west elm is bringing more local makers + handcrafted goods to our customers…and in our London store too!
We’re super excited to announce the launch of our west elm LOCAL assortment in our London store with London-based designer HAM, available to buy in-store until September. We asked Jo, owner/designer of HAM to share some insight into her design life.
How did you get started as a designer?
Back in my teens I was never far from a sketchbook and spent hours capturing the landscape and animals surrounding me on my parents’ farm – pigs were always a particular fave, not least because my name was Jo Ham. The hobby became study and after I finished my fine art degree at the Ruskin I spent six years as a strategist in commercial design where I was lucky to work with the likes of Tate, Mercedes-Benz and Wallpaper Magazine. During this time I continued to draw and paint whenever I could and in 2010, with a set of silhouette sketches and an idea, took the plunge and left my job – a year later HAM was born.
What are your 2 pieces of advice for the 20-something who wants to follow in your footsteps?
1. Really think about what you stand for as a designer, the idea driving your work and how that makes you different.
2. Test your designs with family, friends and potential customers before you commit to production – feedback, good or bad, is always useful and will definitely open your eyes to things you hadn’t considered.
What role has being British played in your designs?
I was lucky to grow up in the Shropshire countryside surrounded by inspiration and adventure – naturally Ham farm, a menagerie of dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, cows, donkeys and sheep became a big point of reference for my work. I also developed an interest in documenting the everyday and was constantly seeking to capture on paper the people around me going about their regular rituals. This fascination with British nostalgia, quirkiness and the mundane stuck and has underpinned much of my creative practice to date.
Being a Londoner, can you share one or two favorite neighborhood spots?
Midcentury Modern is an annual gathering of vintage furniture dealers and contemporary designers all set against the dramatic backdrop of the Christison Hall in Dulwich. It’s a great place to see and invest in 20th century British, American and Scandinavian classics and is a mecca for design enthusiasts.
Chiswick House is a neo palladian villa where venetian statues and cypress trees sit alongside the roar of planes as they head into Heathrow airport. It’s a wonderful place to walk the dog and get some headspace.
Can you take us through the process, from first idea to finished product, of making a new drawing? How does it typically happen for you?
Every HAM design needs to tell a story – to bring to life scenarios far away from twee that are unexpected but somehow completely believable. So I first start by brainstorming concepts and look to my childhood and the everyday for inspiration. Once settled on an idea I begin drawing, always digitally, using the track pad on my MacBook as a brush. What’s great about working in this way is that I can edit easily and save variations to later compare and develop. It’s very tricky to capture a Rabbit or a Pig doing a human activity so I often have to research the physiology of the animal to try and understand how best to represent their form in a logical way. When the motif is finished I live with it up on the wall for a couple of weeks before putting it out to friends for feedback and reaction. This leads to final tweaks and sign off which means I can then start working with HAM’s family of makers to bring the design to life on a British made product.
The most fulfilling part of being a designer is…
Seeing people connect with your work. It’s really important to me that HAM is upbeat and full of scenarios that we can all relate to. Humour plays a key part and successfully weaving this into each silhouette is a tough process but more than worth it when you see someone pick up your prints and smile.
Where is your workspace? Can you tell us a bit about it?
I am very lucky to be able to work from my West London home where I have a space with natural light and all-important storage. New furniture sits alongside vintage pieces we have picked up over the years – I am a big fan of midcentury design, and have a particular weakness for 50s filing cabinets and Anglepoise lamps. I typically work on a large table under the window while our dog Ted, a miniature labradoodle, wanders in and out and the radio hums away in the background.
Established in 2011, HAM captures unexpected moments from the contented lives of a pig, a horse and a rabbit on a range of thoughtfully crafted and 100% British made wares. You can keep up to date with Hammy goings-ons by following Jo on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
We asked Jo what her west elm style would look like. Check out her favorites:
Are you a local maker? If you know of any other makers in London or around the UK that west elm should consider for local assortments, please let us know. Email your recommendations to: firstname.lastname@example.org.