Inside the studio with Maurice Kain.

Ever sat on a sofa, looked at the curtains and wondered how long that fabric took to design and make? Well wonder no more. The Maurice Kain design studio spills the beans…

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Maurice Kain
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Photography Maurice Kain
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Inside the studio.

Michelle West, Associate Director at Basford Brands, home to Maurice Kain Fabrics, has spent fifteen years developing fabrics for the Australian lifestyle. So you could say she has great insight into what is popular and what is not.

As one of Australasia’s leading wholesalers of window furnishing fabric with a rich history in design and development, Basford Brands invests in state-of-the-art technology for the design, manufacture, warehousing and distribution of fabrics through their Maurice Kain brand, delivering on-trend furnishing fabrics to the Australian market.

Describe a typical day at work in the studio.

The great thing I love about this industry is how every day is different. There is no “typical day” – even after being in this industry for so long, every day I am consistently learning new things; be it new trends, things about our customers, our products, our evolving technology. Often, most of my day is spent innovating with my team of designers, experimenting with new types of base cloths or exploring ideas for new designs, both print and woven. These consume a lot of my time. At Basford Brands, we are always aiming to set the standard for new and improved innovations so therefore I tend to devote much of my energy to brainstorming and collaborating with my team to achieve this.

Can you share what is special in your role as Associate Director?

I think the greatest thing about my role is how I have the opportunity to be part of an environment that is consistently shifting and changing, and experience that shift and change firsthand. The environment challenges me daily to achieve the most I possibly can.

How do you find inspiration for your collections?

Trends are always changing and it’s beautiful to learn about this change and express it through our fabrics. I see it as a game of hide and seek. Consumers’ wants are often hidden and its our job to seek out those insights. We do that through enormous amounts of research, trying to find the latest and greatest in soft furnishings.

When considering a new range/theme, what is the research process?

Research, in my opinion, is an open term with a loose definition. As previously mentioned, our designers do enormous amounts of market research, analysing trends, reading articles, attending online forecasts, and before COVID, travelling to many trade shows around the world.  We also spend time with textile mills discussing new technologies in yarn and finishing processes to understand the capabilities in creating soft furnishings. However, an important part of the research process that is not highlighted enough is the conversation we engage in with our team. A vital component to the success of a new range is to seek out diverse opinions from everyone in the department, not just the designers. This can include customer service, who are the front line of our feedback, as well as our marketing team, who launch the product into the market and understand how consumers absorb information online and in print.

“I love putting myself in the consumer’s shoes and as a result I treat every product as if it were the first one I ever put out into the market.”

— Michelle West

Just like fashion brands, interior brands also launch collections throughout the year. How often do you launch a new collection and what drives the design theme?

For us there is no defined season – it is a constant process throughout the year.  For the Maurice Kain brand we release around 15 – 20 new designs per year.  Each range has been twelve months in the making from concept to market.  The drivers are always based around the needs of the market driven by consumer demands.  If we notice there is a fast-growing trend in let’s say Linen for example, which there is, this forms part of our various avenues of research. Again, our designers are consistently ‘reading’ the market and what consumers are looking for in soft furnishings.  As a result we stay ahead of the trends.

How many months or years do you work in advance for each fabric collection?

We pride ourselves on always staying up to date with the latest trends, technology, and innovations and this is because we begin preparing collections and designs months in advance, sometimes up to 12-18 months. We never release anything unless it is completely ready. We adhere to very strict quality control standards for Maurice Kain products so we will always perfect something before it goes to market and if that takes an extra few months then so be it. I encourage my design team to consistently educate and feed their minds about current and future trends. This gives us a competitive advantage to prepare early and be well braced for any potential external or internal obstacles we may face when launching a collection.

The production of each new fabric is highly involved and intricate. What is the Maurice Kain production process and, on average, how long does each new fabric design take?

Working closely with our textile mills ensures that new designs are discussed very early in the manufacturing process to ensure that any unforeseen technicalities are overcome at the beginning. Our team have a very high degree of yarn and weave knowledge which ensures we are always working on products that are fit for the Australian quality standards. Every design we bring to market takes around twelve months from the time we create mood boards for the concept, develop the design, the mill weaves or prints the design, colours are worked on, final production is done, sampling is made, and the fabrics are ready for the market.  For example, an innovation such as Rejuvenate, a fabric made from recycled PET plastic bottles, required extensive time in the development stage to perfect colours and base cloths, and ensure we dotted all our I’s and crossed all our T’s.

You work with a wide range of designers and craftspeople from around the world. Could you share what it’s like working collaboratively with these artisans and how many you work with?

Our partnerships are one of our best keep secrets and we are proud to say we work with some of the top mills in Australia, United Kingdom, Europe, Turkey, India, Korea, and Thailand – the list goes on. Every mill specialises in different types of weaving and printing. They’re all masters of their craft and it’s quite magical using their vast knowledge to create a well-rounded collection that we know people are going to cherish and be proud to showcase in their home.

“Fabrics have the ability to affect our moods, our emotions, and our feelings. Your home is what you make it and how you feel in it, so choose fabrics from the heart.”

— Michelle West

What do you find challenging when designing a new fabric?

I would say the most challenging part of any design process is designing a fabric that everyone is going to love, which is near impossible. Not everyone is going to love every design but our goal is to provide something for everyone.

Some people who are new to window furnishings can get overwhelmed by the large choice of designer fabrics in a dollar curtains + blinds store and find it difficult to decide on a fabric for their windows. Any tips?

Yes, it certainly can be overwhelming as it is not something you do on a regular basis. The best advice I can give would be to consider two things:  colour and design.  How do you want to feel when you’re inside your home – is it big, bold colours or patterns or is it neutral and plain?  To ensure your colour tones are working together use the two biggest surfaces in your home as a starting point – the walls and floors.  Work with your dollar curtains + blinds Interior Consultant – after all everyone knows they’re the experts in the industry!

What do you love about working with fabrics? Do you have a favourite?

I love the hands-on approach to the work I do. Travelling overseas (naturally, pre-Covid), meeting the talented craftspeople, learning more about the trade, the industry, the process. When I am in the office feeling the fabrics and comparing colourways, there is something so nostalgic about experimenting with touch – an important part of soft furnishings, especially Curtains. It’s the first thing customers do when looking at Curtains – they walk up to the shelf or display stand and feel the fabric, so we do it too, every day. I love putting myself in the consumer’s shoes and as a result I treat every product as if it were the first one I ever put out into the market.

How do beautiful fabrics change a room or home?

Fabrics can change a room in so many ways. It would be impossible to narrow it to just a few. Fabrics have the ability to affect our moods, our emotions, and our feelings. Your home is what you make it and how you feel in it, so choose fabrics from the heart – change your home as you feel, picking the fabric is the fun part!

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