Designer Beatrix Ong MBE has had an incredible career since graduating from 3 UAL colleges; Central Saint Martins (CSM), London College of Communication (LCC), and London College of Fashion (LCF).
At just 22 years old, she became the Creative Director of Jimmy Choo, before launching her own eponymous shoe range in 2002. Her shoe designs are now part of the permanent collection at The Victoria and Albert Museum, and she’s recently donated selected items of her collection to the Archive at LCF.
Since then, Beatrix has founded a strategic creative agency, a retail platform, and published her first book, A Bee and A Tree. Despite doing all this, she still found time to come back to UAL last year, to talk at the UAL Enterprising Alumni Association’s C**k-Up Night, sharing times she’s encountered difficulties in the past, and how to learn from your mistakes.
We spoke to her about her experience coming back to speak at her University, and what she’s been working on during lockdown.
Last year you spoke at the UAL Enterprising Alumni Association’s c**k-up night event, what made you want to get involved?
When one gets an email for an event called 'c**k-up night', it is hard to ignore. With numerous c**k ups I've had (and am sure will continue to have) in my career, I saw this as a great opportunity to share my experience with others.
Why do you think it is important for graduates to share their experiences with each other?
Starting and growing businesses is an exciting but also challenging endeavour. Sharing of journeys and experiences is one of the best ways to be supportive of others who may be going through the same or similar situations. I'm not often asked about my failures even though they have been more important to my development than successes.
That is why I wrote A Bee and A Tree - an illustrated book for adults and children alike. It's about ups and downs on the way to trying to fulfil a dream and ultimately believing in yourself. When preparing for the presentation for the event, I realised that everything I wanted to say was in the book and so used the imagery to explain my journey and its deeper context to share with the group.
What advice would you give to graduates wanting to come back to their college to speak?
Do it. There is no downside.
Alongside speaking at events, you have recently decided to donate selected items of your collection to the Archive at LCF. Tell us more about the collection and why you are keen to give it back to your old college?
I launched my brand in 2002, a few years after I had left my role at Jimmy Choo. I am really proud of the design and production journey I have taken since then, but as an archive, it rarely sees the light of day. The last time it was accessed was for the Victoria and Albert Museum when they selected some pieces to collect for their permanent exhibition. Over a decade's worth of my work is unseen and I would really like it to be put to good use for the students at UAL to be able to view the shoes up close, ask questions about design processes, production, technical issues so that it may be able to help in their own work.
Tell us more about some of your recent design work?
the company of X is a retail platform that I founded which allows me to work with talented makers, craftspeople and social enterprises to produce really good things, made in really good ways. We are currently near the end of the 2-year development process of Water Vessel - a project that was conceived for Wallpaper*.
My curiosity as a designer had also led me to found a studio - ext. (extension) where I am fortunate to work in a number of different disciplines, such as restaurants/bars, fashion, tech and cosmetics and much more.
What are you working on during lockdown?
As I had set up the company of X to help those in need, I've found myself quite busy. I have designed some masks made by a supplier in London which supports their small business and also allows them to produce masks for local communities and hospitals. I am also helping my friend and designer (and CSM alumna) Edeline Lee by cutting elastic lengths, which then go to seamstresses to make masks to donate to hospitals. If you're a seamstress at home and want to get involved, please do get in touch with her.
It is also time for the Cordwainers National Footwear Student of the Year competition and I am really pleased it is going ahead digitally. Being on the judging panel, I am really looking forward to seeing the work this year.
Out of 'office hours', I'm continuing my volunteer work at Bookmark Charity as well as reading, painting and eating approximately 8 times my body weight.
You are a triple alumna – can you sum up your time at UAL in three words?
Very very grateful.
- If you are interested in speaking at future UAL alumni events, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Find out more about the UAL Enterprising Alumni Association
- If you want to get involved with the UAL Enterprising Alumni Association, and hear about future opportunities to talk at events email: email@example.com