The Leading Ladies Behind Amara's Top Brands Answer Our Burning Questions

Female workspace with computer, roses flowers bouquet, golden accessories, diary, laptop, glasses on white background
Image courtesy of Mikhalec / Adobe Stock

Friday 8th March is International Women’s Day 2019, a day which celebrates women’s achievements and calls for a more gender-balanced world. In our industry we are lucky to have relationships with some of the top female designers in the world, so to mark this important day we thought we’d celebrate the leading ladies behind the brands you love. Answering all our burning questions from what advice they’d give their younger selves, to the biggest business mistakes they’ve made and how they fixed them, meet the women behind some of your favourite interior brands…

Bella Freud

One of the leading names in the British fashion industry, Bella Freud is known for her slogan emblazoned jumpers. In 2012 she launched her own scented candle range inspired by the signature motifs which was followed by a homeware collection to bring her creations to the home.

Slogan cushions with plant
Bella Freud portrait
Image courtesy of Bella Freud

What advice would you give to young women looking to follow in your footsteps; do you think it’s still harder for women to make their mark in the industry?

The business of fashion is hard generally – but it seems particularly difficult for women to protect their interests. Most of the people in power financially are men and being ‘tough’ as a woman is not respected the way it is with men. It is generally admired as a strength when a man is adamant and demanding yet when a woman is the same it’s met with resistance and often distaste.

Alexia Peck

With her collection of candles and diffusers which look as good as they smell, multi-national Alexia Peck was born in New York and raised in London. She creates her scents as decadent snapshots of her life, the places she loves that signify a special place in time.

Candles and diffusers against grey backdrop
Alexia Peck portrait
Image courtesy of Alexia Peck

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I was ever given was to trust one’s own instinct. If you can’t do that then you’re sailing your own ship through life without navigation. One’s inner instinct is fundamental to knowing what it is you like and what you don’t like. What is wrong and what is right. Furthermore, always think to yourself that you can do better. The day you think you’ve reached your highest potential is the day you stop creating. One must always keep the bar above one’s head; striving forwards with momentum and passion. That’s what keeps the creative flame burning.

Lulu Guinness

Launching her eponymous brand in 1989, the then 29 year old Lulu Guinness’ intention was to always push the boundaries. Today she still abides by her motto ‘dare to be different’ and is the living, breathing personification of her brand and never seen without her trademark red lipstick.

Lulu Guinness luggage
Lulu Guinness portrait
Image courtesy of Lulu Guinness

Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?

Trust your gut and stick to it. A lot of people will try and influence and advise you along the way and it can cause you to move away from your original ideas. So, try to stay focused and true to what you know and feel is right.

Tajinder Banwait

Urban Apothecary London creator, Tajinder Banwait, uses her expertise as a perfumer-alchemist to bring an unusual approach to the pairing of botanicals for her home fragrance collection. She aims to lock memories in fragrance as a special way to remember special moments.

Urban Apothecary candle with branch
Image courtesy of Urban Apothecary London
Tajinder Banwait portrait
Image courtesy of Tajinder Banwait

What’s been the most challenging part of your career to date and how have/do you overcome it?

The most challenging part of my career to date has been going from an employee to running my own business. I was fortunate to work for some amazing beauty and fashion brands prior to launching Urban Apothecary where I gained some wonderful commercial experience and this made the transition easier but it was still a steep learning curve! I love the fact that no day is the same and that there are many ups and downs along the way which makes the journey truly exciting.

Aerin Lauder

Granddaughter of Estee Lauder, Aerin Lauder founded AERIN as an extension of her own signature style. Believing beautiful living should be effortless, her homeware is timeless with a modern twist, to make life more beautiful with ease.

Wooden side table with tray and green plant
Image courtesy of AERIN
Aerin Lauder portrait
Image courtesy of AERIN

Who or what has inspired you the most in your life?

My grandmother Estee has been my biggest inspiration in so many ways personally and professionally. Her quote “Love what you do and do it with passion” is on my mind every day when I go to work. She taught me the importance of balance between family and business.

