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Interview · Bruce Slorach & Sophie Tatlow of Utopia Goods

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 30th November 2012

Utopia Goods cushions.  Centre – flowering gum classic blue cushion.  Photo – Terence Chin.

Utopia Goods hand stitched quilt.  Photo – Terence Chin.

Bruce’s amazing hand drawings which formed the basis of their incredible ‘flowering gum’ print.  Photo – Lucy Feagins.

Bruce Slorach and Sophie Tatlow of Utopia Goods. Photo – Terence Chin

OK guys I hope you are paying attention because today’s interview is an introduction to one seriously amazing Sydney-based creative team whose new label, Utopia Goods, is headed for inevitable CULT STATUS.  If you need a comparison I’d say they’e kind of like a Sydney version of Perks and Mini (PAM).  (Sorry I know such comparisons are fraught with danger but you know, it seems like a relevant and accurate point to make!).

Bruce Slorach and Sophie Tatlow are partners in life and in business.  (If their names sound familiar, that’s because you’ve admired Bruce and Sophie’s stunning Sydney home here!). Together, they run Deuce Design, an incredibly well respected design /communications studio in Sydney’s Surry Hills.  Deuce Design tackle a great variety of work from wayfinding to branding to web and print design.  They’ve been going strong since 2000!

But it’s Sophie and Bruce’s NEW project that I’m mainly keen to introduce you to today.  Utopia Goods is a labour of love for these passionate design afficionados.  Under this name, Bruce and Sophie have spent the past 12 months researching, designing and producing an incredible range of homewares, soft furnishings and accessories, all using an extensive collection of new textile designs, based on Bruce’s own hand drawings.

The Utopian Goods range is inspired by nostalgic Australiana-inpspired motifs.  Think hand rendered kangaroos and koalas, luscious Waratah in various vibrant colourways, and a great variety of Australian birds. There’s always a kind of cringe factor that comes into play with overtly ‘Australian’ motifs in design, but something tells me that’s all about to change!   As Sophie says in the interview below, aside from given Sophie and Bruce the opportunity to reclaim creative freedom and design their own product range from scratch (which they’ve been dying to do after twelve years running their design studio!) Utopia Goods allows them to explore their long held ambition of creating an Australiana-centric design business, and ‘turn the cultural cringe into a binge!’

Sydneysiders!  This is one for you – Utopia Goods is launching with a pop-up shop-in-shop at Ariel Bookshop in Paddington, opening this weekend!  In keeping with their tradition of doing things properly, Bruce designed the most incredible little interior fit for this debut retail venture.  There were CAD drawings, people.  I saw them with my own eyeballs.

We’re also incredibly chuffed to be stocking just a handful of our favourite items from Utopia Goods’ debut collection at The Design Files Open House in Melbourne this week!  Do pop in to check them out in person – you won’t be disappointed. (Master bedroom, mainly ;)

Hi Sophie and Bruce! Tell us a little bit about your respective career backgrounds – what did you do before launching Deuce, when and why did you start Deuce, and what led you to launching Utopia Goods this year?

Sophie: For the past twelve years I’ve had Deuce Design with Bruce. Prior to that I was a freelance copywriter and a ‘career student’. While I was writing I completed a design diploma then my masters degree and worked across a random selection of freelance writing projects. I had a brief stint as a jeweler and object designer.

Bruce: My career background was in fashion. Following my fine arts degree (VCA in Melbourne) I started my fashion business called Abyss, then Funk Essentials. I did that for twelve years and then moved to Sydney to be the design director at Mambo. Then we set up Deuce Design. In one-way or another, I’ve had a design business my whole career.

We launched Utopia Goods for LOTS of reasons. Here we go:

1. Utopia Goods has given us the opportunity to have creative freedom together and back something we believe in. There are certain frustrations and limitations that can come with some client projects.

2. We want to avoid the ‘throwaway’ notion of fast fashion and disposable design collateral and create quality keepsakes. Everything we’re designing has a story to it.

