Against the grain: Nonconformist design

Hello readers!

The following Q & A has been conducted by me, Minjea, design associate at Elworthy Studio. I've been part of the team since the conception of the NATIVE collection, and one of my projects was updating the Elworthy Studio logo.  We went through several versions that looked modern and stylish, but none "felt" right to Kate.  She realized that the logos  looked too similar to the current trendy logo aesthetic (clean sans serif font, all caps)... and not in line with her brand. A lightbulb went off, and that's when I truly started understanding her vision.  I believe that Elworthy Studio is artistically unique because our offerings are different from others- you certainly won't find the traditional toile de jouy or chinoiserie prints in our collections- but what I've learned working alongside Kate is that "nonconformist design" is about much more than the finished patterns!  Witnessing Kate's explorative approach as a nonconformist designer is truly inspiring, and I wanted to dig deeper into this aspect of the Elworthy Studio brand.  Hope you all enjoy! 

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Minjea Yoon:  What does nonconformist mean to you? 

Kate Miller: I like to think of nonconformity as a departure from more traditional ways of thinking or acting.  It is about individualism, about straying from the norms.  One important distinction is that it comes from a place of authenticity rather than as an act of rebellion.

MY: In what ways does the Elworthy brand embrace being nonconformist?

KM: While I didn’t set out to be “nonconformist”, my journey to becoming a design brand has been unconventional!  I am not a formally trained artist, I never worked as a designer for another brand, and had zero experience in the interior design industry.  I studied economics at a liberal arts college, then went on to work in retail fashion. At age 30, I decided I wanted to become a textile designer and enrolled in an MFA program… then dropped out in my third semester.

To me, being a nonconformist means doing the thing that is harder, and initially more uncomfortable.  I think a lot of people feel like they need the degree or job experience to give them credibility and confidence.  I reached a point where I developed the necessary skills, and felt ready to start my own business.  But doing so (from scratch) was totally scary and I made my share of mistakes along the way! 

Being nonconformist also means not following trends.  I intentionally try NOT to look at what other people are doing because I don’t want to be influenced (even subconsciously) by trends.   While it might be easier to use color and trend forecasts in my collection development, I know that would make my designs less intentional, and less personal.  

Creating from an intuitive place is hard work!  I am constantly faced with resistance…doubt…creative blocks.  But if I can slog through all that, the end result is authentic, fulfilling for me as an artist, and, I believe, more timeless.

MY: What part of the design process is nonconformist?

KM: My design process is what made people start using the word “nonconformist” to describe Elworthy Studio!  I like to describe it as an avant garde approach to fine art and craft techniques.  My process is truly experimental and full of discoveries along the way.  

To create the designs for my first collection, I dyed fabrics using rusty objects.  For the next collection, I employed alternative photography methods.  These are not processes I invented, but they are processes that are uncommon in the textile design world.  It is so exciting to find fresh applications for existing techniques, and approach them from my own perspective!

MY: Do you have any favorite nonconformist role models?

KM: So many.  We should do an entire journal series on nonconformist women in history!  Frida Kahlo, Anais Nin, Georgia O’Keefe, and Billie Jean King come to mind.  All amazing women who did things their own way, shifting cultural paradigms and gender norms along the way.  I certainly do not put myself in their company - at least, not yet ; )

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