Elizabeth Petrides

Elizabeth Petrides, driven by her love of soft textiles, founded Elizabeth Scarlett in 2013. Inspired by calming colours and her childhood summers spent escaping the city to the South of France, her uniquely embroidered designs are fabulously fun.

Palm leaf wash bag with woman in blue pyjamas
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Scarlett
Elizabeth Petrides portrait
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Scarlett

What was the hardest lesson you learnt from creating your own brand?

Learning how to switch off and relax. It’s very easy to become addicted to working when every day is exciting and you’re making visible progress. I feel like my head’s in the clouds a lot of the time, but excitement can be just as exhausting as stress. It’s hard to stay calm and I’m always trying to find ways to wind down.

Rebecca Proctor

Rebecca Proctor is creative director of MacKenzie-Childs who are renowned for their iconic designs loved by celebrities. Joining the brand back in 1991, she’s responsible for the MacKenzie-Childs we know today.

Check teapot with cupcakes
Rebecca Proctor Portrait
Image courtesy of MacKenzie-Childs

What stands out to you as your biggest career highlight?

Being a mother! That’s a career highlight for you! I would call that a highlight of my life, I have an extraordinary 17 year old boy with my incredible husband and we have an Irish Wolfhound and so it’s the four of us. My family is my highlight and it gives me a really strong foundation to do what I do.

Tina Frey

Based in San Francisco, Tina Frey Designs produce unique pieces which are inspired by organic forms found in nature and on travels around the world. Tina herself designs and hand sculpts each piece in clay before handmade moulds are created.

Silver pots with flowers and pencils
Tina Frey portrait
Image courtesy of Tina Frey

What advice would you give to any aspiring designers looking to start a career in design?

The advice I would give to any aspiring designers is to follow your heart when you are creating something and it should be something you love and believe in. Whatever craft it is that you pursue, you should pursue it wholeheartedly and not compromise on your vision of what you want to create. Make sure what you create is your own. Of course you will have to consider important aspects of what you are making like practicality and functionality also. Once you have decided on your path, you must keep in mind the quality of your products and never skimp on this. It is also super important to have good communication with your customers. This means timely replies and on-time delivery of whatever you promise to deliver.

Then there is just simple perseverance since this is probably the single most important skill to acquire. You will probably work the hardest you have ever worked in your life but it will all be super rewarding when you see you have accomplished what you set out to do and you will forget all the tough times you go through to get where you are.

Anna Jacobs

Trained in painting at Camberwell College of Arts and in interior design at Chelsea College of Arts and Central St Martins, Anna Jacobs launched her first homeware collection in 2015 with art at its core. With a unique sense of craft and a handmade nature, her pieces stand out wherever placed.

Blue sofa with pink cushion and lampshade
Image courtesy of Anna Jacobs
Anna Jacobs portrait
Image courtesy of Anna Jacobs

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Find a way to be honest with yourself about what you really love, not what you think you should love – and do that.

Laurence Rouet

Laurence is the creative director at Yves Delorme, one of the finest bed linen makers in the world. Finding inspiration from the world around her, she is responsible for creating the brand’s ever popular prints.

Floral bed linen against palm tree wallpaper
Image courtesy of Yves Delorme
Image courtesy of Yves Delorme

Who or what has inspired you the most in your life?

Painting has always been a great source of inspiration. It creatively nourishes my sensitivity to colour and my imagination. It’s a source of pure emotion I need in my personal life just as much as my stylistic work. It brings me energy, new perspectives and reflection on the world around me.

As a child I remember discovering the paintings of Gauguin. It was like a new world opening up before me; a tree could be blue, a mountain pink and it showed all the magic of contrasts we can observe sometimes in reality without being able to express it.

Cy Twombly was my first experience of contemporary painting. The colour flying in stains, the raging or delicate moves, the whites, the sub-layers reveal everything about the artist. Ingres also remains a big inspiration. His approach to different hues and details in his art always fascinates me.

