We sat down with the founder of Beeb Designs, Isobel Sanby, and chatted about her experience with starting up a brand in Covid-19, her latest designs, and rich moments of self-reflection.
When did you realise you loved creating accessories?
I have always loved working with my hands. Ever since I was a kid I enjoyed painting, drawing, Lego and particularly beading. I used to put on Stephen Fry narrating the Harry Potter books and sit in my room for hours threading beads – it was my form of therapy. When Covid–19 hit I was about to move to Brisbane to manage a new event at Howard Smith Wharves and start the final year for my Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine arts at UNSW.
The event was shut down first, then two theatre productions I was designing the set for were cancelled. The final hit was all my subjects were postponed until the third term at the end of the year as they are all practical studio classes.
After the initial daunting blow of going from starting the year with a busy schedule and a plan, to pretty much nothing, I was itching to get back into the studio and turn on Stephen Fry again. I started experimenting with my ceramics, however I ran into difficulty as I could no longer fire or glaze my pieces at uni. This led me to experiment with polymer clay, and I quickly became obsessed.
With the support of an amazing online community (Polly Collective and Friclay (Instagram) I learnt new skills, invested in tools and was churning out pieces! Making polymer jewellery has turned into a love affair, and I wanted to share my adoration of colour and design with my friends, family and others and to bring a little bit of joy as we all go through these periods of uncertainty.
What is the main purpose and vision of the brand?
Covid-19 has hit the art industry hard. However it has also taught people that in a time of crisis the arts can provide refuge, reflection and distraction; creativity is a form of escapism, but also one of the most prevalent and empathetic forms of communication.
I am committed to practicing mindful making, being respectful of other makers in this line of work, and supporting small local businesses by purchasing my clay and tools from them as opposed to large commercial suppliers. I am also focused on considering sustainability when I make, this includes repurposing materials and not disposing of any clay waste. As polymer clay is a plastic, I make sure that I always use my scraps, I do this via mixing new colours or creating marbled pattern designs with the leftovers.
My aim is for Beeb Designs to be a vehicle in which people can express their bold, adventurous and quirky traits. I wanted to share my therapeutic making with a wider audience, connecting with others by generating a bit more love, positivity and imagination.
What are some of the biggest challenges of starting up your own brand/business?
I didn’t start this journey with the intention of creating a brand. As I produced more work, I noticed how people were engaging with my practice and that made me want to share it.
The most challenging aspect has been conceptualising how to evoke the passion I have for art and design in the form of a jewellery brand. I started small on Instagram with a following mainly consisting of peers, and moving forward I want to collaborate with my customers and I’m happy to have a conversation about specific pieces tailored to them. I am very passionate about how I engage with the creative process; my marketing is aimed at trying to spark imaginations and get people to have fun and be bold in their day to day lives – and accessories are a brilliant place to start!
This experience has taught me about persistence, patience, budgeting (not my strong suit) and above all trust in my own creative intuition.
What is something you've learned about the retail/fashion industry during COVID–19?
That we all need to learn to be agile and adapt to change positively. Before the events of 2020 the arts and entertainment industry were having to consider how to progress and educate itself to be a more inclusive, sustainable and progressive environment. I think 2020 has forced this introspection worldwide and, in some ways, accelerated a lot of these conversations and new modes of thinking. It has certainly taught me that you don’t stop when something alters your path – no matter how large or small – and you use it as fuel to spur you on and continue learning.
Who are your models?
I have been working with Erin Clarke, Chris Davis, Lillian Scott, Lucy McCarthy and Simran Chawla. These are some of my closest friends who have inspired the conception of Beeb Designs. it’s been inspiring to work with an empowered group of people who have an eclectic sense of style; I also want to give a shout out to Pascale Radford and Nicole Foo for their support and professional input. As a small business, I have limited resources. I am striving to create a more diverse and inclusive community as I continue along this path.
What are some of your personal fave pieces?
With this next restock I am particularly fond of the Memphis and Mondrian series. As the daughter of two architects, these are two design aesthetics I have always loved. I think the Rose Gold and Terrazzo series will be the most popular this launch. I am really excited about my new lines of accessories; rings, necklaces and bracelets in particular.
You don't have your ears pierced – which is hilarious! Do you think you'll pierce them anytime soon? And why didn't you?
Yes, the most ironic element of my business (which I am quite partial to). Ultimately in relation to Beeb Designs, the wearing is not about me, it is about the community I am trying to create. I want to share my love of colour, bold patterns and eccentricity with others who perhaps don’t ‘dare to wear’ in the way I do.
I never got them pierced because I play a lot of sport however I’m also quite accident prone – an interesting combination in which adding piercings felt borderline dangerous. I have my clip-ons for now, but perhaps I’ll get them pierced once I stop goalkeeping...
Have you hit any sort of a learning curve or moment of self-reflection?
For me it’s been the fact that I finally had a moment to get back to making and have a bit of a rest from everything I was doing before Covid hit. This has evolved into creating a small business that has coincidentally put me more under the pump then I was before, which says more about me than Covid, and is both funny and exasperating in moments of self-reflection.
If Beeb Designs was a ____ it would be a _____:
A flower: A Banksia Flower because Beeb Designs is Australian, and the community is bold, eclectic, vibrant and resilient.
A TV show: Glow because it's about starting something from the ground up, it's daring, it's sentimental, it's empowering and…have you seen the outfits???
An iconic woman: Florence Pugh because she is emerging in her career in an explosive and individualistic fashion. She’s elegant, funny, outspoken and natural.
A colour: A vibrant orange because it's bright, complementary and grounded in earthy tones. Beeb Designs is all about being vivid and standing out, however in a way that compliments and emphasises the wearer’s personality.
A dessert: A lemon tart because Beeb Designs is refreshingly zesty and deliciously digestible.
A song: Watermelon Sugar by Harry Styles because it’s sexy, fun-loving, eccentric and also Harry is a constant source of design inspiration!
A cocktail: A Margarita because Beeb Designs is classic, energetic and outgoing.
Photography: Geoffrey Chuah
Hair and Make up: Jaque Di Condio
Model: Erin Clarke