The IOEE’s member base is incredibly diverse, with people from all walks of life signed-up to enjoy the privilege, services and benefits associated with it. To let you know just how broad a spectrum of people we work with and what membership represents to them as individuals, we’ve created Spotlight on… which, every month, introduces you to an IOEE member with an interesting story to tell. This month, the spotlight is on Julie Kouamo, a very talented textiles designer-maker who has been running her own business, www.kouamo.com, since 2011.
Julie Kouamo, who lives and works in London, has a dual heritage to call upon when designing her beautiful contemporary textiles. The French Cameroonian was raised in Lille, France, where, thanks to a rich local heritage of cloth and pattern design, she first developed a love of her craft. Having obtained her baccalauréate (France’s equivalent of high school graduation) qualification, Julie studied for a degree in fashion and textiles in France, before studying printed textiles at Central St. Martins in London. Graduating in 2006, Julie, now 33, spent some years working for herself, securing projects with the Designers Guild, Robert le Heros and Atom Designs, amongst other prestigious names. She says:
“Since graduating I have always been freelance. I worked as a textile designer creating prints which I sold to design studios. I also worked back in the studio at Central St. Martin’s as a technician assistant.”
In 2011, Julie decided to take the freelance work one step further, establishing her own business and releasing a collection of designs under her own name. Her first big break came at a tradeshow in New York when she received a design commission from a large store called ABC Carpet and Home. As she explains, this event was the catalyst for change:
“It gave me renewed confidence in my capabilities. Someone who didn’t know me at all, someone from overseas, liked what I do and trusted me enough to commission my work. I saw the opportunity and thought ‘OK, I can do this.’ It gave me the belief.”
Julie uses a range of techniques to create her colourful, bold prints, which are sold as wallpapers, lampshades, stationery, and soft furnishings. The artist business owner says:
“I work from photography as well as from some of my own drawings. I use different print techniques like lino printing to create the patterns. Having created the different elements of a pattern manually, I put them all together on a computer. I was trained as a screen-printer so when I design that’s the process I follow, using different layers to create a print. But ultimately the art is digitally printed.”
Already a member of a textile print studio, Julie had an established space to work from while she found her feet. Then, in 2012 she attended a talk about licensing work, which is where she came into initial contact with an organisation called Cockpit Arts. This award-winning social enterprise is the UK’s only business incubator dedicated to craftspeople. It selected Julie to have a studio of her own and helped the designer to access start-up business support, which complemented her existing skills base perfectly. She says:
“When you’re an artistic person you may be very creative but without the knowledge of how to sell your work. Having the business acumen is a separate skill that you need to acquire. Through Cockpit Arts, as well as my studio space, I got support – one-to-one mentoring and workshops on topics like pricing your work and understanding your market.”
It was through her contact with Cockpit Arts, that Julie first came across the IOEE and, liking what she heard, soon signed up to become a member of our organisation.
“I joined up at an IOEE Meet a Mentor event relatively recently. So far, the events have been the key benefit for me. At Meet a Mentor I got talking to different types of people with interesting backgrounds. While Cockpit Arts has given me industry-specific practical support, being an IOEE member lends me professional insight.”
In the relatively short time that Julie has been on-board with the IOEE, she’s gained a broader perspective on enterprise via the people she’s met:
“Many of the mentors I have come into contact with through the IOEE, who have their own businesses and a desire to share their knowledge, have made a big difference to my outlook already. I met one man who went through my business plan thoroughly and pointed out things I needed to alter in order to secure the financial support I need. Being an IOEE member for me, so far, has been about really high quality networking and having those opportunities to meet certain people who I’d otherwise have no chance of connecting with.”
Right now, Julie’s lovely products are available to buy on her own website and via those of third party retailers. The designer is also working towards getting the designs into high street stores, meeting with buyers and attending retail events.
“It’s about making sure people know your name and being in the right place at the right time. The first couple of years were about making that shift between being a freelancer and running your own business, which is quite different. Now, my business is expanding and I expect it will gradually become more well-known as more and more people discover Kouamo designs.”