A Colorful Q&A With March Stylemaker Fiona Douglas
The vibrant March Stylemaker spoke with our editors and had a lovely conversation about how she started her successful textiles business, the challenges she faced during the process, and what inspires her most.
Fiona Douglas is a textile designer that claims painting as her first love. Inspired by her travels, her two little boys, and the beauty of the outdoors, Fiona began her own textiles business called bluebellgray that features beautiful designs bursting with bright colors. Donning pinks and turquoises with flashes of yellow, her designs embody the uplifting magic of a fresh spring day. Check out what Fiona had to say about building her business and what bluebellgray is up to today.
The Beginning of a Brand
What did you do before bluebellgray?
I went to Art School in Glasgow in Scotland—it's a very famous art school and I spent my first years in the fine art painting department but was very young and felt a bit lost, to be honest. My best friend was studying textiles in the design department across the road and I loved seeing everything she was making. There was so much drawing and color involved and she was always saying to me, "Fi, I just know you are a textile designer!" So I ended up transferring over to the design department and started specializing in printed textiles. After graduating I worked in the industry for a few years in quite a tough industry job. It was a really steep learning curve and cemented in my mind that I really want to set up my own business and follow my own creative path, something I felt I had wanted to do from quite a young age.
How did bluebellgray get its start? Any fun experiences or stories that lead to its launch?
When I started bluebellgray, I didn't have a huge amount of confidence, and I had no money. Although what I did have was a really clear vision of what I wanted to do and bags of youthful energy and an incredible husband whose unwavering faith in me and tolerance in letting me use the kitchen table as my studio space really gave me the belief and ability to start the business. The challenges have been different at every stage—in the early days it was dealing with having 35 boxes in our living room (we couldn't even see the TV!) or trying to pack our entire trade show into our small hatchback car because we couldn't afford to rent a van or our sofa getting snapped in half when we shipped it to a trade show to use as a prop.
Where does the name "bluebellgray" come from?
I love bluebells—in Scotland we have long dark winters, and I'm a real spring/summer girl so when the bluebells come out in springtime they always make me happy and let my heart know that lighter and warmer days are on the way. I wanted the name to capture that feeling. 'Gray' refers to the fact that I like printing on gray color linen cloth—its my favorite fabric to work with.
A Look Inside Her Creative Process
Tell me about your creative process. How do you come up with your designs?
I'm always absorbing the world around me, soaking in colors and nature. It's a way of life for me and it just seems to be the way my brain has always worked. I love travel and that always forms a big part of the creative process. At the start of each collection, I like to travel somewhere new with my creative team as the starting point for a collection. Everything starts with soaking up colors and atmosphere—then its sketching, drawing and taking photographs. From that point, I take everything back to the studio and start piecing together the story and then I start painting. It's really important to me that every design starts from an original piece of artwork. After painting, I start piecing together the direction of the collection and my team starts working on digitizing the designs. We make the patterns first and then work with the pattern to fit it onto various products and then start sending digital files out to the mills and factories all over the world we work with.
What is your favorite part about the design process?
I adore the initial painting part. It's always my first love. I also love that moment when I can start seeing the direction of the collection come together, when we have pieces of paper all over the studio walls and floors and we start editing the collection. You see the direction of the collection emerging. It's so exciting, and I love the joy of creating something before nothing existed.
Your color palette is so sunny and uplifting, it's like you've captured the magic of a summer day! What inspires your mix of colors? Do you have a signature palette?
My color palette is something that's quite instinctive. I'm consistently drawn to the same uplifting colors. I believe everyone has their own inner color palette that just speaks to them. My signature color palette is definitely pink in all shades, turquoises, and deep inky blues. It's hard for me to design something without pink in it, to be honest! I also love flashes of yellow and chartreuse green, and I love working with white and linen colored fabrics that knock back the colors a little and add a natural element to the palette.
What materials do you use in your designs?
I love using natural fabrics the most. Linen is my favorite fabric to work with and I love cotton too. We've also just made a woven wool fabric that we will release in the spring which is an exciting new fabric to work with and we wove it with a fantastic mill here in the UK. All my printed designs are digitally printed which is a dream method to use for me. It means I can capture the original painting and all the brush strokes and pencil lines. It's important to me that customers are getting something as true to the original painting as possible so I like keep some pencil lines in the designs to show it has been originally created by hand.
What's next for you and bluebellgray? Any exciting partnerships or new product launches on the horizon?
We have probably our most exciting project yet in the pipeline: opening our flagship brick and mortar store here in the UK in the spring. It's such a dream to open a store, and I have so many plans for it! It's going to be a shop that covers lifestyle and interior decor and it will also be a gallery where I will sell my original paintings. I'm also going to be stocking and showcasing a selection of handpicked brilliant designers who I find on my travels which I am very excited about.
Just For Fun
Describe a typical day for you.
My days are so varied. I always try and have breakfast with my two little boys in the morning before the nursery and work day starts. I drive to work and generally start the day with a cup of tea at my desk and scan my emails. At work I meet with the senior members of the team such as finance and operations to catch up on what is happening in the various parts of the business. My job is really to guide and steer the brand and the team and keep us on the right path. When I paint, I lock myself away in my studio and don't look at my emails. I need to have a clear head when I paint so I like to keep technology out of my painting room.
The three people you'd most like to have dinner with/make dinner for?
Meghan Markle—love her, Michelle Obama and Jonathan Adler.
How do you describe yourself?
Oh that's a hard one. I'd say creative and kind.
What's your best budget decorating tip?
Cushions! They require no work but have the ability to change the atmosphere of a whole room just by putting them on a bed or sofa.
What's inspiring you in life right now?
My little boys. Their joy for life inspires me every day and I love their enthusiasm and fun, they make me laugh every day.
Most treasured possession?
Old paintings by my grandparents. Original paintings are so special and I feel a connection to them through the pieces they painted.
Favorite flea market or vintage shop?
I'd have to say the souks in Marrakech. They are just a treasure trove of amazing things.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Fiona!Gain access to more behind the scenes interviews when you become an Insider today!