We are a huge fan of Rebecca Atwood. As an artist and product designer, Rebecca’s work has touches so many parts of our lives. We first filled our cart at Target with her hand soap collaboration. We own three copies of her book “Living with Pattern” and have given copies as hostess gifts to dozens of friends. To us, Rebecca is the epitome of a modern artist and a brilliant business person.
We’re getting the all the details from this celebrated artist. Below, we chat with Rebecca about how she began he own line. Where Rebecca Atwood Designs is going in the future. She also explains how her corporate design experience with Anthropologie prepared her for building her own lifestyle brand.
I’ve always wanted to be an artist. When I was little I had these books about Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir and I wanted to be a painter like them. Fortunately, my parents were very encouraging and supported my interest in art.
I took classes throughout my childhood, and attending art school did seem like a natural choice. After visiting some liberal arts as well as art schools, I quickly realized that I wanted to have the focus on art.
I attended RISD which was about an hour and a half from the small coastal town on Cape Cod where I grew up. It was just far enough away, but still close that I could go home. After the freshman foundation year I chose to study painting. I almost studied apparel design and when I told my Dad I decided on painting he said he was so happy—he didn’t know why I would have gone into apparel when painting was what I loved.
Nothing happens overnight! I think that’s very important to know that. I started my business almost seven years after graduating from college.
My first job out of college, was an internship that turned into a full-time job at Anthropologie. That was really my training ground. I came in with a fine arts background and some knowledge of textiles including creating repeats and machine knitting. At Anthropologie I was given 3-5 programs per week to design and brief for production overseas. I learned a lot. I was given the opportunity to design everything from dishtowels, aprons, measuring cups, bowls, sheets, bedding, to curtains, rugs, candle packaging, and more.
After two years I moved to New York. Prior to starting my own line I primarily worked for a small design consultancy company where we designed private label programs for all levels of the market. I worked on programs with retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and Amazon to Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Kate Spade.
I learned about developing a brand and I worked on trend reports for agencies like WGSN. Traveling a good amount for development in Europe and India, I really learned about working on the ground with factories and that side of the business. I learned so much before starting my own line, and that experience was invaluable.
Oh gosh that’s a hard one. I think it’s important to celebrate the small things and the big things. Just starting my own line was a huge moment for me. Moving to our first studio space, hiring my first employee, my collaboration with method, my book, hiring my second employee, moving to a bigger space, expanding into new categories…there are lots of big moments. They keep you moving forward.
I am very lucky to have many mentors in my life. My parents have a restaurant on Cape Cod, The Red Pheasant, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. They always have good perspective for me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Another good friend and mentor is Matthew Morris or Mr. Dog. When I first started he told me that I was in control and got to choose how fast or slow I grew the business. Remembering that is very important.
My creative process is all about exploration. I work a lot in my sketchbooks—several at a time as I don’t like to wait to turn the page until the paint has dried. I’m usually painting in about 5 at a time. This is the root of my work. I can create in my sketchbooks without worrying about what it will become. Then when I’m working on a new collection it’s about going through the work I’ve made, creating a mood board with colors, artwork, textures, and images of things that speak to the story I want to tell.
This board is loose and evolves with the collection. It’s constantly updated and edited. Then it’s time to really hone in on the artwork. Sometimes there will be pieces I’ve done that I know I want to turn into something, and other times I need to create something specific. It’s a constant process.
Our move was fairly easy as we moved within the building. We’re located in Industry City, a big complex in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and there were larger spaces available when our lease was up so it seemed a good time to make the move. The move went really smoothly as Karen organized the movers and my friend Erik had already been building all of our shelving and storage so that got installed over the weekend. We’re getting settled now and it’s hard to imagine how we were in such a small space before! I love our new space.
Delegating is key as there are only so many hours in the day. It’s a constant learning process as communicating is hard work. You need to make the effort every day. When you hire people it’s about being really clear about what you need, what your expectations are. If possible being really clear with someone’s job role is extremely helpful.
Everyone on the team has pretty defined job roles, although of course we’re a small business and sometimes it’s all hands on deck. The only things I don’t delegate are big picture planning and the creating of original artwork. I get help with everything else, but also work closely with our team and freelance contractors (think accounting, book keeping, photographer, graphic design, etc).
