Yorkshire designer Ruth Holly reveals why collaboration and shopping local is propelling her business forward post pandemic
DURING the pandemic many independent retailers in Yorkshire have experienced sales buoyancy as consumers consciously shop local.
Yorkshire designer Ruth Holly is one of those businesses. Moreover, her work has been snapped up by several Yorkshire venues, eager to show off her distinctive homeware ranges which reflect the natural patterns found in our environment.
Ruth’s collections cover a wide range of products including table ware, stationery and gifts, and soft furnishings.
This diversity is a key to being a success as a freelance designer, insists Ruth.
“Variety for creatives is very important,” says Ruth who is building a portfolio of successful collaboration projects.
In between lockdowns last year, she helped style the interior of Home Farm Cafe, on the Beningbrough Hall estate just outside York. “I provided our lampshades and cushions to create a rustic interior for Lucy the owner,” said Ruth.
Her pieces were also chosen for a show house at the Ironworks – a new housing development in Leeds.
Ruth said: “Local artists and designers were contacted to decorate the contemporary townhouses and apartments, and a selection of my goods were picked.”
Meanwhile, a range of her goods are now on sale in the gift aisles of Moss and Moor, a new garden centre at Ilkley.
Her work is now firmly established in Yorkshire with stockists in Halifax, Leeds, Helmsley, York and Ilkley but also further afield, including Scotland.
Working out of a studio in Halifax, West Yorkshire, Ruth founded her business in 2015. She has been working as a freelance designer alongside establishing her own-name brand.
She works mainly from photographs taken in the great outdoors, with inspiration coming from the North York Moors and the Yorkshire coast.
“I look at coastal patterns, or anything that someone might walk past and not notice – I look for that and translate it into a product. What I am really looking for is the natural patina in surfaces – I like the weathered patterns in surfaces. It can be the pattern on a man-made surface; I am looking for something with an architectural feel, something more abstract.”
Ruth uses these images as the basis for her designs.
From selling at trades fairs she landed her first prestigious collaboration, with the Hayward Gallery in London’s South Bank.
“They wanted me to produce a whole new product line for them. I took lots of photographs of the gallery which is known for its brutalist architecture – it is not pretty.
“But my idea was to bring out its hidden beauty – what can’t be seen unless you know what to look for.
“I don’t design repeat butterflies! I bring out the textures and patterns, the details.”
Her bespoke collection for the Hayward included tea towels, cushions, notebooks, art prints, placemats and stationery.
A latest project with Moss and Moor came about after the garden centre purposefully looked for local artists and designers to stock in its shop.
“They are championing local independent brands and designers.”
Ruth is seeing this repeated elsewhere too.
“Last year my online sales really picked up – more than ever before. Everybody jumped online to focus on making their space their own sanctuary. People wanted to make their homes really cosy and comfy and that was reflected in online sales.”
She said now retail was opening up again, sales were increasing off line too.
“More people are wanting to champion local brands rather than stock things that people can get everywhere.”
Looking ahead, Ruth is focussing on launching some new collections and finding more stockists.
So, what advice would she pass on to other designers striving for self-employed success in the commercial world.
“My business focus only really kicked in after the third year. Up until then I was developing Ruth Holly as a personal artistic project, while working part time.
“When I realised that customers and stockists were interested in buying my designs, I thoroughly researched the market and started to steadily market my goods at retail fairs across the UK, for example GNCCF in Manchester, The Hepworth Wakefield, Country Living Fair in London, Leeds Winter Fair, Saltaire Arts Trail, Palm House Liverpool, Biscuit Factory in Newcastle.
“Having always worked in the design field, I knew where to pitch my products and who my target consumer was.
“I developed an email marketing list of loyal customers, exhibited at trade fairs like Harrogate Home and Gift, and Top Drawer in London, stayed present on social media, and also maintained good relationships with existing stockists.”
Today, she relies heavily on social media, word of mouth, customer reviews and press coverage to propel the business forward.
“It’s about being proactive in trying to push the products – without ramming it down people’s throats!”
Importantly, she believes people like the abstract yet natural ethos of her designs – which are distinctive and attract their own audience.
“I encourage people to look for the beauty in things that they don’t necessarily find beauty in!
“Everybody is wrapped up in what is glamorous – but the most humble things can be beautiful if you slow down long enough to appreciate them.”