Heather Moore – the “self-taught” illustrator and designer behind Skinny laMinx, a décor brand and pattern-making studio located on Bree Street, Cape Town – was born in Johannesburg in the Seventies; which is where, she says, she “acquired a penchant for Scandi-style, thanks to all the hours spent in the home of my mom’s Swedish best friend, Monica”.
And indeed, be they the geographical motifs, paper-cut-like designs mimicking our fauna and flora and repetitive patterns in soft pastel tones (from soft greys to bright corals), Skinny laMinx fabrics, décor items and accessories have Scandinavian charm tangled with African flair. “The simple lines of her furniture, her birch trees and lawn of wildflowers, her health store food and fine glass vases left enough of an impression on me to build a whole business around.”
Design wasn’t what Moore had studied for though; “I studied Drama and English and [was] teaching in Pietermaritzburg; I only ended up in the design world in my late thirties, after I’d spent over a decade working as an illustrator, educational materials developer, and also professionally writing comic book scripts”.
Back in 2007, American e-commerce Etsy, which mainly focuses on handmade, craft or vintage items, was just two years old and already a hit – in December 2018, Etsy had over 60 million items on sale on its site, and generated around R11-billion in revenue – and Moore decided to “make and sell things”. A year later, she had her first wholesale order from Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, California.
Today, her studio employs 15 women “making, designing, selling, packing and planning” for the brand. And as for many other designers and creatives, the pandemic and the lockdown has brought another set of challenges.
“As with so many businesses out there, losing our revenue streams overnight has been truly shocking. To have everything pulled out from underneath us like this, and with no certainty of when we can expect to be up and running again, makes for an immensely uncertain time.
“In addition, none of us have a clear insight into what the retail and production landscape will look after all this. All that we are certain about is that everything will be different for some time to come. It is with this mindset that we are examining what the ‘new normal’ might look like for Skinny laMinx, what new opportunities this might bring, but also how we can best serve our team in the transition”.
Since lockdown started, Moore has spent time trying to figure things out with her management team, and used the support of a network of fellow businesswomen. “We share information, console and assist one another, and while there is so much stress and worry involved in these conversations, I’ve been finding joy in the solidarity. I’m also massively grateful to my team – particularly my financial manager Pearl Thompson, who is in a tiny flat in New York City – for being such an excellent, willing, solid bunch of human beings,” she says.
The designer and entrepreneur taught herself how to film and edit videos: “I put together the first of a series of online video courses called How Pattern Works.” And she also has tried to find new ways to engage with clients and followers on the brand’s social media platforms. She launched a challenge, dubbed #myapartmentsafari, where she invites her followers to find an object, be it a cup, a chair, a vase, draws a sketch of it, or photograph it and share the result with the hashtag.
The idea came from a quote from Alain de Botton in an essay called On Confinement, that asked:
“What if our real problem was not so much that we are not allowed to go anywhere – but that we don’t know how to make the most of what is already to hand?”
“This question ‘what is already at hand?’ prompted me to look around at our beloved apartment, where we’ve lived for 20 years (and two renovations), and considered the things I always wanted to pay more attention, but never do,” she says. “Over the years, Paul (Moore’s husband) and I have collected a lot of little animal figures, so I’ve been getting each one down to give a proper look by drawing them all in a sketchbook. While drawing, I’ve been recalling the circumstances and places the little animals come from, and noticing things about their form and surfaces that I’d never really noticed before.”
Moore and her husband, artist Paul Edmunds, have a soft spot for animals. “But because we only have room for cats in our apartment, we often pick up little beasts along the way. Some of these animals come from India, Thailand, the US, Japan, and others come from Kloof Street. When shopping together, we tend to take an agonisingly long time to decide to buy something, which is a great way to do it, because far in the future, you remember the whole circumstance of the purchase in much more detail.”
Now, she hopes that there will be even more value and consideration placed on the work done by local artisans and creators. “I’d like this crisis to inspire people to stop acting as a mere consumer, on the lookout for the best deal, and instead to see themselves as valuable participants in the dance of creative work. I’d like the reboot of the design economy to be based on enjoyment, surprise and delight, as we work together to spark life back into our country.” DM/ML
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