So on Saturday the 16th of January I woke up to a cold dark West Yorkshire morning, put as many pairs of socks on as I could get away with, packed my flask, picked up my bag of Iro cushions and blankets and headed off down to the big city of London for Liberty Open Call 2016.
I've always loved Liberty, as a twelve year old girl I remember buying the tiniest of Liberty scarves and proudly bringing it back to Newcastle to show all my friends. I won't try to claim any great taste because I seem to remember also bringing back a peach puff ball skirt ( ahem!) but it was a memorable moment for me, Liberty was a fairytale world and I was entranced.
The journey down to London was frosty and beautiful, the fields covered with a light dusting of snow and ice and I arrived in London to a bright blue sky. I'm a claustrophobic and hate the tube so I walked from Euston to Liberty with two huge bags, taking a peek into Heals and the other design shops on Tottenham Court Road.
A first glimpse of Liberty department store always takes your breath away. The store is constructed from the timber of two old ships and the colours and shapes of the building are like nothing else. Today it was even more exciting as I knew I was going to be able to see parts of the store that are otherwise not open to the public and it was my chance to stock my products in this special place.
I joined the queue ( I remember thinking, oh it's not so bad, what's all the fuss about ?) and immediately met some really lovely, very talented designers. Although I eventually ended up queuing for six hours I can honestly say that apart from feeling very cold at times, I enjoyed myself and that's due to the kindness and company of others I spent time with, Terri, Louise, Jane and others you know who you are ...
What's incredible about the Liberty Open Call is the talent and creativity of the designers who queue to show their work. Six hundred designers were picked from three thousand who applied so the standard is incredibly high. I'm a very nosy person when it comes to design and was desperate to see inside every single persons bags but I contained myself and tried to not be a nuisance!
After three hours on the street we moved into the building and started queuing on a very magical staircase at the back of the Liberty shop. We slowly made our way up the four floors to get to the top where the buyers were waiting for us. Many designers used it as a chance to sit down briefly.
Eventually we arrived at the top of the stairs, and made it into the inner sanctum where we had a seat!! Oh the joy of sitting down, I've never appreciated it so much. The lovely Liberty ladies brought us water and popcorn and we all sat around trying to control our nerves waiting for our name to be called from a list. By this time it was 5.30pm and I'd been waiting since 11.30am and I was started to get slightly worried about getting home that night.
You have no idea who you're going to see until the very last minute, it must be a bit of a logistical nightmare but everyone at Liberty handled it really well. I was lucky enough to be called in to see Julie Hassan who is head of the Home department at Liberty.
So this is the strange surreal bit where you are ushered to a table with two buyers and you have three minutes to present yourself and your product. It's a little bit like speed dating for designers, you need to present the key elements which are going to get you noticed and which make you stand out very quickly.
Its all over before it begins, I had time to say that all my products were designed and produced in West Yorkshire and Lancashire, I had worked hard to make my costs realistic but competitive and I was asked about these. I was also asked where I was stocked in the UK. Comments were made about how beautiful the fabrics felt and the colours I had chosen, I was asked for my business card and then it was time to go.
Its hard not to expect more but of course this is just an initial assessment of your work. You're presenting in front of very experienced buyers who know very quickly whether your product has a chance in Liberty. Some people were told no, I heard that some people were invited back on the day and many were told that Libertywould be in touch and are still waiting ( I'm writing this blog a week after the Open Call).
As for me ? ... I received an email two days after the Open Call inviting me back at the end of February.... so time for me to work on making my products as perfect for Liberty as possible, so time to go....I've got work to do ! Wish me luck !