Melanie Ridgeway graduated from Central Saint Martins (CSM), then Central School of Art, in 1982 with a BA (Hons) in Textile Design. She has recently set up her own business, Fox Puzzles making mosaic wooden puzzles with her husband. The images on the puzzles are all Melanie’s own designs, and her husband creates the puzzles. As well as selling them through their website, Fox Puzzles are now being sold in the National Portrait Gallery’s shop. We chatted to Melanie about her time at CSM, and what the challenges and rewards of running your own business are.
Why did you choose Central Saint Martins?
I did my foundation at St Martins School of Art and Design in 1979 which was in Charing Cross Road. I had a weaving session and something just clicked. I also liked that I could just walk to Central which was nearby and I liked this part of London. Central did a commercial Woven and Printed Textile BA (Hons) course run by Jane Rapley which suited my commercial bent. I found it exciting to design for industry and wanted to see my weaving being chosen for large public places or on tube seats.
What did you do after graduating from UAL?
I worked for Jane Rapley as a manager in one of her fashion shops and then went on to Creative Review when it had just started as a sales rep. I then worked as a PA for a commercial photographer and then onto being a special effects painter for Small Bone of Devizes. I was very timid at my degree show and did not follow up invitations to visit Missoni or other knitted fashion houses. I could sell anything but myself! I immigrated to Australia, married, had children and worked as a freelance textile designer in Sydney and briefly for Designer Rugs in Sydney. Carpets and weaving are my true love.
How did you get involved in designing puzzles?
I met my current husband on a dating site in 2007. He had previously run a puzzle company and had been asked to start a new puzzle company and I was a surface pattern designer. Hey, presto!
What made you decide to go it alone and set up Fox Puzzles? What are the benefits and what are the challenges?
My husband is an entrepreneur and without having met him with his drive and natural ambition, I don’t know if I would have started Fox Puzzles. The benefits are that I design the puzzles and have learnt to run my own business. Finally, 3 years down the track, I am beginning to see the fruits of my designing and have the satisfaction of seeing people buy our puzzles which are often called unique. The challenges are huge. Not least I work and run the company with my husband. We live and work together. It is only us at the moment and I wear many hats. Separating work and home life can be very difficult. Mixed with learning to believe in yourself, going into considerable debt and managing it and riding the low bad days are the challenges.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Being asked by the National Gallery of London to design a London puzzle souvenir which is currently on sale in their shops.
What is next for you?
We are about to employ people, go into a joint venture in India and invest in my new designs on endangered animals in the folk style of the country they come from, and maps. My puzzle map of France has been bought by La Maison de la Presse and should be selling throughout France in 3 months’ time. We are also at Old Spitalfields Market where we sell directly to the public. Here we achieve good prices for our products and meet all sorts of people from around the world.