I am also very inspired by nature that I like to observe and feel during a walk or a long trip. I grew up in the sun of the south of France where nature is omnipresent. Walks at night in Provencal orchards where shadows come alive, luminous fireflies hidden in the hand, wild bouquets gathered along paths, all stay with me. The Yves Delorme DNA is built on the poetry of nature and it’s for this reason that I take so much pleasure in creating the designs and I want to transmit this passion through the creation of beautiful linen.

The flowers I create for Yves Delorme speak of lightness and movement. The drawings are written with lines in ink, lead pencil or watercolour to copy textures and transparencies. Sophisticated colours speak of half-tones, pastels or deep vivid nuances to evoke the freshness of the morning, the fullness of summer or the nuances of the evening. I imagine delicate associations of the reality and the imaginary so that your nights are as beautiful as your days.

Anya Hindmarch

Beloved British accessory designer, Anya Hindmarch, recreates the everyday in extraordinary ways through her designs. Anya has now brought her usual tongue-in-cheek humour to the world of home fragrance with her Anya Smells collection, which is full of playfulness and creative delight.

Anya Hindmarch candles
Image courtesy of Anya Hindmarch
Anya Hindmarch portrait
Image courtesy of Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

What has been the hardest challenge you’ve faced during your career and how did you overcome it?

For the first two to three years I worked from my kitchen table, often thinking, what the hell am I doing? All of my friends were at university, and I was a bit lonely. I was the designer, negotiating with the factories, I was the sales girl, the PR, the accountant worrying about cash flow. My youth was a benefit because I didn’t think about the problems, I just got on with it. Looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Clarissa Hulse

Evolving from a simple scarf business to one of the most successful textile brands in the UK, Clarissa Hulse has turned her passion for colour and print into a vibrant homeware collection. Drawing inspiration from the countryside, she captures the beauty of nature in every piece.

Pink and grey bed linen
Image courtesy of Clarissa Hulse
Clarissa Hulse portrait
Image courtesy of Clarissa Hulse

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Advice I would give my younger self… An interesting question that has made me think hard!

I regret not working for other people first before starting up my business. It did all happen quite by accident in an organic way, and I suppose if I had worked for other people and I had realised how tough it can be I might never have taken the plunge. So you can’t really have regrets… but I have learnt everything the hard way through making mistakes. I think I should have been less impatient, listened harder to advice from others, and been more patient with filing and organising (still haven’t grasped that one).

Rosita Missoni

One of the most iconic design houses in the world, Missoni is loved in both the fashion and interior industries thanks to their eye-catching prints. Created by Rosita and Ottavio Missoni over 60 years ago, Rosita is still at the helm of Missoni Home which is where her great passion lies.

Wood clad room with Missoni sofa
Image courtesy of Missoni Home
Rosita Missoni portrait
Image courtesy of Missoni Home

What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?

When in 1965 we were looking for a place to build our factory my husband Tai said: “We should find a place to work where we would like to spend our weekends” and I totally agreed. Our choice was so right that once the factory was built we started to plan to build also our own house. The best decision in our life!

Jan Constantine

Jan Constantine creates ‘heirlooms of the future’, her instantly recognisable embroidery is unique in the industry and her goals are to keep alive the ancient, hands-on skills her talented workforce exhibit when making her colourful collection.

Sofa with jungle cushions
Image courtesy of Jan Constantine
Jan Constantine Portrait
Image courtesy of Jan Constantine

What’s the biggest business mistake you’ve ever made, and how did you overcome it?

I was so excited when London won the bid for the Olympic Games in 2005 that I made a successful pitch to create a homewares collection in collaboration with London 2012! It was the most difficult and disappointing thing I ever did in my business, but in retrospect, it was great because it attracted wonderful press and international coverage for my brand.

Orla Kiely

Irish retro print designer Orla Kiely’s patterns are instantly recognisable the world over. Working with many household brands over the years to give everyday items the Orla Kiely treatment, her own homeware brand continues to be one of the most popular with a host of ‘60s and ‘70s inspired designs to bring a pattern pop to any room.

Tea towel in kitchen with tomatoes
Image courtesy of Orla Kiely
Image courtesy of Orla Kiely

What’s the best advice any one has ever given you?

