Continuing our series exploring the creative lives of people who live and work in the country.
Thomas Edison famously said that – ‘Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.’
Talent is one thing but there is no substitute for hard graft. We expect success to be a long hard slog, we especially like our artists, painters, musicians, actors, in fact anyone with a creative or entrepreneurial kink to their ambitions, to suffer. And our suspicions are raised when they succeed ‘too easily.’
So when Katie Gibson of Gibson & Birkbeck shirts, whose gorgeous printed shirts sell in over 15 of the most exclusive country boutiques, says:
“I did my first trade show in February 2014.”
It might seem like the world just fell in her lap, especially when the eponymous Birkbeck – silent partner, supportive fiancé is Tom Birkbeck, son of Mark and Linda Birkbeck, founders of luxury retailer House of Bruar. But scratch the surface of any overnight success story and you’ll find hard work and determination. Even if fortune shines on you it is rarely enough without talent and graft.
In Katie’s case her clear, crisp talent rings true as a bell and she tracks her own success story right back to childhood, to formative years spent roaming the remote corners of Scotland.
“We moved about a lot as a family when I was a child, we lived in Knoydart and other spots on the West Coast and I had a lot of freedom to explore. All the animals and birds – the creatures that I draw for my prints were there right outside my door.’
‘They were my world. I remember hedgehogs rustling around and foxes, goldfinches feeding on the teasels – all the creatures you’d find in a gorgeous traditional garden.”
From this seemingly bucolic start Katie made her way to Loughborough where she studied printed textile design. Then having acquired the technical and design skills she needed instead of pursuing a design job Katie chose to work in retail, an astute decision that is paying significant dividends.
Undoubtedly the commercial experience Katie gained as a buyer has been invaluable. She is able to appreciate the industry from the other side, she understands how the market operates and has tailored her offering as a designer accordingly.
She explains that the idea for Gibson and Birkbeck shirts evolved slowly. She developed her ideas for the prints using photographs, snapping the blue tits, frogs and tiny tousled mouse that feature in her prints, then sketching out the design and repeat structure. The fine detail in her prints is enchanting; each little creature is vividly alive, evident of her superb skills of observation, draughtsman ship and technical ability.
The simplicity of the prints betrays nothing of the skill required in their making – the goldfinch print alone requires over 25 colours.
Katie wanted her shirts to have a contemporary cut that would be easy for women to wear and she settled on a simple boyfriend cut in 100% cotton that flatters all figures. All Gibson & Birkbeck shirts have covered buttons. She worked tirelessly to get the details right for print, cut and manufacture.
But Katie was experienced enough to know that simply getting her product right wasn’t enough, taking her idea any further would be risky without first testing the market so using her commercial experience of the country clothing market she approached the problem in an old fashioned way:
“I made a list of businesses I thought might be interested in my shirts and I went around knocking on doors.”
As she says this, she laughs, making her door knocking sound easy, and vaguely quaint, which as anyone who has ever tried to pitch a new idea knows is far from true.
Perhaps Katie’s easy confidence is down to youthful bravado but more likely her confidence is well founded, she has the talent and she’s put in the graft – she’s spotted a gap in the market and she’s filled it beautifully with her printed shirts that sit midway between tradition and modernity.
In any event, unsurprisingly the response to Katie’s cold calling was positive enough to encourage her to green light the Spring Summer 2014 collection which she then launched at a trade show in February 2014.
The response to the first Gibson and Birkbeck collection has been fantastic, Katie claims that 75% of retailers placed top up orders, she has greatly increased her stockists for the Autumn Winter 2014 collection, with buyers from as far afield as Korea and Japan snapping up her country prints.
Still she is keeping her feet on the ground, busy planning next steps – cashmere separates and plain silk shirts are in the pipeline – but she’s cautious about running before she can walk, happy to play the long game for Gibson & Birkbeck, protective of her hard won success and able to resist the siren cry that beckons her to slap her prints over everything from skirts, to scarves and handbags.
Instead she’ll keep it in check, careful not to dilute the appeal of her prints and take time to develop a brand I’m sure we’ll all be buying for years to come.
The Gibson & Birkbeck Autumn Winter Collection will be available in A Hume shops and online very soon – we’ll keep you posted!
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