If you haven’t been following #MarchMeetTheMaker this year over on Instagram, we thoroughly recommend you hop to it. Graphic illustrator Joanne Hawker established the trend as a challenge to herself in 2016 and it’s since been taken up by thousands of creators across the globe, becoming a fantastic opportunity to discover more about your favourite artists, and unearth fresh talent.
We love taking on the challenge at Tovi Sorga because it reminds us to share things with you that we otherwise forget to celebrate – the everyday mechanics of how our work comes into creation and eventually ends up popping through your letterboxes all around the globe. You can follow our responses over on our Instagram feed here, and also on Facebook or Twitter, wherever you like to hang out online.
This weekend’s prompts are ‘The Story behind the Name’ and ‘You’ – and as these tie beautifully together, we thought it would be a good a moment to elaborate.
Founded by Tovi Sorga himself over a decade ago, the brand is now run by both Tovi and myself, Agnes Davis. We thought the best way for you to learn more about who we are and what we do is if we interview each other for you. First off...
Tovi, interviewed by Agnes...
How did you get started with this work?
The very beginning – 14 or 15 years ago – was that I was upcycling things for fun. I was doing a silversmith jewellery course at the time, and I’d buy old leather jackets or tatty snakeskin handbags and integrate the precious metalwork I was doing into fashion and jewellery-inspired statement objects.
And then one day I discovered a non-orthodox way of getting my own digital images onto leather. I experimented with lots of different hides until I bumped into someone on Portobello Road who was an antique restorer delivering leather, and we got chatting. He was delivering some kidskin natural leathers, which were exactly what I was looking for.
At that stage I was just making things for myself and friends, honing the technique, and after a while I began approaching small boutiques in East London, where the jewellery items really took off – particularly the cuffs which serendipitously became our first contactless payment products in 2016.
One day I was sitting in a park and a friend had a new iPod, which came with a very flimsy microfiber sleeve. I looked at it and thought, ‘That could be made so much more beautiful!’ So I started experimenting with making iPod cases, and someone said, ‘Oh you’ve got to put those on Etsy.’
I’d never heard of Etsy at that time, but a mate helped me photograph my very first collection of about 10 designs, and I put them online, really not expecting anything, and about a week later I got my very first sale.
One of the initial prints was of a Walkman, and as the iPod was essentially a replacement of the Walkman people went absolutely crazy for them. They were featured on countless blogs and in the press, which is when things really took off.
Based on that success I went on to develop a wider range of designs and products, sharpening and honing the offering, and tuning into the customer to understand what they really wanted and needed.
What have been the highlights of your journey?
Initially just the rapid success and growth globally was an incredible feeling. Over the last 10 years I’ve been commissioned to make pieces for the Rijksmuseum and the Royal Academy. And collaborating is always wonderful. Lisa Keating and I made some seriously beautiful corsets, and the tattoo collection with David J Watthas been a non-stop success.
Then of course pioneering contactless wearables with Barclaycardhas really pushed us professionally and is taking the brand in an exciting new direction.
What are the hardest parts of running the brand?
Keeping up with the rapidly changing trends and continually evolving landscape. When I started with iPod cases and moving onto iPhone cases, my work was relatively unique, but that market very quickly became over-saturated.
So my greatest challenge is being able to sustain offerings that are still innovative and unique enough to ask people to keep supporting what I do.
Manufacturing wise, there have been huge challenges with the print. My first ever printing technique wasn’t waterproof, so I spent a while working with a UK leather printer, which brought its own issues, and pushed me ultimately to bring all the printing back under my own control. That was about 8 years ago, and since then it’s been a long journey of pursuing the right technology and formulas to achieve the finish I need.
Every time I take on new leathers, or create fresh products that are used in different ways, I’m still honing the print and finish to make sure it’s doing justice to the designs.
What top 3 sources do you turn to for inspiration?
I like keeping my finger on the most innovative design trends, and follow a number of online blogs – Design Boom is a favourite.
Nature, always. I really need to go out and reconnect. The textures and patterns from nature have always inspired me and constantly find their way into my designs.
And I guess when I lived in London, the availability of galleries and museums, going to gallery openings and private views on a weekly basis – that was relentlessly inspiring. Living in Bristol and having kids in the house we don’t get out quite so much so it's a treat to go to London now and catch a great exhibition. But I’m always really glad to get back home to Bristol where the whole pace is so much more chilled out and there’s room to breathe, time to create.
What’s on your playlist this month?
It’s always an eclectic mix, but I’m currently really enjoying the Penguin Café Orchestra, Todd Terje and Johnny Flynn.
Favourite ways to relax?
To get completely in the zone – genuinely switched off from the stress of running a business – I’d say it’s always being creative. I also love cycling down to Bristol’s beautiful harbour and just walking along there by the boats.
Any surprising hobbies?
I’m a bit obsessed with good nutrition – it’s a fascination I share with my Mum who’s an amazing cook and plant alchemist. Her recipes are incredible, and she makes everything by hand – from soaps to the most amazing gluten and dairy-free food for my son who has a lot of allergies.
Best and worst things about working with your partner?
Ha! It can get a bit claustrophobic in the studio sometimes. You’re a bit messy.
But seriously, the best things – we are totally on the same page when it comes to creative inspiration. You bring a whole new level of professionalism to the business. And you love the business, so it’s a pleasure to enjoy the journey together with you.
What do you compromise on, and what will you never compromise on?
To the best of my ability I try never to compromise on the quality, and am constantly striving to improve and perfect all the techniques that go into each piece. Every product has its own quirks – my phone cases, for example, get a lot of handling every day so it’s a never-ending obsession to ensure the durability of the print and craftsmanship meets the needs of the customers investing in my work.
There are inevitably compromises you have to make as a designer. I’d like to go really wild and occasionally I have to reign it in and make sure the collections remain commercially viable, and coherent. That’s sometimes a challenge, but I generally find challenges and limitations can become a source of inspiration too.
What’s on your creative wish list?
Some really great collaborations – I’d love to work with up and coming artists, as well as more established designers over the next couple of years. And I’d like to continue to work on creating a stronger presence for the brand globally.
This year I’m also going to be making time for some passion projects, slightly out of the ordinary limited edition pieces, and just having a chance to be a bit more playful creatively. Watch this space...
Make your mark...
Sign up to catch Agnes interviewed by Tovi soon. We always love hearing your thoughts, so please go bold and leave us any comments or questions below.
Don't forget to follow the #MarchMeetTheMaker journey throughout this month, where we hope you'll be able to discover other wonderful artists, craftsman and brands doing what they love for a living.
And take a look at Tovi's newest prints and product range here.