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Designer Interview Part 1: Emily Wright of Nancybird


While visiting a shop at Potts Point in Sydney, I instantly fell in love with the  colorful leather/textile bags and wallets showcased on the shelves. Fast forward about 3 years later,  discovering this beautiful local brand was one of the reasons I was inspired to launch our e-shop featuring hard to find designs. As the first stockist in the US showcasing the Melbourne-based label Nancybird, I couldn't be more excited to interview Emily Wright, the founder of this well-loved Australian line of accessories.

How would you describe your philosophy, design approach and creative process- from design, inspiration to the creation for each collection?
My goodness! This is a huge question. My philosophy is to do good things. That could mean good design, using good materials, being a responsible and good business. I generally try to be a good person.

We start the design of each season with colour – we get our colour palette sorted first, and get our leather sampled as it takes the longest. We then move to print (which our lovely textile designer Sarah now does) and I get to design our shapes. We work loosely with a theme too – we’ve just finished the design of AW14 with an alpine/folk theme that is going to be really beautiful!
You’re a well-loved line with a tremendous following. Nancybird just celebrated 10 years and have grown leaps and bounds since its inception. Why do you think people are drawn to your designs? What have you learned along the way and advice would you give to a designer or small business starting out?
We’ve been lucky to have found a niche in the market with our designs over the last 10 years. I guess I’ve learned over the years to listen to the market without losing your identity. Things that don’t work need to be moved on from, and things that do work can be explored further. Having a clear identity is a great start – there is always a bit of “inspired by” imitation that happens in the design world, but as much as possible creating your own aesthetic will stand you in good stead for a long future as a brand.
You've expanded you line to home and clothing. What's next for Nancybird?
Along with our garment and home ranges, we’ve dipped our toe into shoes. They have just been released here in Australia, and we’ve already sold out of most of them. Next season we’re doing a cute ankle boot, can’t wait to see the finished design of that one!

I love how you’ve integrated your textile prints into accessory design. How did you get started with textile design?
I initially studied fashion, and then printmaking. I never learned textile design as such, but I learned all the traditional methods of fine art printmaking – lithography, etching, linocut etc. I took screenprinting as an elective subject and really loved it – soon I was printing on fabric in my spare time, eventually sewing up little purses and selling them locally. 

How has your designs changed and evolved since you started? 
We are evolving all the time – the designs have become much more considered and “rounded”. We love experimenting, but it’s perhaps not as random as it once was. 

Running a business requires a lot of time and passion for what you do. How do you balance your business and personal life? On your down time, what are your other interests, passions,favorites or activities that you enjoy? 
Getting the balance right is tricky, I don’t think I’ve ever mastered it for long periods of time. My partner and I love camping (although he loves multi-day hikes and I’m happy with car camping with a few extra comforts!) – we recently went to Hitchenbrook Island, which was interesting, walking through creeks with crocodile warning signs! Actually that was a bit scary. Otherwise, we get into TV series like Game of Thrones and Mad Men, gardening in our little patch out the back with veges, raspberries and natives, or cooking up a storm in our newly renovated kitchen! 

Any interesting things about you that you'd like to share? (i.e. things that annoy you, funny or quirky things that you do, hidden talents) 
Ummm…. I really like tomatoes, but I can’t eat them when they are quartered in salad, they need to be chopped smaller like in a salsa… It was a childhood thing, too many lettuce and quartered tomato salads!Hidden talents – I am really good at making cous-cous. And potato salad.

You’ve traveled quite a bit the past year. How has your design aesthetic been influenced by your home or places you’ve visited? 
This season it’s been a big influence – we have referenced India, Middle Eastern and European textile designs in our prints. We have interpreted these influences – you’ll see the indigenous Hakea Pincushion plant within the chinoiserie style textile pattern, or the Lyrebird in a traditional linocut print influenced by Indian woodblocks.

This is our textile designer Sarah at the Taj Mahal – she was quite a hit!

This wrought iron balcony is in Uzes, Southern France. It influenced the “Stone” colourway this season and our “arrow” textile design.

Our Arrow Local Clutch (made in Melbourne) and the Spice Infinity Clutch – a laser cut leather referencing Arabic patterning and French lace designs.

  A detail at the Taj Mahal – translated into one of our leather prints this season on the Azure Bedford 

The Hakea Pincushion which is indigenous to Melbourne – we have created a chinoiserie pattern using this beautiful plant.
Part of the creation of your designs involves working with your team, other artisans and 
communities abroad. What have you learned about this process?
It’s been a huge learning curve in working with various manufacturers and sharing the design process with our in- house textile designer Sarah. Every manufacturer or designer brings new skills to the table, and it’s a lovely surprise when it fits well with what you are trying to achieve. Sarah began with us doing work experience – her project was to come up with a textile design for screen printing. The brief was to do something with Australian natives, that would be printed both on leather and fabric, with a really even coverage and something that was quite “blocky” – not with fine lines. She came back a week later with such a perfect print, we used it across the range on cushions, leather bags and scarves.

I know it’s so hard to choose, but what are some of your favorite pieces from your collection?

I am loving our new shoes! Everyone in the team has been wearing them almost every day, which is a good sign.
These are our Stone Morton Flats on the left, and the Lyrebird Silk Scarf on the right.

I have also really enjoyed the new embroidered cushions – seeing these for the first time Sarah and I were 
so excited! We are really happy that we are able to utilize traditional techniques in our own original designs and that the two things work so well together.

What is your personal style or aesthetic? What are some of your favorite pieces or items you collect for
you or your home? 
My own style is very laidback – I’ve always dressed down and my house is very casual. I really love wonky handmade ceramics, and I have a little collection building at home. I also like indoor plants, but I need to make sure they are not needing a heap of attention as I work long hours and forget to water them enough…
 Emily Wright's Home

We're so happy to present Emily's insights and journey in establishing her accessories line from its  humble beginnings to a full pledge international label with a tremendous following. And of course,it was fun getting to know her personal side. (I can relate to the tomato thing and camping in "comfort") Combining her passion, business know-how and team approach, she has developed a distinctive identity and aesthetic (you can easily spot  a Nancybird piece!) while exploring new designs and expanding her line.  Thank you so much for taking   the time to share your inspiring story Emily! 
{PART 2 featuring Melbourne Travel Tips and beyond-coming soon!}
All images courtesy of Nancybird

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