“Kaleidoscopic. Story-telling. Socially-responsible!” Robyn Parker laughs as she struggles to describe her design brand Archie Mac London to Katrin Magnussen in just three words.
Sitting in the midst of a multi-coloured sea of Archie Mac cushions, tablet holders, purses, wash bags, and even mugs in her big and airy Brixton living room, Robyn is a little overwhelmed. “Running my own company is hard and very tumultuous: it freaks me out! “she confesses. “If you’d asked me a couple of years ago, I never ever would have thought I’d have my own company!”
The 27-year old set up her firm after graduating last summer, and is incredulous at how much has changed over the course of a short year. With no real design or business experience under her belt, Robyn faced many challenges to get her idea off the ground. “Everything was totally new so I found myself in the dark a lot. I have no real background in design, so I was mostly just experimenting. I compare it with going through childbirth – you have to ask a lot of people for advice!”
Robyn was always interested in creating a socially responsible company. Working for the NHS in Lambeth, she came into contact with people with past experience from fashion and creative industries. “For many, life just happened and they no longer had the confidence to continue to keep doing these things,” Robyn explains.” I wanted to be able to create an opportunity for these people to use their skills again. I want to grow Archie Mac it into a social enterprise, linking with organisations like the Streatham Women’s Sewing Group. Local communities have so much skill within them!”
“Wait, I will show you!” Robyn runs upstairs and comes back down with the proud heirloom that gave her the impetus to start her journey: a writing book by her paternal great-grandmother. She carefully leafs through the book’s old pages and pauses by a collection of beautiful drawings by her great grandfather Archie.
“My mentor at Brixton’s Tree Shepherd was the first who actually told me that my brand basically is a story-telling label; my great-grand-dad Archie McMillan, his story, why I set up the business, and so on.”
Robyn plans to keep production in Lambeth, using local people who could work from home or from a production hub. She explains, “The next step would be to get local premises wherever I can afford, where I could have tutors come in or people to teach others their skills. Maybe people would come in and learn these skills in a voluntary way or as a learning opportunity and for them get paid alongside it.”
She emphatically states that she does not want to sell her designs on the back of the stories of the people who make them. “I don’t want to exploit the suffering that people may have been through. That’s not a very responsible thing to do. I never want that to be a selling point of my products, I want their stories only to be very secondary.”
The current Archie Mac collection ‘Toy Story’ features a plethora of toys from childhoods past and present. She grabs a couple of boldly patterned cushions: “This is basically Marge Simpson’s hair and came from my friend’s 1980’s childhood.” Really? Where? And lo and behold; Marge’s blue barnet does indeed pop up.
She points at another: “These are based around Barbie, Connect4 and Power Rangers, whilst this is the Gingerbread Man!” The toys come from Freecycle, then are photographed and scrambled through a computer programme into bold kaleidoscopic patterns. “Everything I do is heavily influenced by my old kaleidoscope,” she laughs. “The kaleidoscope is the only thing that distracts me when I work from home. I have to hide it otherwise I will go ‘oh I wonder what a bag of beads would look like in it..?’”
Robyn is already in the midst of designing her next collection. It is inspired by her old, unconventional Year 5 teacher, Miss Miller. “She made us jump up and down on top of our desks if we had hiccups, and was told off for wearing black tights with neon-coloured tropical fish,” laughs Robyn. “So, ever since I started designing I have been thinking ‘I need to make Miss Miller’s tights!”