Be yourself! And I think that is really important, because as soon as you try to do something that’s not really you it falls flat on its face. And that’s why all designers have their strengths and styles, and I wouldn’t want to try and do or be someone I am not. In the end I know what I can do and what I am good at, and that is important.

Lauren Dickinson Clarke

Resisting her family’s wishes to embark on a career in dentistry, Lauren Dickinson Clarke instead chose to explore her artistic inclination. After five years in the fashion business, she discovered her passing for drawing and crafting and it’s at this point her first ceramic design was born.

Plates and mugs with illustrations

What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome when starting your own business, and how did you pass it?

Honestly, there have been so many hurdles, it’s hard to pick just one! I would say that the biggest one was and still is, the difficulty of battling it out on my own a lot of the time. When you start a business, there are so many aspects which you don’t know about and have to learn. There isn’t a boss to ask, and so you just have to figure it out (thank heavens for Google!) I find this quite fun as a challenge now but when I was starting out, it was rather difficult and lonely at times. I managed to pass this by forming a tight group of allies in my suppliers and customers. I found wonderful suppliers who shared my passion for craftsmanship and who gave valuable advice to help me get going. Now I often use my customers as a sounding board for new ideas too and these relationships give me so much joy.

The second biggest hurdle to overcome was realising that things take time. This can be challenging if you’re starting out because the likelihood is that you’re not taking a salary and you have to find the will to just keep going. But I’ve always believed that your dreams are there to be built, and dreams don’t build themselves easily.

Joanna Buchanan

Ever inspired by her great grandmother’s stash of vintage ornaments at her parents English countryside home, Joanna Buchanan’s jewel encrusted collection is that added dash of glamour every home needs.

Beaded placemats with pineapples and napkin holders
Image courtesy of Joanna Buchanan
Joanna Buchanan portrait
Image courtesy of Joanna Buchanan

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain…this is on a card that my husband Brad gave to me early on, I keep it on my desk to remind myself that this is what I chose, and to enjoy the ride!

Ali Mapletoft

Creator of Age of Reason, Ali Mapletoft, believes that ethical fashion and interior can (and should) be exciting, indulgent and fun. Creating her brand to reflect her empowerment ethos of no sweatshops and no minimum wage labour, her products are a must for the design conscious home.

Heart cushion
Image courtesy of Age of Reason
Ali Mapletoft Portrait
Image courtesy of Age of Reason

What’s the biggest business mistake you’ve ever made and how did you overcome it?

Not asking for help. For years I thought I had to do it all myself. It wasn’t until I started reaching out to others that my brand started to take off. Having grown up in a village of crafts people in Southern Africa I should have known this; community is the backbone of that society. But somehow I’d forgotten. Whether we want to admit this to ourselves or not, every brand owner needs help. We won’t achieve our dreams or goals, or whatever you want to call those big things, without asking for it. The light-bulb moment for me was when I started a community of local female artists in my area- I realised that I could get help, but also that I love helping people. I now run my brand Age of Reason alongside “Hive Mastermind” mentoring community of over 100 designers who I guide online. The first thing I tell them to do is ask for more help. It can be humbling to admit you need help in a world that worships self-sufficiency. But truth is, we don’t know everything, and we can’t do everything. Only a fool thinks they can. It’s my belief that we should ask for help and give help too wherever we can. When I was a child my parents ran a pottery. People would ask my Dad “Did you come here to teach the locals pottery?” And he would laugh this warm generous laugh and say “No, I came to learn!” He never hesitated to ask the women in the village for help in understanding how they created such beautiful pottery. Some of that must have rubbed off on me, and I’m rediscovering it. I never hesitate to tell a fellow cushion and homeware designer my tips and techniques. I don’t believe in trade secrets at all. I believe community is more powerful. Creativity is very contagious, and you can’t wear it out by sharing it. So, whatever knowledge we have, no matter how small, we should actively pass it on. Accept help and give help willingly, because when you teach someone else you become an architect of humanity. And when you accept help you sustain a circle of learning that goes on forever.