This month we're over the moon to meet Racheal Markham aka The Cheeky Pickle. Her super stylish, bold and often luxurious lampshades have taken her from simply looking for a creative outlet to setting up a her successful online business. With a keen eye for interiors, colour palettes and trends, we find out how her organic process and gut instinct help her bring her designs to life and how she juggles life around her lampshade making.
Hi there! How are you today and what’s on your workbench?
Hello! I’m well thanks - a new year ahead with lots of exciting plans, so I’m feeling good. I have piles of fabric on my workbench which I’ve just bought, velvet, silk and some Liberty prints. I need to fold and roll them for storage before they get creased!
How do you start the design process and where do you get your design inspiration?
I enjoy reading fashion and lifestyle blogs, and regularly pour over Instagram. Interiors tend to follow fashion trends, so I keep my eyes peeled for prints, colours and fabrics that are being used, you tend to see these filtering down to interiors before long.
The design process starts with me liking a wallpaper or fabric. I then consider how best to match this with a liner or outer, and possibly adding a trim. It’s pretty organic and no ‘process’ as such, more of a gut feeling!
How would you describe your style?
Bold, eclectic and colourful.
It’s clear you have an eye for detail. Do you follow trends or do you just go with your instinct on what will work for a lampshade?
There are lots of new trends coming through regularly, so I do try to respond to these by offering specific colours, such as Pantone colour of the year. Some trends remain despite them being on the scene for a few years, some people find interior trends later than others, you’ve got to respond to your customers. Some designs have stemmed from bespoke orders for customers, and on finishing the shade I think “this is really good, I’m going to list it!”. On the whole I think my designs are a result of an instinct for what works and would be popular with my core consumer.
When did you start making lampshades?
I started in 2017 when I moved house and had my second baby. I was on mat leave and needed a creative outlet, so I booked on a course to make a lampshade. It spiralled from there, I soon kitted out the new house with lampshade prototypes everywhere, then moved on to family and friends.
What’s your favourite part of the lampshade making process?
Definitely the design process. I love thinking of new designs and sourcing materials. I’m a bit of a shopaholic, so when I find a fabulous fabric supplier, I’m like a kid in a sweet shop!
In your online shop what’s your most popular selling shade?
The green and blue leaf lined with velvet exterior shades are my best sellers. They work beautifully as the silhouette when lit is dramatic, and the velvet outer adds a wonderful texture.
What’s the mix of shades you make to sell online versus lampshade commissions, as part of your business?
Bespoke shades are becoming more popular, but I would say 80% online vs 20% commissions at present. I send free samples within the UK so customers can really get a feel for materials and play around with these in their homes, which I think is helping to grow the commissions side of my business.
We couldn’t help notice your love of metallics and tassels. How tricky are your tassel shades to make?
Very! They are time consuming and fiddly, but that’s reflected in the price. Making the tassel lampshade was a bit of an experiment, but it’s proving really popular so I’m working on a few new designs for this concept, exciting!
Any tips for new lampshade makers in business?
Definitely to practise making. The process is fairly straightforward but I've made lots of mistakes in the past which have obviously cost time and money. Select the right fabrics, test the patterns against the size of the lampshades you offer (owing to maximum fabric widths), and don't be afraid to play around with your ideas, something as simple as using wallpaper on the outer of a lampshade can really change the aesthetic.
How do you fit in your shade making with your job as an occupational therapist?
It’s incredibly difficult if I’m honest. I’m lucky in that I only work part time, but I have my youngest (Sid, who’s 3) when I’m not working, so I prefer to spend my precious time with him. I tend to design and make on the weekends and once the children are in bed in the evening. My husband is incredibly supportive, in fact he’s my “Packaging and Fulfilment Manager” and does this side of the process for me.
When are you at your most productive?
After a decent night’s kip and a few cups of tea! Having time alone to design and make is so important, as having the family around is too much of a distraction and I end up procrastinating!
And your favourite sustenance when you’re working?
Normally chocolate, but I’m on a health kick so I’m devouring nuts at the minute, and endless cups of tea!
And how about your workspace?
Our home office is split in two, with my work-space by the window where the natural light is brilliant (very important). It’s small but functional. It means that I have to always be tidy in order to be productive, so it works well for me.
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
I have lots of ideas for different designs and am also considering making other products to develop the brand. I would love to combine my profession as an Occupational Therapist with design and manufacturing, something like a small enterprise, but that's a long way off yet!
What have you learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?
This is a tricky one, as I feel I’m always learning on this lampshade business journey! I suppose that I tend to look everywhere for inspiration, and that for me is important. Not just at fashion and lifestyle trends, but food, beauty and even politics! How society operates is incredible and taking the time to absorb this can spark imagination and creativity. Don’t just stick to interiors for inspiration, open your eyes to the world around you, it’s amazing!
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