With thanks to “persistence and hard graft”, since graduation Central Saint Martins alumna Mimi Berry (Fashion: Fashion Design with Marketing (1999)) has developed her leather accessories brand from a small stall in London’s Spitalfields Market into an established presence on the international accessories scene. Mimi’s beautiful handmade leather designs are sold worldwide, however all manufacturing remains exclusively in the UK. On the launch of her new website and online shop, we visit Mimi (and her gorgeous dog) at her Bethnal Green studio to drink tea, talk business, reminisce about student life and fondle some amazing leather.
What was the best bit at studying at Central Saint Martins?
Studying at CSM made me confident as a person and as a designer, and the best part was being in a creative hub all the time.
Did it help you prepare for life after?
It makes you self-sufficient, as they were keen not to mollycoddle us, but encouraged us to go out there and make it happen instead. A good attitude for life basically. We were always told how fortunate we were, and not to waste our time. Seeing ex-students in the press and media was massive encouragement too, as it made you feel that you too could be as good as them.
What’s the secret to getting your work noticed after graduation?
Persistence and hard graft. Go out there, show your work and talk to people. Be original and don’t be afraid of being knocked back a few times in the beginning. It is also now absolutely essential to be social media savvy.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Finding good manufacturers that I could trust and that could make things on time. It was word of mouth and trial and error. Learning about the materials, and learning how to cost and price your work is also a huge challenge for a young designer.
What tips would you give current students hoping to start their own business?
Do work experience. It really is invaluable for learning how a business works.
What has been your proudest moment?
My long-term collaboration with the Tate still makes me so proud, as I was involved with the one of the most iconic institutions in the country. All four Tate galleries are iconic, inspiring and beautifully curated, and it was an absolute pleasure to design and sell a collection within this environment.
You offer work placements to current students, what do they learn and why is it important for students to take these opportunities?
It is so important for students to undertake placements if they can. They learn so much, and not just about design. It’s the whole experience of working in a business that is crucial to students who want to graduate and set up their own brand. In addition to contributing to the design process, the areas that the students learn about include costings, liaising with the factories and the entire product life cycle from design to completion. We have had some wonderful students, who have varied their time from 4 weeks to 9 months. We try to get them fully involved in the company and the jobs change from week to week.
What’s coming up next for you?
I am off to Paris Fashion Week at the end of September, and then it’s back to London to work on AW2015. We also have some exciting new collaborations in the pipeline. Unfortunately they are still secret, so I can’t tell you more about them quite yet!
What’s your favourite London hangout?
My current favourite is a new restaurant called Rotorino on Kingsland Road. I’ve been there twice this month. I also love the Royal Oak on Columbia Road.
Who inspires you?
Diana Vreeland (queen of the one liners). My mother. Wes Anderson (a genius!). Tilda Swinton.
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