Meet Heather Moore, the self-taught illustrator and designer behind Skinny laMinx
Skinny laMinx is the wildly successful blog, shop, and online business run by self-taught illustrator and designer, Heather Moore. Working in a range of mediums, from paper cutting to screenprinting, her fabric designs adorn clothing, bags, home accessories and more.
We caught up with Heather, who tells us how she manages to run a business with a partner who lives in Paris, what it is about paper cutting that interests her, and how she successfully combines Scandinavian design with traditional African craft.
What is your earliest craft memory?
My mum is a serial hobbyist, so there was always a craft project on the go at home. I loved constructing a 3D paper house for my Smurfs: the walls had all the furniture drawn on them and it had paper doors that opened and closed.
Your recent collection, Rough Cuts, is described as ‘inspired by Scandi design, but quite at home in Africa’. Tell us more.
I’m a third-generation South African (of English/Scottish/Irish heritage) but, while my roots are in Africa, I’ve always been attracted to clean, clear design. As children, we spent a lot of time in the clean-lined home and magical garden of a Swedish family friend, which clearly had an effect on my aesthetic sense.
When I made the Rough Cuts designs, I was thinking in terms of clean, mid-century, Scandi style. While these prints were in development, I went to talk to Binky Newman of Design Afrika about collaborating on some designs for traditional African basketwork. I took along some of the early Rough Cuts strike-offs, and both Binky and I loved the energy that sprang up between the African woven goods and my strike-offs. It opened my eyes in a very exciting way.
When I eventually launched Rough Cuts, I teamed up Binky’s baskets – that she has sourced from all over Africa – with my fabrics, and the results are really striking.
Your paper cut works are intricately crafted. What is it about this medium that you love?
I find the process of planning a paper cut – how it takes away so much but still holds together – a very appealing design challenge. I started paper cutting when I began experimenting with screenprinting and I found the unexpected happenings that cutting can add to my style very satisfying. At the time I wasn’t particularly confident in my line drawing, but found that when I used a blade to cut out a sketch it became much more interesting to me.
Please complete the following three sentences:
• Creativity is enhanced… when options are limited.
• I craft while listening… to myself humming under my breath.
• My favourite quote is… ‘Think thrice, measure twice, cut once.’
What trends are you loving right now?
In South Africa, supporting the local design industry has become very trendy. For too long, we looked to the northern hemisphere for an indication of what’s cool, but now we’re making our own rules.
You write a well-established, popular blog. Tell us more about the importance of your blog to your business.
I must admit to writing the blog mostly for myself as I have such a terrible memory; I find it really useful to check when things happened. That said, it’s a good way of letting people know what’s coming up, which is a very fortunate side effect. I think that people enjoy reading about what goes on behind the scenes at Skinny laMinx, and those who have been reading the blog for a long time enjoy seeing how things change.
Name your top three creative blogs.
Which books and magazines are currently on your bedside table?
ELLE Decoration UK (I’m a huge fan), New York Magazine (it’s a weekly. Relentless! Fab!), Becoming Animal by David Abram, Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead by Barry Barnes, Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead, and Paris Was Ours by Penelope Rowlands.
What made you decide to start your own business?
I didn’t really start a business, it just sort of snuck up behind me while I was having fun blogging, making stuff and learning how to sell it. I have so much admiration for people who have a vision of what they want to do and start a business from scratch. It sounds terrifyingly brave!
How would you describe the creative community in Cape Town?
Increasingly active! Over the last year or two, it seems there’s been an explosion of creative businesses opening in Cape Town. Really, it’s quite fantastic and is generating a very exciting energy in the city. Cape Town has been appointed the World Design Capital for 2014, and I think both the responsibility and the excitement of this are sparking lots of inspiring things.
I’d been sharing a studio with a couple of painters for a good few years, but I was starting to run out of space. Having to make business calls in the same space where they were trying to make abstract paintings became awkward too! When I spotted a greasy scooter shop with a ‘To Let’ sign just half a block away from my morning coffee stop on Bree Street, it simply seemed too good to miss.
What’s a typical day at Skinny laMinx?
My business partner, Pearl, lives in Paris, so we’ll often start the day with an early Skype call to catch up. Then, I’ll meet with the rest of the team to chat about what’s going on in the shop, which wholesale orders need packing, and so on. Then, while the girls keep things ticking over downstairs, I’ll retreat to my studio where, after dealing with emails, I’ll do whatever needs doing.
We operate on quite a strict annual plan, so at certain times of year I’ll be occupied with different things: doing illustrations and paper cuts, preparing designs for reproduction, choosing colours, making samples, photographing and editing product shots and designing the catalogue. Right now is a fantastic period because it’s R&D (research and development) time, which means I get to play around with making, drawing and printing whatever I feel like!
You have a team of people working alongside you at Skinny laMinx. How easy is it to delegate?
I have such a dream team: they are all super-competent, super-organised and eminently able to make smart decisions, so delegating to such a trusted bunch is very easy. It makes my life so much better, because now I have much more time to make things!
Describe your style in a few words.
Simple, patterned, clean and clear. Inspired by ordinary things.
What’s your favourite part of your creative space?
Actually, just this week we’re starting to renovate the upstairs area so I’m looking forward to settling into a cosy little drawing nook with my sewing machine at my side and a lovely big cutting table nearby. Exciting!
How does your creative process work?
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running of a business or stuck on the email treadmill, so I try to put aside Fridays as my day for doing non-work-related creative stuff, where I can simply make whatever takes my fancy. I find that the things I make during this time are often put away, but then brought out later and built upon when the time is right.
Do you have any advice you can offer to fellow creatives keen on setting up their own studio?
I think it’s a good idea to keep a side job that brings in money that you can use to fund your studio without putting pressure on yourself to make things that are economically successful. Also, get yourself a fan in summer and a heater in winter – it’s horrible trying to work when you’re too hot or cold.
What other projects do you have coming up?
I have another quilting collection coming out with Cloud9 Fabrics in July, and an exciting stationery project that I can’t talk about yet. Binky and I are talking about collaborating on some woven mats or baskets too.
What’s the best piece of creative advice you have ever been given?
As I’m a self-taught illustrator and designer, I used to be nervous about what I created because I wasn’t sure if it was correct or not. Years ago, my husband saw me second-guessing my decisions and told me that I have good instincts, and my first idea is often my best. This advice freed me to trust my judgement, and to simply keep producing things without thinking too much.
What are your top business tips?
Get a website and keep it up-to-date. Be rigorous and honest in your book keeping, that way you’ll know whether all this effort is really viable or not. Be generous towards other business owners and don’t be afraid to ask them for advice. Find what you do best and employ people who are good at doing what you don’t do well.
What’s next for Skinny laMinx?
I’m thinking about a trip to Japan, where I’d like to generate some excitement about Skinny laMinx!