I also think it’s so important to keep learning. I’ve continued to take classes since I started my own line. First it was a Quickbooks course, last year an entrepreneur course, and I’m sure there will be more.
I don’t think I feel a pressure of competition with others as I’m very lucky to be in a great community of designers who support one another. However, I do feel pressure to grow a strong business that can support me, my team, and all of the things we dream up. It’s likely I put more pressure on myself just based on what I want to be able to do.
My collaboration with method home was definitely a career highlight. It was an honor to work with such a forward thinking company. Their team was really a pleasure to work with, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all of the people I worked with as well as learning about their company.
They had recently opened up the first LEED platinum certified factory in the south-side of Chicago with the world’s largest greenhouse on the roof. Working with a larger company that is continuing to push forward and evolve is really inspiring. It’s a great reminder that learning never ends.
With method they happened to be working with Refinery29 who approached me for the project. I feel very fortunate that they found me and wanted to work together on such a great collaboration.
That is so kind of you to say and really nice to hear—thank you. The book came about very naturally. One day I got an email from a publisher asking if I was interested in writing a book. I remember thinking, oh I don’t know if I could do that! But I took the meeting as it sounded interesting. They were actually looking for a book that I didn’t think I would be the best person to write, but it got me started on the process.
Then I asked a friend of a friend who I knew had written a book and she connected me with her agent. My agent Kim is amazing and it all wouldn’t have happened without her. She told me, you don’t need to write the book they are looking for, and you have to be really passionate about the idea or it will be horrible getting through the process of finishing it.
She then asked me what I was about and I responded “livable pattern” – and with that a book concept came to life. I created a proposal and Kim pitched it to several publishers, and the I decided to work with Clarkson Potter.
The process of actually creating all of the content for the book was pretty grueling. I wrote it myself and that was very challenging for me. I was on site for all but one of the home shoots—About 22 days in total. I learned a lot! I am actually already beginning my second book, which will be all about color and will launch in spring 2019.
Writing a book enabled me to have conversations beyond the product. It allowed for an opportunity to talk about my philosophy with pattern and reach a broader audience than would not necessarily purchase our fabric, wallpaper, and pillow line.
I’m a creature of a habit. I usually wake up around 7am and make coffee in my French press while I take a shower. Then I’ll sit and have my coffee before heading out the door around 8. I’m in the studio around 8:30, sometimes 9, and like that quiet morning time to get going.
I try not to think of it as work life balance as I think it sets an expectation that isn’t always realistic. I read in a book I believe was part of the 99U series that you should think about it as counterbalancing instead of balancing. There was a wavy line to describe this and I wish I could find the book to take a picture.
With your personal life you have to go back and forth on a more frequent basis so that your personal life never is neglected. For your work life, the idea was that you needed to go longer to do really worthwhile work. This idea that you must emphasize the important bigger projects has really stuck with me. You can be inundated with emails, but often replying to all of them the same day is not your most important work. It’s a challenge, and I believe constantly will be.
I believe to do my best work I need time to relax and refuel. I generally get into work around 8:30 and I leave at 5pm. While I do often take time at home to get more done, leaving at that point in the day is really important for me. Mostly, I’m much more productive in the mornings.
This past summer I took a class called From Artisan to Entrepreneur with Holly Howard and the SBIDC. It was amazing to carve out that time to work on my business and dream bigger. Our goal over the next 3-5 years is to really become a true destination for pattern in your home. You’ll see us expanding into new home categories and growing from there. Next year we’re launching our first bedding collection.
Favorite city to visit: Charleston
Favorite restaurant you can walk to: Sushi Katsuie
What are you currently binging on Netflix: The Mindy Project
Favorite item of clothing: I love easy dresses I can dress up or down—my favorite designer is Ulla Johnson.
Top 5 Instagram accounts to follow:
Afternoon snack: peppermint tea
Do you have any pets + what are their names: We have two Persian cats named Cotton and Chili. I love them so much!
Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for taking the time to chat with us, Rebecca! Your grace and creativity are an inspiration. Nothing is more rewarding than watching your successes. We can’t wait for your next book and can’t wait to order allllll of the new bedding line.
The Identité Collective is a full service creative studio for interior designers and boutique lifestyle brands. Offering bespoke branding, web design and social media content creation, we help small businesses elevate their digital presence to become industry experts. Want to work together? Shoot us an inquiry here.
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