This ‘meet the maker’ post is a little different from usual as it is more about the work of a company rather than one designer. Although my questions are directed at the main buyer for Rex London, the company employ six designers who are all involved in the creative process. Dot com gift shop is re-branding in April 2018 and from then the company will be called Rex London. It started life trading as a market stall on Portobello road in London, selling candles and Ponchos. The business behind dot com gift shop, Rex International Ltd (wholesale) has been trading successfully for 35 years, supplying gifts and home ware to over 20,000 retailers in more than 70 countries worldwide. It now has in excess of 70 employees working from its West London headquarters in Acton, and an impressive turnover – last year exceeding £10 million. Chances are even if you do not know the name you will know the products.
Candy Smith is head buyer and oversees development of hundreds of new lines to market each year and is always on the look out for the latest trends. She has a passion for design and an uncompromising eye for detail. But she tells me that she works very much as part of a team and the evolution of each product is very much a collaborative process between her and Les Whiteman, Rex London’s Design Director, and his team of designers.
Why is the company rebranding and what difference will it make?
Since 2005, we have been designing and sourcing our own unique product range. We felt that people perceived dot com gift shop as merely an online marketplace – whereas we see ourselves as a design brand…and rebranding was the best way to affirm our own unique brand identity.
How many collections do you oversee each year?
The number of collections vary season on season, year on year – but on average we create 1000 new products every year.
How large is your design team and do different people work on different parts of the collections?
Our Design Director, Les Whiteman, has a team of 5 designers who all work from our West London office. We don’t have a system where one designer necessarily works on a specific category of product – our designers are very versatile and can be at any time working on an idea for men, ladies or children.
Where do you get most of your designs made?
All of our designs originate here in our West London office and studio. Manufacture is mostly in China, although we have producers in other countries, such as India & Thailand.
Are you essentially a wholesalers or an internet retailer?
Wholesale is, business-wise, the largest part of the operation – we sell in 70 countries to over 20000 retailers – but we see ourselves as a design company. Without amazing design, we wouldn’t have any customers. We are essentially a gift company although we do a few home wares.
What is your best selling line?
This season our bestselling range is our new eco-friendly bamboo fibre collection for children and adults. This is a new collection of sustainable bamboo dinnerware and food storage, including lunch boxes, serving trays, plates, bowls, cups and cutlery – all in a selection of our designs.
What is a typical day for you?
Work is very varied, so I am fortunate to avoid monotony and routine. When I’m not working on new products with the team, I’m researching current trends – I’m always on the lookout for inspiration…whether that be in magazines, online or on the high street.
…and on top of these duties, I also style and merchandising our Rex London wholesale exhibition stands, retail shows and pop-up shops.
What do you love most about what you do?
When a product finally arrives, one I’ve been involved in and nurtured from the very beginning throughout the whole length of the process – which can be months, or even years in some cases – and it exceed even our high expectations. That’s very special.
What do you dislike most about what you do?
Having to tell a designer that their design isn’t commercial enough for our customers – even if it’s something I absolutely love.
Has Rex done any collaborations? If so with whom?
We’re actually working on our very first collaboration – we’ve asked children’s author/illustrator Neal Layton to create a world exclusive design for one of our recycled jumbo storage bags. This will be a strictly limited edition, with all profits going to children’s charity Make-A-Wish.
What are your biggest challenges?
The responsibility of choosing which product designs to put into production.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field today?
Understand who your customer is, and listen to what they’re telling you.
What are you currently working on?
Today I’m collating new ideas to take to our manufacturers on our next visit. Watch this space
Many thanks Juliet Bawden