3. Promote the great things about the Australian landscape, flora, fauna etc.

4. Take Bruce’s textile design skills off ‘ice’ and put into into action. It’s about time… he’s super talented!

5. Put our long held ambition of creating an Australiana-centric design business together, and turn the cultural cringe into a binge!

Cicada arrow mix cushion by Utopia Goods.

State of Waratah classic cushion by Utopia Goods.
How long has Utopia Goods been in development?

Sophie: It’s been a three-year incubation and conversation (or longer) but officially we put the wheels in motion towards the end of 2011. I wrote a comprehensive business and design strategy and then we spent months researching product, homewares, textiles, bags, manufacturers and retailers (both here and internationally).

But really, we’ve been building up to it since we’ve had Deuce Design. Deuce Design has been pivotal in the creation of Utopia Goods. Because Deuce is a multi-disciplinary design studio it has given us the skills, intellectual property and experience in setting up the Utopia Goods business. With Utopia Goods, we have designed and executed every aspect of the business from the strategy, naming, branding, packaging, copywriting, website, textile design, product design, store design, marketing…you name it! We’re all over it with Felix and Nicole our amazing Deuce Design staff.

Utopia Goods amazing quilt, created using all new textiles designed by Bruce. Photos – Terence Chin.
Utopia Goods draws on nostalgic Australiana-inspired themes – you guys have had a fascination for this kind of imagery for a long time. What is it you love about all things Australiana?

Sophie: I’m obsessed with good stories, words, research and quirky collectables. I still can’t believe that there was a whole industry in the ’70s turning kangaroos into ashtrays and koalas in beer mugs. Utopia Goods isn’t so much about Australiana but also about flora and fauna, the landscape and the uniqness of Australian culture. We have a great book collection, references and Australian pieces. I’m passionate about what I call our ‘Utopian Bingeism’ and creating a unique Australian handwriting. We’re not chasing atrend, we want to create a design business with a good ideology and a strong sense of place.

Bruce: We’re both obsessive but I’m obsessed with textile design, drawing, painting, illustration and the decorative arts. I have a long held fascination with popular culture. The combination of our diverse interests and skills has created Utopia Goods. I love Australiana but I really love the idea of combining my creative influences with Australiana. William Morris, Josef Frank, Fornasetti, Lucien Henry and Gordon Andrews (just to name a few) have had a big influence on the way I see textile design. I love the bush and try to spend as much time as I can bush walking.

Flowering Gum scarf by Utopia Goods.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of your business? For instance where is your studio based, how many people do you employ, is there a lot of crossover everyday between your client work and your own product development and production for Utopia Goods? What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Sophie: We’re based in Surry Hills and have a small team of talented designers (great multi-taskers!). A typical day is atypical and diverse. Emails. Writing. Meetings.Problem solving. Lots of discussions with Bruce and different clients. Juggling the complexity of running two businesses. Keeping everyone happy. The two businesses are entwined on many levels.

Bruce: Constant client negotiation and designing. There is a big cross over with Utopia Goods and Deuce Design in terms of output. However every Deuce Design job is unique and challenging.

Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you liking at the moment?

Sophie: For clothing I like Rittenhouse (Lucas Grogan range was great), Joanna Fowles
scarves, and Jen Booth’s leather lockets. Many, many artists and photographers. Where do you start? Or where do you finish? From the old to the new – Lisa Roet, Caroline Rothwell,Bill Henson, Martin Sharpe, Gywn Hanssen Piggott, Fairlie Kingston (the caravan show was gorgeous), Lucy Culliton plus more and more.

Bruce: Sophie has summed up our inspirations perfectly, but there are so many more we could name!

Can you list for us your top 5 favourite resources across any media that you turn to regularly for a bolt of creative inspiration?!

At the moment we’re finding that the following resources are definitely providing us with some guaranteed and sometimes much needed inspiration: vintage and antiquarian book stores, Inventory Magazine, Etsy, The New Yorker (because of the depth of research and story ideas), The Manhattan Vintage Fair and Brooklyn Flea (though it’s not a regular pursuit due to being on the opposite side of the globe!), the bookshelves at Deuce Design, the bush (though it’s not technically a media resource!), and finally a very long list of websites for eye candy.

What would be your dream creative project?

