Harper's Bazaar - Work It Out

Kirsty Whyte - Harpar's Bazaar - Work it out - Chloe Macintosh Made.com Soho House

Our Creative Director Kirsty Whyte has appeared in this months Harpers Bazaar, in a feature. The full article can be seen HERE

Describe your company and role
By day, I am the product and design manager at the high-street heritage-furniture retailer Heal's, where I am responsible for design, development and buying own-brand furniture. By night (and during every spare hour), I am the creative director and co-founder of the west-London-based watch brand Freedom To Exist.

Describe your career path in brief
Ever since childhood, I've been making, drawing and creating. After graduating from Nottingham Trent University, where I studied decorative arts, I took a university course in glass design in Sweden, which fuelled my love of material and process.

On returning to the UK, more than 10 years ago, I moved to London and started working for Habitat as a sales assistant in its flagship store. I spent five years working in various areas, from floor management to merchandising, account managing and even working on some design briefs. This varied experience really enhanced my commercial awareness.

In 2009, I set up my own design studio, launching my collection at the Milan Furniture Fair. For the following two years, I exhibited at tradeshows around the world and licensed designs for brands such as Heal's, Modus and Normann Copenhagen. In 2011, I moved to China to work on design, development, sourcing and buying for Made.com (a start-up at the time) from its Shanghai office.

I started my current role at Heal's in 2013, overseeing in-house design and product development. As well as working with external designers and brands, I'm a mentor for Heal's Discovers, an annual initiative for spotting up-and-coming designers, and then getting their work manufactured and into stores.

I needed an additional creative outlet alongside this full-time role, so in 2014 I co-founded and launched a watch brand called Freedom To Exist with my other half. A year into trading, we have 14 models and more than 20 stockists, with plenty of opportunity to develop and expand.

What has been the most positive surprise to you in your career?
In December 2009, I had the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy from Habitat, which gave me the push to set up my business and the funds not to worry about it. I paid off my remaining student loan and launched a design studio with four products, which proved to be a launchpad for the rest of my career.

What has been the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Breaking into the industry is one of the hardest challenges I've had to overcome: it took more than 10 years of hard and varied work. When I do university lectures, I'm always sure to show students what I've done to get to where I am – from interning for free to saying yes to jobs that are not hugely exciting – and emphasise that it isn't an overnight thing.

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
For both furniture and watches, the most rewarding thing is to see someone using and enjoying what you have designed, whether in their home or on their wrist. The sense of achievement is huge and motivates me to make it happen again.

Which skill do you think has been most critical to your success?
After being good at what you do, I think the most important element of success is networking. No one can present your designs and concepts like you can, and only you can truly persevere with making those contacts. Exhibiting at trade shows and talking at press events about your products and design really helps engage a person, whether they're a customer, retailer, employer or journalist.

What is changing in your industry that excites you?
The shift that enables start-ups to move from concept to launch in order to reach a worldwide customer base has already taken place. The next step is getting noticed amid the noise. I look forward to seeing how new brands approach doing that.

What advice would you give to someone just coming in to your industry now?
Don't give up, and say yes to as many jobs and projects as possible. You don't know who you might meet or what you may learn by doing them. My career so far has been all about encountering the right person at the right time: you just have to be there to do it.

What would you like someone to invent to make your life easier?
A time machine; not because I would like to go back in time to change anything, but so that I could pause time, to give me enough hours in the day to get everything done and still have time to relax. What I really need is a 27-hour day, although I'm sure I would fill that too.

Do you have a mentor or someone who has inspired you?
I have always been fortunate to have strong, passionate and talented female managers, who have encouraged me to follow in their footsteps. At BHS, I worked directly for the creative director Jacquie Gray, who now runs her own consultancy, Cool Gray Collective, and a Scandinavian vintage-jewellery company, GraSilver (I'm always eyeing up something beautiful on there). Then there's Chloe Macintosh of Made.com, a forward-thinking and inspiring entrepreneur who showed me what it's like to create a start-up and work flexibly within your role as you and the company develop. I know that if I need any support or advice, they are only a phone call away.

What is your work look?
One great thing about running my own watch brand is that I can always co-ordinate my accessories with what I'm wearing. I like to mix the odd vintage skirt or necklace with high-street fashion. From day to day, I aim to look professional but not overly serious: I do love a splash of colour or pattern. On the less glamorous days, such as when I'm in a factory inspecting and building furniture, practicality and comfort prevail.

What is your favourite way to entertain clients or colleagues?
I don't have a specific place. My role is more about networking at events such as the Craft Market or the London Design Festival launch in the Heal's store, or about getting together at design fairs such as Milan.

What is your favourite form of exercise?
For the past few years, I've been an avid fan of HIIT; in a good week I'll train up to five times. There's a gym near me but the way I got hooked was through MW5 Fitness, a bootcamp close to Granary Square. It's great fun with a sociable atmosphere, but it also gets significant results.

What is your favourite way to relax? 

I find running a great way to zone out; there's something about the rhythm of your breathing that helps you focus. Of course, it's not all go – I do love a tea, some biscuits and a good box set.

What is your favourite 
beauty treatment or product? 
Without a doubt: Algenist's Genius Ultimate Anti-Aging Melting Cleanser. You'll never have to buy another make-up remover, cleanser or facial wash again.

What is your favourite accessories for work?
Three things are vital for every day: my sketchbook, a good 0.38 Muji pen and Post-it notes. Fashion-wise, I take my Rains backpack everywhere: I can fit my laptop and gym gear inside it, and it isn't too bulky.

What is your favourite tech product? 

Alongside the classic iPhone and MacBook necessities, I always use a mouse with a scroll wheel for graphic and 3-D computer programs. I also love my new Bose SoundSport wireless headphones.

What is your favourite restaurant?
Whenever I get the opportunity, and the queue isn't too long, I eat my body weight in sushi and tempura at Eat Tokyo, Notting Hill.

What is your favourite service you can't live without?
I really like the Virgin Active app, which lets you view and book classes, and then puts them into your calendar so you can't let it slip your mind. I also think the app Workfrom is very useful; you can find free workspaces and Wi-Fi, whatever your location. It's great if you fancy a change of work environment or have an external meeting.

Tell us about something else you're involved in?
As well as having a passion for running, my other motivation is to raise money for Cancer Research. A very close friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer at 31 and now, at 36, has metastasised breast cancer that has spread to her bones. So I run to raise money for research, friendship and more tomorrows.

"I was losing the will to live searching for a ladies watch with a leather strap. My criteria were; long enough strap, easy to read face but not huge numbers, dial not too big and not too small, no fuss, no visible brand name, and elegant. Paul and Kirsty were extremely helpful, and their service and speed was much appreciated. A great brand; I’m glad I found it!

Monica - Customer