BOBO1325 - the story behind the Manchester based design house
PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 October 2018
Didsbury resident Beth Travers founded her own business in defiance of the establishment’s ‘you can’t come in’ attitude…and now doors are opening all around the globe.
Beth Travers was born in Manchester but left while still a child to live in Melbourne, Australia. The collapse of her parents’ marriage triggered a return to the UK and she spent every summer thereafter in the wintry weather of Australia’s southern coast.
‘I didn’t see a summer for years!’ Beth laughs. ‘When we returned to the UK mum took us up to Sunderland and then I’d visit my dad in the long summer holiday.’
I can’t help but wonder if this somewhat peripatetic childhood, with the need to find her feet quickly in multiple locations, has contributed something very positive to Beth’s character. She’s bold and brave, immensely creative, determined and dedicated to building her business, which she established after meeting with one too many rejections when seeking employment in her chosen discipline. It takes some courage to set up for yourself, at the tender age of 26.
‘I studied art and design at college and then went to study for a degree in Interior Design at Huddersfield University,’ Beth tells me. ‘One year in I was really not happy. I’ve always been a little bit rebellious and being marked down for being a millimetre out on a scale plan felt too constrictive; I’ve never been one to colour just between the lines! My lecturer could see where my true passion lay, and pointed me in the direction of a different degree – Surface Pattern Design. Everything in the world has a surface; it was exactly what I wanted and I loved it.
‘After I graduated in 2012, right in the middle of the recession, I was invited for lots of interviews, but kept being rejected for my lack of experience. I had interviews with companies in London, Detroit, Canada, New York…but they all said the same thing.’
I wonder how on earth a graduate is supposed to gain experience if nobody will employ her? And hadn’t these people read her CV? It’s not hard to empathise with Beth’s frustration.
‘The final straw came at a job interview in London. The whole experience felt like a cross between The Devil Wears Prada and Mean Girls. Two women sat me in front of them and just got really personal, not remotely constructive, like they thought my ambitions were laughable. I could have come out of that in either of two ways: totally crushed or utterly rebellious. I chose the latter.
‘I said to myself: “right, if nobody is going to open a door for me I shall do it myself.” I launched my business – named for my nickname and my grandfather’s birthday – in 2016 and went on, in 2017, to have one of those marvellous Pretty Woman moments, when the two women in question visited my stand at Decorex (Europe’s leading interior design event, held in London every September) and just layered on the praise. I was desperate to say that classic line “Big mistake”!’
Having worked throughout her life, Beth had amassed some savings, which she used to start herself off, spending every penny on the design and print of her first collection of wallpapers, which she sent samples of to interior designers around the UK.
‘I had a call within days,’ she says. ‘At first I thought it was a joke, but no, it was real! My first job was right here in Manchester. I was just two months in and my work had been selected for the new Princess Street Hotel. It was a crash course, I can tell you. Once they got going they asked me for upholstery fabrics to match the wallpapers, which was new to me. I had heard a Richard Branson quote “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”, so I did. Then they asked for rugs!
‘I have had the best time in the last two years. I’ve done the Champagne Bar at The Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow; a boutique hotel in the Lakes; countless small commercial and domestic briefs…and am currently creating a collection for a hotel in New York!’
Beth’s designs are complex, contemporary and completely bewitching – and many have their own message.
‘My Valley of Fire collection is about mental health. It’s a silent, invisible illness people just don’t understand. My designs refer to a harsh, desert environment where things can bloom and thrive, not only survive. It’s a visual message to sufferers.
‘My Dinoflorous collection is about gender equality. I hate that girls only get princesses and pink and boys only get dinosaurs and trucks!’
Beth’s newest collection, To the Sea, was released last month and is fabulous. It’s inspired by the beauty of the oceans and the ugliness of the plastic that is drowning them. Whales in plastic bottles, crustaceans in tin cans, a mermaid in a net…listed so baldly this might give an impression of darkness and despair, but they really are truly beautiful and stirring designs.
You can see Beth’s creations online, at her studio in Manchester and also at Atelier B in Alderley Edge, an association that came about following a serendipitous meeting at Decorex ’17.
‘When I set up it was just wallpaper,’ she says. ‘Now I just don’t know where it’s going to lead…and I like that.’