Today, I’m speaking with a talented Melbourne-based creative, who not only lays claim to what I think is the best surname (!), but also a business founded on sustainable design.
Meet Bianca Vallentine of The Vallentine Project.
After studying fashion and textile design, something about the industry didn’t sit right with Bianca Vallentine.Seeing the disposable nature of fashion as trends cycled through each season, Bianca was determined to put her skills towards longer-lasting creations.
This saw the launch of The Vallentine Project in 2004, which has organically morphed and flowed over the years from a fashion label to the current incarnation: hand painted and embroidered linen, each one of a kind.
So sit back and soak up the learnings from Bianca as I find out about her business, challenges, wins and what’s in store for this ever-inspired brand.
Where does the inspiration come from for your designs?
I often get inspiration as I’m in my day to day. If you ever see someone sizing up a wall or perhaps uncomfortably close to a plant, it’s probably me working out how I can translate a pattern or texture into a painting onto cloth. Half painted walls are my absolute favourite.
What makes your products unique?
I think the most unique part of what I do is that all the painting is done by hand.
People think I’m mad (I think I’m mad when I’m looking down the barrel of a 70 metre roll) because there is no easy way to do a mass run and it’s very time consuming.
But that’s pretty much the point.
I don’t want to see my stuff collecting dust in a op-shop or headed to landfill, I’m a big believer you just need less stuff.
I started feeling this way whilst I was collecting fabric from op-shops in my mountain series, I’d see heaps of that 80s Ken Done bedding just loitering about and it used to make me feel a bit ill. I knew when I started making more product that I really didn’t want it being the kind of piece that was so seasonal you’d discard it after a few seasons so really went the other day in terms of labour within the product.
Where do you go or what do you do to ‘recharge’ your creativity?
When I can, I like to head to my family’s farm in Western Australia, they’ve got a huge lake that Andy Murphy and I built a pontoon on and the family Macadamia farm is kind of remote – its 4 hours south of Perth and set in tall timber country. I like it because you can see the seasons change dramatically, see things in nature you’d never notice in the city and in general wind down from everything that is hectic about living in a city.
For my Victorian escape I pile the family in the van and we hit the road exploring the countryside in destinations like Fish Creek, Walkerville and Fairhaven.
Who and what is involved in the process from idea to product?
Most of the ideas and designs sit swirling around in my head for months before I can get them all out, but once they’re out and scratched down on paper I usually spend a few weeks getting the colours and textures right on scraps of cloth.
I mix all my own paint colours as a way to control my designs and I can spend hours getting the perfect pigment right. I have a collection of ‘nearly right’ colours that I look at scornfully because I hate waste.
I’ve started donating these paints to my other textile mates at Home-Work because then they can use them in their screenprinting workshops (it makes me feel less guilty).
In terms of construction I work with a few different makers, one factory purely does bedding and I rely on their expertise to get the production down pat. The other factory does all of our heat setting (to cure the paint so it doesn’t come out in the wash) and another factory adds all the snap fastenings. For the more fiddly things like the eye masks I work with a sewing master (my partner Andy Murphy’s mum) who can make anything from a skating Malin costume to a onesie.
I love chatting with her about sewing because she loves technical detail and new ways of doing things as much as me – it feels more like a collaboration rather than work (and let’s face it, no one else will talk about boring stuff like that with me).
You work in a pretty amazing space – tell us what it’s like working out of the Pop & Scott workshop?
Poppy and Scotty are old friends of Andy’s and it’s been exciting working alongside them and bounce ideas as we each started our businesses and families at the same time (Andy Murphy can be found under the Instagram moniker @salvadorgnarly).
There is a lot of energy at Pop & Scott purely because there is always something new going on, which I think is a great way to keep a space dynamic. It’s also been a bit of hot bed for new creatives coming through which I think is due to both Pop and Scott’s positive attitude.
What have been some of the challenges in running your business?
I think when you are a small business there are always challenges because you’re basically building from the ground up.
I was amazed when I first started that I just couldn’t buy the right width, or right quality linen – it just couldn’t be found in Australia! So that took me down the path of importing which can be a real gamble. I feel like I was lucky though because I had some good advice from a friend who really held my hand throughout the process and now we have a really great supplier and it’s no so scary.
The next big one was of course finance. Not having large chunks of money (and not wanting to take out credit or loans) was a bit prohibitive but I really wanted to build up funds rather than start with debt.
In a way this has meant that I’m much more considered when making decisions about the business, which has been a lesson I’ve learnt after working in the fashion industry.
And what about some of the highlights?
There are lots of successes along the way which I’m pretty proud of, but I think having stock at Koskela in Sydney and having such a great response from people coming to the Big Design Market last December was a real highlight, plus all the really great media coverage along the way.
Oh and Susan Sarandon bought a doona the other day so that was very exciting!
What is in store for The Vallentine Project – anything you can share with us?
I’m currently in the studio working on a new collection based on a natural coloured linen which I’m pretty excited about.
I’m also having a second baby in June so really I’m just working out how I’m going to paint across 3 metres with a big belly.
What is your big hope and dream for The Vallentine Project?
I’d really love to see The Vallentine Project stocked globally so that’s an area I’m looking at growing. I also want to keep pursuing new paint techniques so the design work keeps evolving and of course I’ll need some more plants!