Emma Shipley

Textile Design BA (Hons)

Emma followed her passion to study Textile Design and thrived in her course at BCU. After graduating, she launched her very own label, Emma J Shipley, selling luxury homeware and accessories, which has gone from strength to strength. 

“At school, my teachers pushed me to pursue academic subjects such as Physics and Maths, but it was Art and Design that I really loved. Luckily, my parents encouraged me to pursue my passion, and I applied for Textile Design at BCU.

I always knew I wanted to have my own business, and I knew that to do that, I’d need a good education and time to build my style and artistry, which BCU could give me.

When I visited the campus, which I already knew had a good reputation for textiles, I remember thinking the facilities were great. I also wanted to move away from Buckinghamshire, so this big city really appealed to me, where I would have the proper university experience.

After graduating from BCU with a first-class degree, I knew I wanted to continue my education, so I completed an MA at the Royal College of Art alongside working part-time at a Design Agency to gain industry experience.

After completing my studies, I was planning to launch my brand, which was just scarves at the time. The fashion store Browns picked up all the scarves I’d designed for my final collection at RCA and put an order in, which began selling in their stores in 2012.

Having won a few awards since graduating, I put the money I’d earned in prize money towards building my business. A year later, I’d stopped working part-time to focus on my business, taking on an assistant to help with the admin and marketing, so that I could focus on creating and designing.

As the business kept growing, we attracted more and more stockists to sell our products. I eventually branched out from scarves into interiors, fabrics and homeware. I’ve also had exciting collaborations with high-profile brands such as Swarovski, Anthropologie, Aspinal and Disney. We sell mainly online now, but we're still in some lovely department stores as well, and I have a team in London of about 10 people.

My favourite item at the moment is our Fine China. It’s made in Stoke-on-Trent, with 12 layers of colour screen printed onto it, where most fine China is only four to six colours. They’re really beautifully made, but also good to use, too. We've tried to make them accessible and affordable, so they’d make a nice treat or gift for someone.

I'm really inspired by nature and wildlife. One of my best-selling designs is the Lynx, which is the flying cat in a sort of starry scene, which was inspired by a trip I took to the Western Cape and South Africa. As well as seeing lots of amazing wildlife there, I also went with an archaeologist to see rock paintings in really remote caves, so I took lots of photos and used them as inspiration for my pieces.

My advice to current textiles students would obviously be to work really hard, but more importantly, figure out what’s unique about what you’re doing. The industry is so competitive, so there’s absolutely no point doing what has already been done.

Also, try not to look to other designers for inspiration, as you won’t find your own style that way. So, find things that really inspire you that means you’re going to create something unique, because otherwise, what are you doing it for?

If you’re going to start your own business, try and get as much help as possible. I didn’t as I felt I had to do it all on my own, but there are resources out there to help you, including online courses, mentors, and government schemes for setting up businesses.”

You can visit Emma’s website here.

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