Spotlight on Wild Rice Designs
Wild Rice Designs were established in 2014 by co-creatives, Karen and Duncan Sedgwick. The company design and make interior accessories comprising luxury, decorative cushions and wall art. Their unique decorative style is created using an eclectic mix of found imagery - sometimes iconic, sometimes prosaic - but always rich and vibrant. From a bejewelled photograph of Carmen Miranda to a distressed canvas of the Scottish Loch Ellen’s Isle, their designs add unique character and atmosphere to any room creating little pockets of theatre.
Inspiration comes from so many places, historical imagery, found fragments, flora and fauna from their garden - but it is how this imagery is translated using photography, collage, mixed media and digital manipulation that provides Wild Rice Designs with their iconic artefacts - brave home décor for brave home makers. Their work is now in homes as far away as Norway, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.
Karen has a love of making, fabricating and styling – skills developed by running her own independent clothing label. Following a foundation in Art and Design and a first class (hons) degree in Ceramics from Loughborough College of Art and Design, her work was showcased at New Designers and at the V & A’s Ceramic Contemporaries, selected by a panel including Grayson Perry and Kate Malone. Karen continued as a freelance artist working with a wide variety of community groups, alongside bringing up a family. A continuing passion for plant life and garden design led her to return to study horticulture at Brackenhurst College, NTU for two years. Combining creativity with planting, Karen worked as a visual merchandiser for a large garden centre.
Once the family had grown up Karen returned to making, utilising her diverse knowledge and skills and together with Duncan’s digital expertise, they set up Wild Rice Designs.
Duncan arrived at Wild Rice Designs from a different route. Having studied a degree in Creative Arts also at Nottingham Trent University he worked for advertising and design agencies in the Midlands as a graphic designer - while simultaneously performing stand-up comedy, playing guitar in a band and recording an album with Melody Maker. He eventually found himself working for a large multi-national where, for reasons that still confound him, he became their events and exhibitions manager working across Europe and the USA.
Deciding he would prefer to work for himself Duncan set up a successful events management company producing international and UK based exhibitions for 11 years leading to his current role as Course Director and Senior University Lecturer teaching events management to postgraduates - the next generation of innovators.
Retaining a strong interest and skills in digital manipulation and other forms of computer geekery, Duncan works with Karen to realise their niche designs. Wild Rice Designs bring all their concepts to life in their Nottingham studio - which Duncan built! Here they create richly coloured designs for their wall art and luxury velvet cushions. Using a locally sourced printer (acclaimed as being one of the best in the world!) the designs are digitally printed onto luxury cotton velvet.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
It was a case of now or never. We returned from a month’s break in Australia which had given us the time to look at our work/life balance and realised something needed to change. So, after six months Karen gave up her steady job as a visual merchandiser and started making again. She wanted to start making ceramics again but didn’t have a kiln. In Oz, they saw some work made from plaster and resin but looked like it was ceramic. So, they then spent some time researching different types of resin and plaster moulds which led them to designing and making their first pieces – the wall art.
Duncan was also looking for an outlet for his creativity, and with his graphic design and business background, they make a good team. It really helps him get a better balance with the full-time job!
2. How did you start up and fund your business?
At first it was very much a kitchen table job – then we built a studio!
Duncan’s full-time job meant we could just about afford to build the business gradually so in a way it we self-funded it. It wasn’t a huge outlay and when we started selling our work we just fed it back into the business.
3. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business?
At first we just designed and made what we liked and then had to find out how to reach our market. This took longer than we thought it would and it was only when we started using social media more effectively that it took off – especially with Instagram.
Finding enough hours in the day to achieve what we wanted to took some working out as well. Designing, making, marketing, web-site building, running the web site, accounting, sourcing and the delivery times for some of the materials – all if these things sometimes take longer than you think. We also had to revisit the processes we used to cut down on losses – there were more of these at first as we developed the right finish to create quality products we were happy with.
4. What help was missing for you?
Advice on some of the marketing and critical feedback for our work would have been really useful. Friends and family are always supportive – but not always offering the most objective opinion. We spent a lot of time making things that didn’t work as well. Thankfully, we do this less now.
5. What went wrong in your first year?
We took some advice from a couple of professionals who support start-up creative businesses – but that sent us down a more “craft” based route. It took us a year to realise that this was wrong for us and to have the confidence in ourselves in making more of what we loved rather than what we thought people might like. We got much better response moving from the craft sector to interiors.
6. What have you learnt?
So much! Be patient, stick at what you believe in and be realistic in how long things might take would be the main lessons for us. Don’t give up the day job straight away but think of ways you can do both, maybe even working part time. It’s less scary, especially when you still have a mortgage and a daughter starting University.
7. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking of starting a business?
You go for it! If you are passionate about what you do, and you enjoy it, find a way however small it might seem at first – and don’t give up at the first set back.
Make sure you do not undersell yourself – skills, passion, training, time (before you’ve even got to materials) should all be factored in.
8. What do you enjoy the most?
Designing is what we love the most and seeing the finished product – especially when we get great feedback from customers who love them as much as we do – and, of course, seeing them in some amazing interiors in so many far-flung places.
We want them to be more than just decorative pieces and we love it when people buy into our aesthetic.
9. On a scale of 1 to 10 how hard do you find it to run your business?
You could say, sometimes a 1, sometimes a 10!
Sometimes it is frustrating, sometimes challenging and, yes, we’ve had to make sacrifices - but at the end of the day it is what we are passionate about and that is what makes it all worthwhile.
Nicola says "it's important to realise how long things take to happen in business; much longer than you think, so you should always plan for such and have a contingency of funds. Learn to be patient too. Loving what you do and having a drive and passion will always help, if things take longer and you should never give up at the first hurdle, for their will be many"
The Girl with The Green Sofa