INTERVIEW- THE GRANDDAUGHTERS PROJECT
The Granddaughters Project is a series of interviews with entrepreneurial and creative young women based in the UK. The project is all about telling their stories, however small or big and understanding the role family influence has had upon their inspirations.
Words by Jennifer Smith, photography by Lydia Harper
Have you ever wondered what running a business with your best friend would be like? Well chances are, only your wildest dreams would look a little like Tuppence Collective. The lovechild of illustrators Alicia Perry and Rebecca Intavarant, Tuppence Collective is a British surface design studio based in North London. The self-proclaimed BFFs met whilst studying illustration at Coventry University and have been inseparable ever since. They’ve lived together and know each other inside out, so collaborating together in business didn’t seem all that scary. Besides, with a joint love for botany, William Morris-esque patterns and Wes Anderson movies, it was a match made in heaven.
The pair settled on the name ‘Tuppence Collective’ to reflect their vintage retro vibe and classic style and because the tuppence is an old two pence coin which sweetly represents the two halves of their duo. Well, that’s the official line anyway. If you ask really nicely, they might tell you a different story, one that involves project deadlines, a keyboard and the Mary Poppins soundtrack.
When the pair aren’t in their North London studio, you can often find them bumbling around botanical gardens and garden centres looking for inspiration. But don’t expect them to give you any botany lessons just yet, when asked why plants feature so heavily in their work Rebecca jokingly tells us “we can’t seem to ever keep a plant alive so by painting them they can live forever.” The pair might not be that great at looking after their plants but they have come up with an ingenious way of remembering the plant’s names. They simply rename them.
“At our first wedding show we broke a poor florists heart when she found out that we didn’t know the names of the plants that we painted. There was one that we used to refer to as the “doingy one,” so at the end of the show she gave it to us and told us it’s real name. Naturally we couldn’t remember it and the florists name was Claire, so ever since we’ve called it ‘Claire Doingy’.
“The original plant died so we have ‘Claire Doingy the Second’ now, although over time we’re getting better at learning the names”.
Whilst the pair are clearly in love with their business, there have been challenges too, “we’re conscious that as we’re getting older, some of our friends are beginning to invest in a mortgage, whilst all of our money goes back into the business”. The girls are incredibly grounded and haven’t had any financial help, all of the money they earn, they reinvest back into Tuppence Collective to help the business grow.
The girls have been supported by their family and it’s clear there’s a little community of cheerleaders behind the girls. From Rebecca’s boyfriend who’s patiently waiting to move in together after eight years, to Alicia’s sister whose home houses their current studio and her Dad who is on call for emergency carpentry and signage. Rebecca’s mum can frequently be heard saying “I believe in you – it’s not if, it’s when” (for full affect read in Irish accent), which sounds like a rather comforting piece of motivation.
They’re not sure what’s next for Tuppence Collective, but with their stationery range now being stocked in Fortnum & Mason and more recently their first international stockist, one thing’s sure – the only way is up!
“We’re a bit like Jack from Titanic really” says Rebecca, “Taking each day as it comes, who knows where you’re going to be.”
How have your designs grown since you founded Tuppence Collective?
Alicia– When we first started we focussed on designing wedding stationery and the colours we used back then were much bolder and brighter. Our designs were still botanical but totally different to the style you see today. After a while we began to feel as though we weren’t creating the designs we wanted to be which defeated the object of having our own business. We had a chat and decided we needed a rebrand.
Rebecca– We noticed that at wedding shows, a lot of the brides’ friends and bridesmaids loved our designs, but weren’t getting married themselves. That’s when we decided to start creating work that was for everyone and not just those who were engaged, so we then focussed on general stationery and wedding stationery equally.
How have your family influenced your career choices?
