On the up · 9 October 2015

Max Cairns: A British designer channelling flora and fauna for inspiration

Shows have been a great way for Max Cairns to put his products before potential customers
Shows have been a great way for Max Cairns to put his products before potential customers
British designer Max Cairns spoke with Business Advice about his new range of products and what effort it has taken so far to get into a position where he is beginning to be noticed.

Explaining the struggles he has gone through to make his offerings economically viable and why it is key to not just set yourself endless goals rather active deadlines Cairns is fresh from displaying his products during the London Design Festivalat the end of September.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

My name is Max Cairns and I make interior products inspired by British flora and fauna. My new range “Britain, naturally” is about showcasing the natural beauty found throughout the British Isles, using contemporary processes to recreate the exquisite forms and bold colours indigenous to Britain.

(2) How long have you been around for?

I have been around for almost two years now. What started off as a hobby evolved into hand-making all the products myself out of wood and selling them on a market stall and isnow a business with outsourced UK manufacturing.

(3) How do/will you make money?

Although I haven’t cashed in all my chips yet, and still have a part-time job, things are starting to click. I recently did a show at Tent during London Design Festival and have had some promising leads. It’s all about exposure, as subconsciously you are more likely to trust a name you have heard of. I am by no means earning anywhere near a living yet, but I can see an evolving path and a constant progression.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

It is the slant of solely British wildlife combined with British manufacturing in a modern format that I believe makes it unique. Some of the pieces hark back to earlier craft such as the enamel in my Samphire Trivet and the historical connotations in luxury pieces such as my Samphire Screen.

The difference is you are combining this craftsmanship with modern technologies the screen panels, for example, are intricately laser cut while the graphics and packaging of the trivet are innovative. I wanted to achieve something that was wholly British both in conception and production, something that embodied the talent we have both in a physical sense as artisans, but also in a natural sense withthe beautiful array of wildlife on display.

His screens are designed to celebrate the beauty of nature
His screens are designed to celebrate the beauty of nature
(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

I was fortunate enough to get a job as a design technician in a very supportive college that gave me access to a laser cutter. It meant I was able to mock up many prototypes which have evolved over the last few years. It gave me the platform to be able to start a products business with almost no overheads or machining costs, something I will be eternally grateful for.

I was faced with the challenge of how to produce the bespoke packaging on a modest level, without the added financial costs of outsourcing it. I created my own jig on the laser cutter using two MDF boards and strips of metal to fold the clock packaging. I still have to go outside and jump on it to crease my packaging!

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

It’s the personal victories that mean the most to me. Being able to stand back during the show at Tent and see how much your work has evolved and what you have achieved on your own is astonishingly satisfying.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?



Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.

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