Sophie: Utopia Goods and The Utopia Goods Hotel is a big fantasy of mine. Imagine Waratahs and flowering gums fabric everywhere, the odd Rock Wallaby motif somewhere, and some bush native flowers taking over a space! And then of course I have my long held ambition to write a long, compelling novel with a gusty female protagonist who finds utopia.

Bruce: Utopia Goods and the possibility of its expansion into international markets. Tokyo has always been an ambition. I love it.

Utopia Goods fabric swatches in the studio.  Photo – Lucy Feagins.

SYDNEY QUESTIONS

What can visitors expect to see in your upcoming pop-up shop-in-shop at Ariel Books?

A custom built installation designed by Bruce featuring our range of beautiful bright fabrics that are used across scarves, soft furnishing and bags. There are a few surprises in store for our visitors.

Your favourite Sydney neighborhood and why?

Sophie: Cliched I know, but probably Surry Hills. I’ve worked in Surry Hills for nearly twenty years. It feels familiar and I know lots of people in the ‘hood. I like the diversity in the community though there have been many changes in the last 5 years.

Bruce: Another cliché but Bondi. I love the stretch of water between the north and south headlands where you can swim point to point. It’s the best ocean swim in the world.

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

Sophie: Some great friends had a birthday lunch for thirty people in a wool shed in the Southern Highlands on Saturday. It was a Utopian ideal. Beautiful food, lush views, bush flowers and great company. It couldn’t have been more Australian both in hospitality, authenticity and design.

Bruce: Frateli Paradiso or Sushi Yachiyo. I was going to say the above but Sophie got
there first.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Sophie: Coffee, bootcamp or spin class burning some kjs. Then coffee with Bruce and Henri. As low key as possible with the three us together (I must be getting old!).

Bruce: Cycling at 6am to Waterfall then coffee with Sophie and Henri.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

The Goods Line. It’s a new project we’re working on in Ultimo. It’s an historic disused rail
corridor soon to be transformed into Sydney’s own High Line.

Amazing chair upholstered in Utopia Goods’ flowering gum print!  Photo – Terence Chin.

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 30th November 2012

34 comments

  • Christine Boyle 2 years ago

    Utopia Goods….I love your prints!~!!!! Aaagh awesome Australiana!!!! and the colours you’ve used are vibrant and contemporary…YUM! Just wondering if you have also been able to keep the printing and manufacturing aspects of the range within Australia??

  • Clare 2 years ago

    I’m crazy about Australiana. So glad to see this stuff!

  • Disco 2 years ago

    How are they like PAM? Blatant Jenny Kee and Romance Was Born references for sure, but the only thing in common with PAM is that they are a couple and middle aged. Prints are beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but you are a design blog, so get your references right.

  • Jenny P 2 years ago

    This stuff is fantastic! I love it! I remember Bruce Slorach’s textiles from the early 90s and I’ve seen it recently at the Powerhouse and NGV. I used to have a fantastic crazy outfit that I’ve still got (too old to wear). Well done guys. Will you be making clothes?

  • Peter Chisel 2 years ago

    Well done Utopia Goods. Long time coming. (For what it’s worth doesn’t look a thing like RWB. Maybe the wackiness?) Love the waratah and gumtree prints. Where can I buy it in Melbourne?

  • Mike 2 years ago

    Looks awesome I can’t wait to see it at Areaial on Wednesday.

  • Liz Courtney 2 years ago

    Wow..!
    What a great range of products..I especially love the waratah print with fluoro. I know what family and friends will be receiving this Christmas.Well done guys!

  • Helen Morrison 2 years ago

    Hi Bruce and Sophie,
    Ctongratulations on finally giving Australian icons a lift to the 21st century. Your range is spectacular and I’m sure it will be our new iconic Australian look for the next 25 years…or at least it certainly deserves to be there.
    Hope the launch is all you wish for and more.
    Best wishes
    Helen M.

  • Helen 2 years ago

    An Aussie bush Christmas anyone? Pack a hamper, Two Metre Tall Ales and Bruce & Sophie’s fantastic cushions and quilts – Utopia!

