Sisters Charlotte (left) and Kate (right)
Lisa Botwright meets the two sisters behind ‘Charlotte Jade’ –
an up-and-coming interiors brand already making a big impact...
With a mum who makes wedding dresses, a dad with a keen eye for interior design (he’s a successful property developer), a musician brother and a big sister with a high flying career in fashion, it seemed almost inevitable that Clement Danes alumna, Charlotte Jade, would choose an equally creative career. “I was always drawing when I was young – especially cartoons, which seems funny now.”
Charlotte’s passion for art and doodling led her to embark on a degree in Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts, one of the world’s foremost art and design institutions. She graduated just two years ago, and is meeting with me now to discuss her eponymous design business, Charlotte Jade – and there isn’t a cartoon in sight. Instead, on the table are samples of her striking designs, which she sells as bespoke fabric and wallpaper; kitchen and bathroom tiles are in the pipeline. “As soon as I began my degree, I just knew I wanted to specialise in printmaking,” she explains. “I am fascinated by patterns in fashion and interiors.”
Charlotte’s designs are bold, colourful and modern, and reflect a mature self-assurance of her place in the design world that belies both her young age – she’s just 24 – and also her unassuming personality. She has a quiet confidence in a very modest and down to earth way.
So too has her big sister, Kate, 29, who – as Charlotte’s business partner – is also here today. “I am always being asked if I’m the ‘Jade’ of the Charlotte Jade partnership,” she laughs, “but the truth is that Charlotte had already put her name to her freelance business that she had started as a student. She had already built up such a good reputation that it seemed sensible to keep the brand going.”
Charlotte was lucky to have a sister who knew the fashion-business ropes… which Kate had learned from none other than global megastar Beyoncé – via the management company of the star’s fitness-wear label, Ivy Park. As an Assistant Buyer at Top Shop, Kate was involved in a new and exciting collaboration between the iconic pop star and the iconic high street fashion brand. “The great thing about the project was that I was part of a very small team – quite a change from the huge corporation that is Top Shop. I learned everything from how to screw a desk together, to how to choose the best broadband. I basically got paid to learn how to set up a brand from scratch and took Ivy Park from an initial concept to a major player.”
As a result of their different backgrounds, it’s tempting to label Charlotte as ‘the creative one’ and Kate as ‘the business one’, but that would be to do them both a disservice.
Charlotte’s ‘business brain’ had already led her to some pretty eclectic projects before her sister joined her – including working with record label Universal (there’s a stunning time-lapsed video on their website of Charlotte hand-drawing album artwork for singer Ella Eyre, back in 2014) and also selling trend-setting print designs to high street retailers ASOS and Urban Outfitters.
Kate, meanwhile, clearly has her own creative flair and, in fact, considered going into design herself, having studied Textiles at Amersham College and Fashion at Southampton University, but opted for a career as a stylist. She was lucky enough to secure internships at Elle and Grazia magazines, amongst others, finding herself bang in the middle of her teenage-dream as she helped to dress everyone from the runway models at Fashion Week to Kings of Leon rockers at a photography shoot. Unfortunately – as Kate found to her cost – fashion can be an intensely competitive business, and although she was working continuously and gaining incredible experience, she was only able to secure internships, rather than paid employment. “I was working all the time: commuting to London to work at the magazines, and then spending evenings and weekends waitressing at The Gate [in Chorleywood], just to support myself.”
In search of a more lucrative lifestyle, she took a short course in Buying at the London College of Fashion, and landed her first paid position as a junior at Top Shop – and the rest is history…
which leads us back to the brand in question (“I don’t think of Charlotte Jade as my name any more – it’s just the brand name,” reflects Charlotte). At its centre are four key heritage prints, including the ‘Migration Collection’, which can be printed on practically anything and bought directly from their website: “We can create bespoke designs from scratch or work together to adapt existing designs. Everything is interchangeable.”
However, like ripples radiating from a watery splash, the sisters are already spreading out in all directions that catch their creative eye. They’ve just worked with a new property development company that snapped up exclusive rights to a bespoke Charlotte Jade wallpaper print that will be used in reception rooms and bathrooms across their portfolio. Kate says proudly, “They loved our mood board concept so much, they asked us to design their brand’s logo – despite the fact that they’d just spent a fortune on a specialist marketing company.”
They’re increasingly gaining currency as a global brand and have been working on design plans to revamp a Hollywood hotel. Even more rock’n’roll is a mysteriously hush-hush German project, that’s so top secret that even the girls don’t know how their wallpaper is going to be used. “Whatever the project, it must be pretty big – they’ve bought enough rolls!”
In their downtime, the sisters love to spend days out, soaking up cultural inspiration from travelling, exhibitions and even zoos. “The Migration Collection was inspired by captive birds at London Zoo,” Charlotte tells me. “I saw how they’d been taken out of their natural habitat and into London living.” The eye-catching Tropical Flora print, for example, features pink flamingos contrasting fabulously with traditionally English green foliage. “That print was used to upholster a chair that was placed prominently in the window of a local interior design shop,” Kate adds. “The owners said that it created quite a stir – people were taking photos on their phone from the street outside.”
The sisters are keen runners – they’re hoping to enter the London Marathon together next spring – and elements of the English countryside that they regularly run through can be found throughout their work, along with influences from much further afield, such as a stunning metallic zebra print that they created following a family safari holiday last Christmas. Endearingly, Charlotte tells me that she still keeps the colourful petals that she found, magpie-like, when she was travelling around south east Asia on her gap year.
Working together, holidaying together and running together – the sisters are clearly very close. “We get on really well as friends,” Kate agrees, “but being family means we can also push the boundaries of friendship.” I wonder if they were always so close when they were growing up? “Charlotte always tried to copy the way I dressed” Kate chides. “I knew that was coming!” Charlotte retorts, with mock irritation. If it’s true, it’s unsurprising, I think, considering she had a big sister with such impressive fashion contacts.
Their whole family, all of whom live in Chorleywood, make sure they sit down together several times a week to share their news, and these close knit values are imbued into the brand. When I ask how they would sum up Charlotte Jade, they fall over themselves with adjectives: “family-orientated, friendly, personal, hand-drawn, printed in the UK, unique, bespoke – oh and environmentally friendly.” This last claim comes from the fact that they print everything digitally, which results in far less waste in terms of dyes and water. “We also print in this way because of the level of depth and tone within our work, which would be lost in screen printing.”
Underneath the Waltons-style wholesomeness, however, is an impressive level of steely ambition, and I ask them what’s next on the horizon. “We had talks with John Lewis, but we feel it would compromise the exclusivity of the brand – designers love the hand-drawn, unique thing. We can see a big future working on exclusive projects with hotels and restaurants. Our dream, though, is to do a bespoke collection for Liberty’s.”
Just before they leave, they tell me that they have always been encouraged to ‘believe in themselves and follow their dreams.’ With that in mind – and all the evidence to date – I’ve a feeling that we might well be seeing them in Liberty’s before too long…