Interview: Belle & Vidére

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Belle & Vidére embody the idea of upcycling: repurposing an existing product that has lost most of its value to create something of greater value. Many of the best examples of upcycling involve passionate creativity and attention to detail and B&V are no exception. Perhaps their clearest example is the bespoke T-Light, offering the transformation of your much-loved (possibly over-worn) favourite T-shirt into a beautifully hand-crafted lampshade.

With B&V’s further collections using organic cotton, vintage fabrics and beads, and bases created by a British woodturner it is certainly a unique range as well as a brand to watch. I spoke with the Owner/Creative Director Mandy Fleming to find out what it’s like to get a start-up off the ground and how she got where she is today.

GGT: What was the path you took to starting Belle & Vidére? What inspired your creative approach?

Mandy: Belle & Vidére happened purely because I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I was trying to find a traditional lampshade but in white matt cotton. It took a lot of research and eventually I tracked down a manufacturer and had one made. It arrived with this awful glue everywhere and you could see it hadn’t been made with any TLC. One thing that did capture me was the way in which the fabric wrapped around the frame, when lit it made the most beautiful delicate pattern, I was so intrigued I wanted to delve into this a bit more.

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At the same time I had this T-shirt my now Husband had given me when we first met: it was falling apart at the seams and no longer wearable but I absolutely love the graphics and it reminds me so much of a particular time, there was no way I could ever throw that away. I have a make do and mend attitude and wondered if I could turn the T-shirt into a lampshade. My first attempt was awful so I decided to do a short course in hand-stretched lampshades. After my first course I made my first T-Light and many more since.

The T-Lights have caught the eye of many and I love the idea of capturing a time, memory or emotion and giving a redundant item a new lease of life. I think many people are surprised by the level of quality and attention to detail, as some see it as only a T-shirt; I see it as much more than that.

I am a bit of a perfectionist and so wanted to take this new skill a little further; it really bothered me that it was so difficult to get a cotton lampshade and there were these awful lumps of glue everywhere so I did a more intensive course to extend my knowledge. I like to turn things on their heads and that’s where the Mono Collection came from. When they are lit you see the pure fabric illuminated and all the beautiful imperfections in the cotton weave, making it —to me— even more stunning.

Once a few friends had seen my work and their friend’s friends had seen it, I was beginning to get a few orders in and that’s when I thought maybe I could do something with this.

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I am extremely fortunate and just happen to know a very well established design sgency who have worked with me to create an incredible identity for Belle & Vidére. I remember attending my first meeting with them to discuss my name and identity: there were laptops out, designers taking notes, questionnaires being sent and I’m sat there thinking, “Oh my god I’ve only made about 5 lampshades and they’re doing all this for me?” So then I found myself with a name, a look and a website… very, very lucky indeed.

GGT: What are your aims for sustainability and how do you incorporate these aims into your collections?

Mandy: I want B&V to be as environmentally conscious as we possibly can be. I didn’t start out thinking this way, its only from meeting people like yourself and actually having to source fabrics for B&V that I have discovered I can make a small but necessary contribution. It’s important to me to show others who like beautiful things such as I do that we can achieve this and still be mindful of our responsibilities to sustain our planet.

I have found that at the moment you do need to work a little harder and pay a little more to source and use sustainable materials, but to me now to use anything else is not an option. I am really proud that we use Fairtrade Organic Cotton for our Mono Collection, its simply stunning and guilt-free!

It has also taken me best part of a year to find a British woodturner to make the bases for Belle & Vidére. I could have imported bases over (and for half the price) but morally I couldn’t do it.

There is a lot more I want to do with B&V to make it even more sustainable. There are still many components to B&V I can improve on and that’s what I love doing, researching and problem solving. There is usually an alternative, you just have to get off your arse and find it?!

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GGT: Where do you currently source your materials from? Do you search for specific things or find inspiration in what you come across?

Mandy: I try to source all materials from the UK. Occasionally if I find vintage fabrics outside of the UK I will purchase those.

I usually get inspired by odd things I stumble across and then I find myself searching for hours for ways I can interpret that into a light. I can get very carried away with lots of ideas at the same time. I am trying to discipline myself and focus on one collection, as I don’t have the luxury of time now that B&V is really beginning to take off.

GGT: What are your plans for the future? Is there scope for Belle & Vidére to branch out into other areas of home furnishings?

Mandy: My plans for the future are to introduce Belle & Vidére to a wider audience, to maintain a loyalty to sustainability and endeavour to make beautiful products for people that appreciate the whole package and ethos of B&V.

I have no intention of branching out into other areas of soft furnishings as yet but really, who knows what’s around that corner?

GGT: Finally, describe your ideal client?

Mandy: A happy client!

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For more information, or to discuss a commission visit:

belleandvidere.co.uk

Shop the ready made collection on Etsy:

etsy.com/shop/BelleandVidere

Also look out for Belle & Vidére at Tent London, 19–22 September 2013

tentlondon.co.uk

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