High-street Hero

MEET THE FOUNDER OF MAGPIE – THE BRI­TISH BRAND THAT PRIDES IT­SELF ON ITS COLOUR­FUL RETRO DE­SIGNS AND AN­I­MAL-FRIENDLY ETHICS

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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

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