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Donna Wilson

Describe your graduate Show work in five words: 

Weird, woolly, colourful, messy, curious.

Where did (and do) your design ideas come from? 

All over the place – the landscape, music, dreams, magazines, ceramics, Scandinavian design, people. Sometimes I just see a tiny snippet of something which triggers an idea, which is then developed into a product. Last year I went to a small remote island off the coast of Newfoundland and came back feeling really inspired by its landscape of boats and houses, but normally I find inspiration everywhere, it can be a tiny piece of cloth, a picture in a book, or found object from my travels. Nature is also a big inspiration for me, particularly the plants and animals in the British countryside.

What are your memories of being a student?

Being at the RCA was like being stuck in a creative bubble for two years, it was intense, we worked all the time and all socialised together. I think it changes you as a person in a good way, and gave me the space and environment to develop my own style which I think is so important. I loved every minute!

Who was your favourite member of staff and why?  

I loved all the tutors in Textiles –  Karen [Nicol], Freddie [Robins], Clare Johnston, they were such a great team, and I will always remember Louise Jacobson, who was a fantastic visiting lecturer. But if I had to choose I’d say Freddie, I always felt like she got where I was coming from, she pushed me to challenge myself and gave me the confidence to approach retailers with my work. She is such a supportive and inspiring person. It was with her encouragement that I went round to Couverture with six dolls, and that was the beginning of my doll/creature making career!

Where has your career taken you since graduating in 2003?

I feel very lucky to be doing the thing I love as my job, and never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be making creatures for a living!  But now, 11 years on I have a team of six and a lovely creative studio in East London, we sell to retailers across 35 countries, and make home accessories and accessories and are launching my very first collection. I am still passionate about creating products that people can connect with, the studio is committed to making things that our customers will treasure.  We use UK-based manufacturers and suppliers wherever possible, doing our bit to keep craftsmanship alive.

How do you feel the College contributed to where you are now? 

I think going to the RCA, gave me the time to develop as a designer, also the confidence to push myself into the real world of running my own business. One of the best things about going there is meeting the other students and tutors while you’re there and afterwards, it feels like you have something special in common if you’ve both been to the RCA!

What is the best piece of advice you would pass on to students or recent graduates?

Work hard to develop your own style, it’s so competitive that it’s so important to stick to your principles, be unique and stand out.

What is your proudest achievement so far?

There has been so many highlights, working with a great team of people which help me to have the best job! Meeting designers like Rob Ryan and Orla Kiely, and making the creatures and props for a music video for Gideon Conn, and being asked to design a new tartan for my home land- Aberdeenshire.   It would also have to be winning the Elle Decoration British Designer of the Year award in 2010 – a very proud moment.

What drives you to keep pursuing your dreams? 

I love what I do, and have no idea what I’d do if I didn’t do this! That fear drives me on!!

What are your goals for the future? 

I am happy to keep small, I like our studio team, it still feels like a family, but my main goal would be to keep moving things on, keep developing new products and keep supporting UK manufacturing. This year is going to be an exciting year for us, as we are launching quite a few new products, and I’m keen to see the reaction to everything, especially the jumpers!

Enjoyed this story? Discover more alumni stories here.

"I feel very lucky to be doing the thing I love as my job, and never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be making creatures for a living!" Donna Wilson

(MA Constructed Textiles, 2003)

Donna Wilson
Donna Wilson, 2014
Photographer: Carmel King