I have to admit that when I first discovered Nancy Bird, and then learnt a little more about its founder and designer Emily Wright I was impressed at how much she has accomplished in such a short period of time. The handbags and accessories are beautifully produced with a thoroughness to detail that's amazing. The fabrics are sourced in Sri Lanka, the textiles screen printed in Melbourne and the leather tanned in Italy. The designs are old school with a modern sensibility. Yes, amazing.
Which five words best describe you? Worrier, dreamer, kind, earthy, curious.
What was your first job and what path have you taken since? After uni I went straight into starting nancybird. I was spending all my holidays making things and selling them locally during uni so it just made sense to keep going. The label came out of the desire to practically use my fine art training, getting artwork out of the gallery environment and into stores, which I thought would have a broader audience. I think it has been both a help and a hinderance coming from a fine art background – it was a steep learning curve for a few years, learning about buying cycles, the way to structure a range, how to cost things properly. But the fine art training has helped in seeing what I do with a different eye – I never saw bags as having to be a certain way, and I enjoy playing with the elements of bag making because I’m an intruder in the world of accessories
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? To juggle. Time management in production so that each season gets into store at the right time, as well as the daily tasks which require switching from right to left brain quite a bit. The other more personal lesson is the courage to move through the self doubt when designing a new range. I think it’s a common trait in creative people, and can be a real block. I now consciously turn those thoughts off, and it works. Once I don’t have the blank piece of paper in front of me and am working on a design, I fall in love again and things click into place.
What’s your proudest career achievement? Seeing a collection at a final stage is when I am most proud – they’re like my little children! I’m really so proud of my business, as it was just me working in it for a long time… I’m proud that I’ve created something out of nothing.
What’s been your best decision? A big decision a few years ago was moving production offshore. Before that everything was made here, which I loved, but it became untenable – lack of skills and manufacturers here the main issue. With a bit of a heavy heart I started looking overseas. The issue of Australian made is a tricky one and one that I could spend an entire night talking about, but for me moving offshore has meant the freeing up of design ideas – so much is possible, compared to the difficulty of sourcing and manufacturing here. My designs really grew wings after that, and the quality increased hugely. I have been so impressed with the skills of the people making my range and their unending patience in my complicated designs. We still print fabrics here in Melbourne, and I really enjoy the immediacy of that too, so I feel quite lucky to have struck a balance I am happy with.
Who inspires you? People living by their convictions, and making their own way.
What are you passionate about? Textile design! I love collecting books with a million designs in them, my latest crush is Indian embroidery. A relatively new passion has been furniture – I’ve just reupholstered a couch and some chairs in some of my textile prints and leathers, it has been fun doing something creative just for me.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I have a bit of a crush on Warren Ellis from the Dirty Three, but I’m sure if we met I’d be too shy to talk!
What dream do you still want to fulfil? Spending some good chunks of time overseas, but not for a while. I would love to really explore Africa, I love their textile prints and I would be keen to meet some of the makers over there. Spending more time out of the city, upholstering more furniture and tending the vegie patch are goals for this year!
What are you reading? Off the Grid Homes by Lori Ryker. My partner Rob has a property on the Yarra River outside of Melbourne and is planning to build on it using solar, tank water and composting toilets, and we’ve been reading this book for inspiration and guidance.
images courtesy of nancy bird