sophie: Producing a hand-made product brings about many challenges even pre-pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 on our production and global logistics has been the biggest challenge we’ve faced in the past 2 years.
Ordinarily, we would be able to visit our production team multiple times a year, making sample approvals in person, and following a pretty tight delivery timeline. Over the past year, this has shifted completely, but our admiration for our printing team, and receiving goods in hand has seemed at times a miracle. We have most definitely learned that good things take time, and we believe our product has been well worth the patience.
Raymond: Describe your overall brand DNA and Ethos
Sophie: Our brand DNA is an extension of our personal ethos. Our brand DNA is underpinned by design authenticity, color, originality, and honoring ‘nature and landscape’. Creating beautiful quality hand printing for ‘spaces and places’ – let’s bring ‘the outside, in!’ All print designs feature Australian botanical species as subject matter (abstractions or not). By creating textiles designs that focus on Australian flora and fauna we’re drawing attention to ‘what is most precious’ – the environment is under threat, and many clients comment that by looking at Utopia Goods designs, they are noticing the ‘plants, trees in the nature’. We are committed to creating a ‘textile’ product that is not only unique but adds value and life to a ‘room’ or person.
From a production point of view, we’re guided by creating as little waste as possible, sustainable practices where possible, using post-consumer waste yarn (we’re using this yarn in all-new performance fabrics), and utilizing skilled hand printers in India.
Click here to see more of our “Anatomy of a Design” series.
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