Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.
On the up Hunter Ruthven · 9 October 2015
Max Cairns: A British designer channelling flora and fauna for inspiration
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 Festival?at 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 is?now 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 with?the beautiful array of wildlife on display. (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? I remember getting burgled and having all the money I made at a?market stolen ? that wasn’t a particular high point. When I first began stocking shops with my original wooden clocks I had lots of returns due to breakages as they were far too fragile. There have been lots of technical setbacks and problem solving. But it’s all part and parcel of being a designer ? always stressful and frustrating. (8) In five years? time, I will be? Hopefully working full time for my business. I would like to think this upward learning curve is continuing at a sharp rate and every year I can look back at the previous one and be more knowledgeable about materials, aesthetics and technical successes. (9) What one tip would you give to others starting out? Don’t just set yourself goals, it can be hard to stay on track. Do a show or get your work in a shop, there is no better way than active deadlines which leave you at risk of being embarrassed. I’ve never worked so hard in my life as I did for?Tent, I am such a perfectionist and everything had to be just so ? with no stone left unturned. (10) Who are your business heroes and why? I have to say, in a business sense, people like Orla Kiely or Kath Kidson. They both lead the way in how to turn a distinct aesthetic into a commercial business. Kiely might be mainstream but she has some fantastic patterns and fabrics and manages to keep putting out new designs. Plus you have to admire their ability to plaster their designs onto every medium known to man.
ABOUT THE EXPERTHunter Ruthven
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.