Alicia- It was my Grandad who taught me to paint. He started art lessons when I was a kid and he built himself a little painting studio at the bottom of the garden. Whenever I visited my Grandparents I would sit in there and draw – I loved it- and I guess I have wanted my own studio ever since. My Dad is a self-taught carpenter and is always making or drawing so although no one has directly worked in the creative industry there have been definite artistic influences in my life. For a long time I felt I had to just pick a job that will just get me enough money for a house a nice car etc. but as I got older I realised there were more important things in life.
Rebecca- Both of my parents are practically self-employed, but not necessarily in the design industry. My Dad works on a market stall which he’s been doing for twenty-five years, selling souvenirs to tourists in Piccadilly and my mother is an advice worker in Tottenham. It’s interesting that both of my parents are financially self-sufficient, I think it gave me the confidence to believe I could do that too.
You do a lot markets and fairs yourself; how do you find that approach?
Alicia– Each one we go to is different and it’s a total learning curve. Perhaps we need more products, or perhaps we need to change the layout of our stand. It’s often just us, locked away in the studio, so it can be good to get feedback and see what sells well and what doesn’t.
Rebecca– Ironically it’s always the designs that we don’t think will be popular that sell really well!
What are your own favourite designs?
Rebecca– I like anything Alicia does and she likes anything I do. My favourite currently is the ‘Elsie’ design; the one in cream with more intricate layers. It’s actually the first pattern where we’ve created more depth and I’m really pleased with it; Alicia designed that one, so of course that’s not her favourite [laughter].
All of your designs come in a darker and lighter colour, is there a reason behind this?
Rebecca – When we started with wedding stationery, we would always produce two colour ways for each design and dedicate each pattern to a real couple that we knew, most of them being grand-parents and family friends.
Alicia– We also want to keep our colour palette neutral so that we appeal to both the bride and the groom. We noticed that the grooms often get left out of the equation, so went wanted to address that. I guess that it also stems back to a time at university when we were working together on a project. Our lecturer (who was male) was looking through what we had done and made the comment- “your work will only ever appeal to girls because you’re girls.”
Rebecca– So we were like, “we’ll see about that!”. It was something that really struck a chord with us because we hate people defining what you can and can’t do. It wasn’t said in a dismissive way, it was just an observation of the illustration industry. So, at the back of our minds we’re always asking, “Would a man like this too? Would he appreciate it?”.
Tell us about ‘Carson and Wes’ the couple that feature on your sample wedding stationary?
Alicia– We made up a completely fictitious couple for our samples based on people we like or places from our past. So ‘Carson Earle’ comes from a combo of some our favourite illustrators and designers -‘Carson Ellis’ and ‘John Dearle’. John Dearle worked as an assistant for William Morris and you never really hear of him so it was nice to pay homage to him in our work in some way.
Rebecca– Then Wes Anderson is our colour palette king. We always try to go with colours that would fit into his film’s aesthetic. To be honest the dream is to be like “wow, there’s our cushion in a Wes Anderson film!”. On our blog we review films and breakdown the colour palette which is one of our favourite hobbies when we have time.
Where’s your dream location for inspiration?
Alicia– Richard Ayoade is our holiday guru at the moment. We’ve been watching a lot of ‘Travel Man’ on our lunch break as the episodes are only 20 minutes long so we don’t feel so guilty about taking a break. Budapest has definitely been added to the ‘wanderlust’ list since watching it though.
Rebecca– Japan is on both of our lists but we want to do it properly, and not on a budget. I’d also love to do India as I love its earthy tones and colours.
What’s the best thing about Tuppence Collective?
Working together and being able to do what we want to do. We only put out stuff out we love and we don’t have to compromise.
Finally, what’s the piece of advice you’d give your granddaughter?
Rebecca – Do what you love! Over half of your life is spent working, so why settle for something you hate?
Alicia – Embrace making mistakes. Life is full of them and it’s just a natural part of starting a business. Even though some of them have been extremely expensive and stressful they are what we’ve learnt the most from. Some of our best work has come from making mistakes so don’t be afraid of them. As they say, ‘The wise man is not without fault’.
If you enjoyed this interview, read more from The Granddaughters Project here.