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Meet the Makers - Gola

Gola is a creative collaboration of talent, skill and creative ideas of mother and son team, Mari and Ifan, whose stunning lampshades celebrate not only the past but have a significant nod to the local heritage that surrounds their 'pink shed' studio, situated on the picturesque Menai Strait, in North Wales.

A lampshade making business born from lockdown, Mari and Ifan cleverly bring their individual senses of style to their range of lampshades, including fun, colourful retro-inspired designs and bespoke custom shades, using intricately detailed old maps. We go behind the scenes to find out the story and passion behind Gola, in this month's Meet the Maker interview.

Hi there!

How are you today and what’s on your workbench?

We’re fine, thank you, hoping that you are too!

We’re currently responding to last week’s orders - a variety of retro shades; map shades and our own Crawia range. We have also started selling a new range of recycled glass lamp bases and are busy promoting these on social media.

Can you start by telling us a little about how you came to work together?

We (mother and son) found ourselves living under the same roof as lockdown began. Ironically the lockdown periods of last year unlocked creativity and enterprise in both of us. Son, Ifan is a graphic designer and Mari (mother) is an author.

Both of us shared ideas during lockdown and began a small business called ‘Gola’ (Welsh word for light) creating designs for lampshades that we started manufacturing ourselves in our pink shed in the back garden!

So we are mother and son working independently and collaboratively to create unique designs celebrating the past but also deeply rooted in the now. Our collaboration is a combination of traditional and retro; formality and fun, with the emphasis always on quality.

How would you describe your individual styles?

We bring different skills and tastes to the workbench. Our styles vary from traditional to retro. We’re both passionate about our local heritage and recently we have drawn on local culture and history to create a new design inspired by old slate fencing.

How do you start the design process and where do you get your design inspiration?

Most designs start with “What if…?”

Wales’ unique landscape, its culture, its language and its communities inspire us every day.

One of our designs was inspired by our daily walks during lockdown. These paths were familiar to us, but we’d never actually noticed and looked at our surroundings properly. We started to pay attention – especially to the striking slate fences along the paths and back roads of our village.

The slate fences seen in the North West Wales quarrying areas are called ‘Crawia’. In the dictionary, the Welsh word ‘craw’ is defined as ‘ a piece of waste slate.’ Some have described ‘crawia’ as scars. But scars or imperfect can be beautiful and these ‘crawia’ inspired us to create a textile design for our lampshades.

Slates shape the landscape; they underline the importance of habitat; they speak to us of the past whilst reminding us today that we’re still here to share our story! This is Gola’s tribute to the craftsmen who created and installed them.

What do you individually need to consider when creating your designs for lampshades?

We both consider themes, colour variations and how they look when printed on fabric compared to a computer screen. We also consider the layout of the design ensuring that the dimensions will fit different sizes of a drum lampshade, taking care of where the join lies.

What’s your favourite part of the lampshade making process?

We love the whole process from creating the design and seeing it through to the final product and customer satisfaction. When customers send us photographs of our shades in their homes we feel a huge sense of pride.

In your online shop, what’s your most popular selling shade?

The map lampshades are very popular as bespoke gifts, but we’re also delighted that our own design Crawia range is extremely popular.

What’s the mix of shades you make to sell online versus lampshade commissions, as part of Gola?

Half and half

You’ve used Dannells printing services for your lampshade designs. How does the printing process start?

We place our order via email and if we have specific requirements, we speak directly with the Print Manager who is always very accommodating and helpful.

Which fabric/s do you use for your lampshades?

Linen and Polytextile

Any tips for new lampshade makers in business?

Don’t start unless you’re totally passionate about your product. And then - research, practice and don’t give up. Our first lampshade was a bit of a disaster! But we persevered!

How do you manage all the different elements of your business between you?

We don’t live in the same house anymore as Ifan has moved to his own home in the village. This has meant that we have had to become more organised as regards communicating and sharing duties. Ifan concentrates on the design element and is mainly responsible for the packing and posting of our shades. Mari researches ideas and interior design trends and is the manufacturer. When creating social media posts and stories, Mari provides the text and Ifan provides the images.

When are you at your most productive?

Every day is different, but we tend to start our week of manufacturing on a Friday afternoon after receiving our prints from Dannells…… Our pink shed has glorious views over the Menai Straits and is a lovely place to work in. Customers enjoy visiting us not only to see the range of lampshades – but to admire our beautiful pink shed. Mari loves speaking to customers and when the shed is quiet, she finds manufacturing the shades to be quite therapeutic in a meditative way and it’s a great way to start the weekend.

And your favourite sustenance when you’re working?

Not sustenance, but we enjoy listening to BBC Radio Cymru while we work.

Could you let us take a peek at your workspace?

Mari would never have imagined that the shed where her three sons used to play Table Tennis as kids would eventually be used as a lampshade making factory!

What’s the best thing about running your own lampshade making business?

The best part of running our own lampshade making business is the freedom and joy of being our own bosses and organising our own timetable to suit our own needs. We absolutely love receiving positive feedback, reviews and photographs of our lampshades from happy customers from far and wide. We’re also delighted by the fact that we have a number of repeat customers which confirms that we’re probably on the right track.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

Gola’s dream is to develop our small business into a sustainable living for both of us whilst also reinforcing other local businesses with similar aspirations. Realising this dream would impact other small businesses around us by strengthening the local supply chain and reviving the local economy.

What have you both learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?

We have learnt that anything is possible. Even though both of us have different opinions and tastes, we have learnt that listening and respecting our differences brings out the best in the designs we create collaboratively. This joint creativity has brought immense joy to us and we’re both very proud of our journey so far.

Explore Gola's unique range of colourful retro-inspired and custom old map lampshades, on their website and Etsy. Give Mari and Ifan a friendly follow on Instagram.

Instagram @gola.cmyru

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