“Careers and businesses are like a games of Snakes and Ladders,” says Sophie Tatlow of Utopia Goods. “They go up and down, you win some projects and lose others.” With the textile design business that she created in 2012 with partner Bruce Slorach, it wasn’t until they started receiving phone calls from private clients ordering fabric for interior schemes that the business gained a real momentum. “We’ve been asked to do everything from greeting cards, dictionary covers and commercial and private interiors,” she says.
The Sydney couple, who are both originally from Victoria, have a long history in design and the arts. Bruce, a designer and art director, illustrates all of the textiles and his work is held in the permanent collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. For five years he was the creative director at Mambo. Bruce studied Fine Art at the Victorian College of the Arts while Sophie graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Arts followed by a design degree from Enmore Design Centre and then she went on to complete a MA in writing at the University of Technology Sydney.
For the past 15 years the creative duo have also been running the graphic design studio Deuce Design. Utopia Goods is an extension of that business. “Textile design is like ‘Art in the Everyday’, and the process and production offers endless creative executions for surface design,” Sophie says. “We’re trying to make something that performs as a keepsake or moment and avoids the throwaway nature of disposal items.” Most recently the couple were showing their latest range - From Earth to Indigo - at the London Design Festival.
Which five words best describe you?
Sophie: Passionate, persistent, hard-working, generous, enthusiastic.
Bruce: Passionate, methodical, creative, persistent, whimsical.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since?
Sophie: I’ve got a design degree and also an MA in Writing. I started my design career as a jeweller, then a copywriter for Deuce and freelance clients. My career is a patchwork of design and writing projects.
Bruce: Started with a cult fashion label ABYSS and Galaxy in the late 80s - selling to and dressing the Beastie Boys, Cyndi Lauper, Kylie Minogue, Patricia Fields, plus many others, and sold all over Europe and the US, then worked as design director at Mambo, before starting Deuce Design.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
Luck, timing, hard work and cash-flow are as essential to creating a business as is the creative component. In some ways the creative component is the easy part, getting an “idea” to fruition and sold is the hard part. The internet has been a really big game-changer for business – both fantastic and sometimes unrealistic. And the old cliché, “measure twice, cut once” - in other words double check everything.
What’s your proudest career achievement?
Keeping Deuce Design and Utopia Goods together and functioning as companion businesses. Creating UG from scratch, starting from original artwork, hand looming the linen base cloth and producing the product. Giving our customers and clients something they really love and enjoy.
What’s been your best decision?
Having our son Henri. No matter how many life and career highs you have, children are the ultimate.
Who inspires you?
Sophie: There are so many inspiring people out there but really members of the community who selflessly care for other people. Many wonderful writers.
Bruce: Depends on context, but here’s a start for UG: Gio Ponti, Fornasetti, William Morris, Josef Frank, Sottsass, plus, plus…
What are you passionate about?
Sophie: Too many things! Life, my family, reading and writing, creating a business that Australians are proud of and that has longevity.
Bruce: Sophie and Henri, my road bike, flora and fauna, too many creatives to name, travel, drawing and design.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Sophie: This changes hourly. But given my exact location this second, the buyer from Liberty of London.
Bruce: As above, and William Morris.
What dream do you still want to fulfil?
The three of us taking a road trip one day.
What are you reading?
Bruce: Ten conversations to you must have with your son by Dr Tim Hawkes. Many design mags and blogs.