MEET THE FOUNDER OF MAGPIE – THE BRITISH BRAND THAT PRIDES ITSELF ON ITS COLOURFUL RETRO DESIGNS AND ANIMAL-FRIENDLY ETHICS
Growing up as an only child in a rural part of County Down in Northern Ireland, designer Nicky Sloan turned to creative hobbies to keep herself amused. ‘I was always making something,’ recalls the founder of homeware company Magpie. ‘I made all my own clothes, as well as furniture from old junk. I must have changed my bedroom décor every few months.’
After seeing the film 2001: Space Odyssey, Nicky became obsessed with the work of designers Olivier Mourgue and Eero Saarinen, whose furniture appears in the classic film. ‘It started my passion for mid-century design,’ explains Nicky, whose creations are now heavily influenced by this style, as well as her local flora and fauna.
CREATIVE PATH Having grown up surrounded by strong female role models, Nicky always wanted a creative career. ‘Mum was my biggest influence,’ she says. ‘She gave me the freedom to follow my own path, helped me discover the value in being creative and instilled in me the belief that your passions can become your work.’
After studying art foundation at Manchester University, Nicky did a BA in Graphics at Preston Polytechnic (which is now the University of Central Lancashire) before moving into a career in graphic design, where she worked for a company in London for a few years. ‘In 1999, while sourcing some props for a shoot, I discovered an Australian brand that I was keen to use, but it wasn’t available in the UK,’ she says. ‘After a flurry of emails, I was given the chance to distribute the brand in the UK. I decided to take the leap from graphic designer to importer/ distributor and I’ve never looked back.’
While working as a distributor for other brands, Nicky decided to move into manufacturing as a platform for her own design ideas. She founded Magpie in 2011 to fill a gap she spotted in the homeware market and, since its launch, the company has grown steadily – its products are now stocked in 1,500 UK stores, including John Lewis, Selfridges, Harrods and Oliver Bonas.
FORM AND FUNCTION Magpie produces colourful, vintage-inspired tableware, gifts and accessories with a distinctly British feel. ‘Our aim is to make products that have form, function and longevity, and that are instantly recognisable as Magpie,’ explains Nicky. ‘We also want to have integrity in the materials and manufacturing methods used.’
She’s proud that the company sells a veganfriendly line that’s made without cruelty to animals. ‘We’ve just launched the Hugletts Wood collection, which is designed in-house but is a collaboration with an animal sanctuary devoted to providing lifelong care to rescued animals,’ says Nicky. ‘The range takes its inspiration from the characters of some of the animals that live there. We decided to collaborate on a range that will ultimately give something back in the form of a proportion of all our sales.’
A key part of Nicky’s approach to the business is based on collaborations. ‘This year, we’ve launched a collection with Sarah Campbell, who founded textile company Collier Campbell with her sister in the Sixties,’ she explains. ‘Called Viva, it’s inspired by one of Sarah’s original Seventies designs for Liberty and features four handpainted geometrics on specially designed ceramics and textiles.’
JOB SATISFACTION With plans to further expand Magpie’s ranges, Nicky has other collaborations in the pipeline. ‘We’ve just finished prototypes of a collection involving the work of the late American artist David Weidman, which is exciting,’ she says. ‘I just love working with the team at Magpie. It’s such a thrill seeing our brainstormed ideas become products. We only wish we had more time to realise all our ideas and concepts.’
HERITAGE DESIGN THE VIVA RANGE IS INSPIRED BY TEXTILE DESIGNER SARAH CAMPBELL’S ORIGINAL SEVENTIES CREATION FOR LIBERTY Viva tableware, from £25 for two cups and saucers, Magpie