An Interview With Stuart Gardiner

 In Business Tips, Inspiration

Stuart Gardiner’s iconic Tea Towels bring the infographic up to date with modern styling, bold use of colour, and clean design.

Stuart’s awesome Cheese Tea Towel is always a big hit in the A Rosie Life Shop, and his designs can be found everywhere from quirky indies to Liberty & Selfridges.

On the blog today, Stuart tells us about how he started out from the early days as a freelance Graphic Designer, to his biggest achievements, and gives some great advice for budding creative business owners too!

Stuart Gardiner

Tell me about your business & how it came about.

I set up in 2008 as a freelance Graphic Designer, leaving behind a job designing album covers. The music industry was going through an existential crisis, so going alone seemed the right thing to do. I got myself a few regular clients mainly designing club fliers, but after a year or so of doing that, the idea of selling my own products became appealing.

The tea towel niche I’ve burrowed myself was completely unplanned. I have a degree in Graphic Information Design, and had an idea of creating an info-graphic about fruit & veg seasonality which was a big foodie trend at the time. I envisaged it as a frameable print, but thought a tea towel was a much more fitting medium. I got a few hundred screen printed and managed to get them into a local shop in Walthamstow, followed by Liberty who were very encouraging, and it all snowballed from there. The oven mitts came about from a silly idea but they have found a completely different customer. I enjoy designing them as they are relatively quick to turnaround and I can indulge my immature sense of humour.

Stuart Gardiner Cheese Tea Towel

Where do you get your inspiration to develop new products?

Inspiration comes very easily – ideas are plentiful and it’s frustrating at how slow the infographic pieces take to research and design. As mentioned I didn’t set out to go into home-wares and the collection has grown very organically, and we’ve ended up in the niche of food & drink related designs so there is endless inspiration in subject matter with broad appeal. It’s interesting to see food trends come and go – suddenly Gin was the drink of the moment, so we designed our ‘Guide to Gin’ which was well timed. I’m told Whisky is the next cool drink.

Stuart Gardiner Cocktail Tea Towel

What are your plans for 2018?

Funnily enough a Whisky tea towel is coming soon – possibly one of the most complex subjects I’ve had to cram onto a tea-towel. We’re also working on a female music icon oven glove along the lines of our pun heavy ‘Rock/Cake’ glove – think Tina Turnip & Dolly Parsnip etc. We’ll be showing this along with some new trays and coasters at Pulse in Olympia in May.

Stuart Gardiner The Beer Tea Towel

What’s the best advice you would give to budding new designers?

I have loads of it!

If you’re wanting to sell your work in product form, start small and test the water. Don’t go in all guns blazing with big business plans and ordering a ton of stock before you know that buyers are interested in.

Trends come and go, so believe in what you’re doing.

Develop a thick skin! There are knock-backs and you just have to take them on the chin and move on. People will copy your work, and some retailers won’t like your products. Stand by your own ideas. Trends come and go, so believe in what you’re doing. If it’s good design, chances are you’ll find your niche and hopefully your customers.

Go to your local UKTI advisor – they’ll help you out and let you know of any funding and schemes that might be available to you. Through them we found an ace business mentor.

You don’t need to wear a suit, or be a numbers person run a business. Don’t let the likes of Dragon’s Den and the Apprentice put you off – investors don’t have the ideas – they just tend to be good at the numbers bit. It helps to learn about the money side of things though and I could still benefit from going on a business course.

Finally, don’t relocate 150 miles out of London with a 5 week old baby and 4 year old and not expect it to have a major impact on your business!

Stuart Gardiner Chocolate Tea Towel

Tell me about your proudest achievement you have made through your work.

I’ve been fortunate to have some great commissions over the years. Liberty, Selfridges, The V&A & Friends of the Earth – people I would never have dreamt I would have worked with, so I guess those are my proudest achievements.

Stuart Gardiner Beer of the World Tea Towel

It’s so interesting to see how creative careers evolve and develop, and Stuart gives some really good advice about setting up on your own. Thank you so much to Stuart for the interview!

If you want some more tips for starting out as a freelancer, or setting up your own business, check out my 10 Tips for Turning Your Hobby Into A Business.

Love, Rosie


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