Friday, August 28, 2009

Interview - Sally Campbell

Sally Campbell with some of her talented collaborators in India - such incredible colours!

Fabrics drying in the sun

The finished product - Sally Campbell quilts

You might recall my photos of Sally Campbell's beautiful textiles at Design:Made:Trade in Melbourne a month or so ago.... It was so, so lovely to meet Sally in person... I've admired her from afar ever since reading a lovely article about her in Vogue Living a couple of years ago... (you can download that article from Sally's website here - it also has some gorgeous shots of Sally's Sydney home!)

Sally is such an inspiration! After 25 years working as a set and costume designer in the Australian film industry, Sally's passion for beautiful textiles eventually inspired her to produce her own collection. Sally's unique textiles are truly exquisite, and as they're hand-crafted, no two pieces are ever quite the same. Personally I feel so inspired by Sally's career move from film into textile design...! It's good to know what creative opportunities can come from years spent working in the film industry!

Sally set up her business in 2005, and now travels to many remote communities in India each year with her husband Greg in tow. She has discovered the incredible talents of women in many different regions - from exquisite applique work in the desert near Pakistan, to natural dye block printers in Rajasthan, village weavers in Bengal, and intricate hand embroiderers in Lucknow. Sally hopes her business can play a role in keeping these ancient crafts alive amidst what she calls the 'manic rush to modernisation'.

Thanks so much to Sally for her time and all these beautiful images! For more info on Sally's work, or to buy her products online, please visit her website!

Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?

I worked for 25 years as a set and costume designer in the Australian film industry. The nomadic life gave me an endless passion for travelling the world and collecting textiles. Filming in India I met wonderful people who introduced me to an interpreter with textile contacts ...this led to many adventures into the desert of Rajasthan and visiting all the villages famous for block printing in natural dyes and applique (cut work).

You spent many years working in the Australian film industry as a set and costume designer, before taking the plunge and starting your own textile business. What prompted this brave move!?

Recovering from throat cancer gave me heaps of new courage and confidence to try a new career. Textiles and travel were the obvious magnets beckoning me.

Your textiles are handcrafted in India… how did you go about initially setting up relationships with Indian artisans, and what challenges have you faced in dealing with craftspeople based so far away?

I ploughed naively into the whole business armed with passion, enthusiasm and determination. Not realising for a second the endless difficulties. Everywhere we went there were different dialects and difficult interpreters. I was confronted with class and caste problems plus enormous distances between villages. Our modes of transport are beyond... tuk tuks, camels, rusty Ambassador cars, trains and planes. And the heat is to be believed.

There is always so much to learn from all the different crafts. Trying to find the best artisans and always experimenting with new ideas. I only discover the problems through hands on experience. There are constant hiccups and hilarity. All my years working in the film industry has been invaluable, as every day there is a crisis. All problems have to be solved right now.... it's all about spontaneity. It doesn't get easier but is mostly challenging, fun and inspiring.

How is your business structured? Do you outsource any key tasks, or employ fulltime staff aside from the India-based production?

My business consists of me and my brilliant husband Greg. He is the chief organiser and planner. We have the help of a few amazing people in Sydney.... with graphics, sewing, prop making, web-site and people to lift and shove huge boxes full of textiles. We take it all one step at a time as it always evolving.

Where do you turn for inspiration – fine art, travel, books, magazines etc?

My inspiration can be found in a leaf, vegetable, flower or frock. Travelling keeps the juices flowing full of wonderment. Am constantly inspired by humour, art, nature, books, friends and family... also strangers. Thank goodness I am inspired by something every day.

Which designers, artists or creative people do you admire?

I admire Japanese designers. Endless textile artists from Japan, India and Africa. I love painters from all periods including my sister Cressida Campbell's woodblocks.... the list is endless.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

In Sydney - as soon as my eyes open I get my look together for the day, do my exercises and then I rock into life. Every day is different. It could be taking photos for the web-site, sending off orders, creating new designs, visiting sewers and answering endless e-mails and phone calls to India.

In India - the day begins travelling to a remote village in Bengal or Rajasthan overseeing production of weaving, stitching and blockprinting. Checking orders, experimenting with dying new colours, discussing new designs. All the while throwing down endless amounts of water under a giant hat to stave off the heat....and generally marvelling at my wonderous new life.

What are you most proud of professionally?

Creating a new career for myself and doing my bit in helping to keep eco friendly traditional crafts alive, hoping to give more employment and education to the families I work with.

What would be your dream project?

I am already doing my dream project. My aim is to make people more aware of the beauty in handmade naturally dyed textiles.

What are you looking forward to??

Leaving for India next week and heading into the heat and monsoon.

Sydney Questions –

What are some of your favourite Sydney retailers who stock interesting textiles and soft furnishings?

Chee Soon and Fitzgerald, Society Inc and Planet... and my fave textile shop Edo Arts who specialise in old Japanese textiles.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

Last night at the Zen Japanese restaurant in Randwick celebrating the end of our sale.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

On the verandah sipping a coffee and eating a croissant with my mothers home made marmalade while I read the papers.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Wonderous walks and swimming at Little Bay.


  1. I bought a quilt from Sally at Design Made Trade. Sally and her husband were indeed really nice and inspiring people. I love my quilt even more knowing its story:) clea

  2. Wow, what an inspiring story and what a great interview! She's got such lovely designs. I love all the colors, patterns & textures! And especially, how wonderful of her to employ families in India... Amazing woman, amazing talent... =)

  3. Hi Lucy. I love Sally Campbell's textiles. Great interview. Love the pics! Wini