With her childhood rooted in the beautiful countryside of Aberdeenshire, Donna Wilson grew up immersed in nature. From a young age, she was encouraged by her grandmother to be creative, Donna took to creating objects with her hands - crocheting, knitting and building sculptures from twigs. These early years experimenting developed Donna's love for the natural landscape, wildlife and craft. Today Donna is a successful businesswoman and designer, her magical creatures, homewares and accessories are popular worldwide, she is also a mother to 2 young boys, Logie and Eli. We speak to Donna about her love for design, her new publication MYO and how she balances work with being a mother.
Tell us about yourself and what you do?
I’m a designer – I make knitted creatures, cushions, blankets scarves, furniture and fashion. It's important to me that people can relate to the creatures and products, and that they evoke emotion - maybe a feeling of nostalgia, sentimentality, or happiness. Even if they just induce a smile, I feel I have done my job. I always try to be unique and create products which have a distinctive handwriting and with a pinch of whimsical magic.
How did your passion for craft begin?
My grandmother encouraged me to be creative and work with my hands - she was always trying to teach me things like how to knit and crochet. I think I started being creative at quite a young age; I was always drawing and making things and was always happiest with a pencil in my hand. I didn’t know what I wanted to be as a child, but I knew it was going to be something to do with art and design. Now that I’m a mother I’m inspired to encourage creativity in my kids and love seeing them getting all messy and using their imaginations, even if it does mean a lot of tidying up afterwards, it’s worth it!
You spent your childhood growing up in the beautiful countryside of Aberdeenshire how did this help to shape where you are today?
I think it’s influenced the way I work as well as the outcome, and although I don’t feel I use obvious Scottish motifs (although did design the tartan for Aberdeenshire!) I grew up on a farm so I’m very familiar with natural landscapes. I am always inspired by the skies, the light and nature. I find it very exciting to be able to replicate textures found in nature in my work, and try to mimic textures like moss, bark and stone using wool.
I still feel very Scottish even though I've been in London for the last 16 years and my heart will always be there. A lot of our product is manufactured in Scotland, and our outworkers (who make a lot of our creatures) are based there too.
Your style is playful and clearly identifiable, how did it come about, and where do you take your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from all over the place - the landscape, music, dreams, magazines, ceramics, Scandinavian design and people. Sometimes I just see a tiny snippet of something which triggers an idea, which is then developed into a product. Some time ago I went to a small remote island off the coast of Newfoundland and came back feeling really inspired by its landscape of boats and houses. But normally I find inspiration everywhere; it can be a tiny piece of cloth, a picture in a book, or found object from my travels. Nature is also a big inspiration for me, particularly the plants and animals in the British countryside.
We love that all of your products are made here in the UK, why is this so important to you as a business?
It's very important to me to promote local manufacturing and help keep British craftsmanship alive. There’s too much disposability in products and consumer goods nowadays and it’s environmentally irresponsible. I believe that if you have something that is handmade, it’s somehow more special than something made carelessly or mass produced, so you’re more likely to keep it for years instead of throwing it away. I want to make things that people use, keep and treasure for years – things that don’t end up in a landfill.
You have collaborated with some amazing companies, what has been your most exciting collaboration so far?
I find collaborating the most exciting part of my job, as I am encouraged to design things that I normally wouldn’t, like chocolate eggs for Rococo chocolate, and a range of creatures for Makoto Kagoshima, who I’m a huge fan of. I think my recent collaboration with Le Sportsac is really fun - we designed fox, panda and cat tote bags, and a range of cosmetic cases. The quality is really lovely and it’s so funny to see the creatures in bag form!
We are big fans of the wonderful MYO (Make Your Own) magazine; tell us about this bi-yearly publication, how did it come about?
I’ve run my own company for 15 years. It’s brilliant and I still love it, but it’s all about me. Initially MYO was just about doing something a bit different, trying to connect a network of creative people who have become my friends over the years. I want my children to be creative, but there’s a lot of talk about these subjects being pushed out of schools. I find that really upsetting because that was the only thing I was any good at. Some kids are just not academic. Where are they going to stumble into that special thing that makes them feel passionate? I was so lucky to find something that moved me at quite an early age. It really helped my confidence.
I didn’t want the magazine to be too childish though. It’s aimed at families and adults, giving them ideas about things they can do with their kids but also for themselves. We don’t want to alienate people who don’t have children. The magazine feels quite grown up in a way, but it’s also playful.
You have two lovely boys and a successful business and how do you juggle motherhood and work?
My life has changed dramatically as I was a bit of a workaholic before having my sons. Now my time to work is so limited, but I feel as a result I have managed to step back a bit from the daily routine and see where I want things to go more clearly. Also it's made me delegate and let go of more which I think has been a good thing. I really enjoy the balance of being a working mum, and now work four days a week in the studio and have weekends, evenings and Tuesdays with my sons!
What are your favourite La Coqueta pieces from this season?
The green velvet Domenica shorts are amazing! With the ribbed burgundy socks, braces and the tan desert boots, the whole Domenica look is so gorgeous and reminds me a little of Pinocchio - I’d love to see my youngest boy Logie in all of those items!