TEXTILE Designer Fi Douglas may have her hands full with a baby on the way and a studio in Glasgow’s Park Circus, where she produces the fabrics that are bestsellers in John Lewis, yet she still has time to smell the roses.
And the peonies, wallflower and blossom that burst all over her bold, bright floral designs. “Flowers have always been my thing and made me happy.
“Growing up in Scotland, I have always hated winter, and flowers and sunshine make you feel good. I love gardens and being outside, and flowers are just put on this earth to be so beautiful and incredible.”
Douglas’s customers agree, and her cushions, throws and fabrics are sought-after from Joppa to Japan – and may parts in between. “I wanted to make something that people really love and get enjoyment from, something joyous to lift their spirits, and why not? It doesn’t always have to be beige.”
“I grew up on the west coast, in Fort William, and we had a garden as well as a house full of art, textiles and ceramics because my family are all into art,” says the 31-year-old. “But it was my grandpa’s garden in Devon that I really loved. As a child, the smells and colours were so exotic.”
Currently living in a flat in Glasgow, where the lack of a garden pains her, Douglas nevertheless lives in a world of blooms through her designs, and the appeal of flowers has seen her business blossom. Encouraged by her husband Phil, an accountant with Ernst and Young, she set up the business in 2009 after studying textiles at Glasgow School of Art and then gaining several years of experience as a textile designer in the industry. “The time just felt right to do it, which sounds crazy because it was in the middle of a recession, but it was a lot about creative freedom and being in charge of my own destiny too.
“It’s a shame that the creative talent has to go south, so I wanted to set up a business here and provide jobs for others. I’ve got six people working at Bluebellgray now – designers, a studio assistant and a PR, so we’ve moved to bigger studios and can work on more projects. We do everything from initial concept to manufacturing and what goes out to customers, and it means I can still paint all the florals.”
Douglas has never been one to ignore her instincts, having switched from a painting degree to textiles when she felt her need to “paint a beautiful painting” was out of synch with the department. However, she acknowledges her time spent on the painting course now informs the more abstract elements of her designs – particularly her bestselling fabric, titled ‘Abstract’, which is splashed all over the Fi Bench. “It’s one of the favourite things I have ever done,” she says.
“It’s made by a British furniture maker, with our fabric, so all made in the UK. When I saw that in the window of John Lewis in Glasgow it was incredible. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is starting to get massive.’”
Douglas admits her approach to business is as freeform and instinctive as her designs, and all the better for that. “I don’t think I ever had a big master plan. It was always about small goals and steps and it has grown organically. I never expected it to become what it has.
“I don’t know if it’s Scottish reserve or nerves as a designer, but I’m not a huge personality and we don’t blow our own trumpet. We just get on with it. I’m not a fan of forced networking but life takes you and you meet amazing people along the way who have help you – investors, the John Lewis team, customers ... We have been very lucky.”
Customer feedback also played a big part during the time Douglas, an inveterate traveller, spent on the shop floor of the Hankyu department store in Osaka, Japan, last year. As an advocate of the hands-on approach, she spent much of her trip painting – the daily interaction with customers included a white rabbit secreted in one visitor’s coat emerging to hop all over her work, as well as receiving gifts of paper cranes and flowers.
The visit also inspired her latest collection, Blossom, and she promises that with a baby on the way the white rabbit might well put in appearance in her designs. “Having a baby will change things, and there are also a couple of really interesting collaborations in the pipeline with British companies.
“Our success is a combination of a lot of things. I’m a big believer in treating people how we want to be treated and only want to do business with those I respect and trust. We believe in being fair and honest and that comes back to us. We don’t chase things, they’ve just happened naturally.”
And off she goes to continue doing what comes naturally.
• Bluebellgray (www.bluebellgray.com); Fi Bench, £1,100, John Lewis (www.johnlewis.com)