Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year apparently. Well, when I was asked to design the complete range of gift, clothing and toys one very warm July for the lovely peeps at Mamas & Papas I was, to say the least, crapping myself. I had been working on the Mamas & Papas maternity clothing design and development for six years, and then more recently, small projects on their baby gift ranges. I was delighted to be asked and instantly replied “it would be a pleasure”, but inside my head the “feel the fear and do it anyway” force was strong!
Not only was toy and character design a little(!) out of my comfort zone, it was also a notoriously difficult category to get right; not too gimmicky, but broad appeal, with the all-important M&P sophistication. Oh, and not least forgetting trying to get it signed off by Louisa, the owner and founder of the company, who kind of despised the whole Christmas product category, as it was “never quite right”. Challenge set then. Not to be rattled by a spoonful of self-doubt I set about the task at hand and began researching. The whole season category would be sat together in store, so had to look like one cohesive collection. From clothing and accessories through to picture frames, baubles and My 1st Christmas gifts, the key was to create something classically Christmas, driven by characters, but stylish. We also wanted a non-character capsule collection to sit alongside, in complete harmony with the rest of the range.
I began with three concepts, each with their own palette and theme, and through presentation and discussion with Luisa we whittled it down to two directions. I then set about breaking down the process, first developing characters via inspiration boards and pencil sketches and then onto colour concepts. Typography was also a key component. I selected suitable fonts and designed a hand drawn typeface for the “My 1st Christmas” tagline running through the range. Alongside this I also developed simple two colour all over prints and motifs which would be used throughout the ranges, where appropriate, to link the overall feel of the surface pattern. This stage of the process was the biggest hurdle to jump, but once these concepts were approved it meant we had a huge depth of artwork to draw upon as we then developed into each category.
So, with my line list of products to design, and a long list of suppliers, each with their own USP, I began working through gift, toy and clothing product design. This was fun. I enjoy learning new skills, and understanding how things are made and their manufacturing constraints help me set my own brief on what is possible and what is just too risky to get right. I always look at the big picture and believe working with a factories’ strengths. I like to take some time to research the components and then work with those to create the best first samples possible. Sure, push them a little to source amazing new things but be realistic.
When the factory specifications went out in the post I’m not going to lie, it was a relief. It had been a long development process to get directors and buyers happy with a very tricky, short selling, seasonal product category. I went through a huge learning curve on a lot of “new to me” product areas but when the samples returned the team were over the moon. Result! The intensity of a few months hard work had been worth the effort. My most favourite product will always be the “My 1st Christmas” handmade glass tree decorations, which are individually hand painted from the inside of the bauble. Completely amazing craftwork and a true keepsake gift.
So, my first multi-product seasonal range was a success, and I was asked to return to design the “My 1st Halloween” clothing range, of which you can see a snapshot on my Instagram feed here. Working with clients on a long-term basis is just so rewarding, and a real “win win” partnership evolves whereby you can really get into the DNA of the brand, but as a freelancer, always bring something new to the table, from what’s going on outside the business. Them having the confidence to ask me to work across many different products was a real opportunity for me and I can now confidently take on briefs from stationary, gift and soft toys.
Here are a few photos, all courtesy of Mamas & Papas. If you would like to see more of my work please get in touch. (Photos © Mamas & Papas)