  • Judi Jenkin 2 years ago

    What a stunning collection of beautiful Australian designed fabrics. The perfect gift for friends overseas.
    Hope the launch goes well.
    Congratulations.

  • Fi 2 years ago

    Passion, imagination and intelligence are reflected in this couple’s brilliant and unique concepts. These designs are the very essence of Australia. These beautiful products will enrich any home. Bravo!!!!!

  • Lesley 2 years ago

    It is great to see that the designfiles always seeks out interesting profiles on ceaative people doing amazing things. I am looking forward to visiting the designfiles open house

  • HenrI 2 years ago

    Wow! So Australian, can’t wait to buy some amazing scarves. All your quilts look very cool.

  • Gary Cooper 2 years ago

    How thrilling to see two people with such passion for our wonderful natural world creating these sublime fabrics I thought the blue kangaroo fabric was stunning I am sure your items will fill a much neede niche in the world sincerely Gary Hamilton Victoria

  • Kate 2 years ago

    Gorgeous! I want that lovely chair. Oh, I so love to come across such creativity and inspiration right on my doorstep. Thank you Sophie and Bruce – keep it up.

  • Jacquette 2 years ago

    …… now I can visit family and friends abroad laden with gifts from home that I can feel proud of …thank you Utopia Goods

  • Heather Heard 2 years ago

    A great idea to use the magnificence of the Australian bush for your design theme.Should be well received by people who like something new ,especially for the tourist market.

  • Lizzie 2 years ago

    Beautiful colours and fabrics. I love the quilts and the fluro waratah. Congratulations Bruce and Sophie.

  • Jactation 2 years ago

    Another really interesting story from the Design Files.Great to see Bruce Slorach is designing textiles again with an antipodean edge.
    I remember his early fabrics and their cult appeal.Great to see they’re at it again. Thanks Lucy.

  • Suzi Mann 2 years ago

    We live in the most diverse and beautiful country in the world, sadly most Aussies don’t realise this, but, with fabulous designs such as yours I’m sure you will awaken many more of us, and from there hopefully the world, I will be proud to take your fabulous pieces back to Europe and Africa as gifts, thank you Bruce and Sophie xxx

  • Alastair Maclean 2 years ago

    Utterly professional , most original and creative designs , all very enticing . Excellent to see such superior and imaginative stock emanating from Australia . Reminds one of the early days of marimekko , when it was first introduced to Oz. Your work and commitment to be applauded.

  • Roz Ware 2 years ago

    Wow, what beautiful prints! Inspired to recover the old chair I don’t like! And what a wonderful story, truly inspirational.

  • Robin Barker 2 years ago

    Stunning and original design destined to bring Soph and Bruce fame and fortune. I can hardly wait to acquire my bag on Wednesday, I know it will be a collector’s item. What a way to celebrate our beautiful country, thanks you two.

  • Sophie 2 years ago

    really exciting stuff, very dynamic.

  • Elizabeth 2 years ago

    What an inspiration…looks fantastic and wish Utopia every success…..

  • Fiona 2 years ago

    Oh dear, I feel like such a hipster. Visitied Five Boroughs today (thanks, TDF) to look for some Uimi blankets (thanks, TDF), and they recommended I come back in a few weeks as they have “great new label” coming in called Utopia…

  • Ali 2 years ago

    Original designs as always! Good luck Utopia! We all hope the launch goes well.

  • Janette 2 years ago

    Great work. I would love to learn how to design for fabric. Just wonderful!

  • Eamonn 2 years ago

    They look great! Saw them @ standard store the other day. Can’t wait till the opening at Ariel tonight!

  • Eliza 2 years ago

    Hello Bruce and Sophie, Such a delight to see beautiful fabric and creative art together again. I still have some 80’s designs from Bruce’s Melbourne days. Love the style.

  • Internet Cafe 2 years ago

    I such as the important info you deliver with your articles or blog posts.I’ll bookmark your blog page and check out all over again here recurrently.I’m pretty absolutely sure I’ll find out a lot of new stuff appropriate here! Very good luck with the subsequent!

  • dentist india 2 years ago

    I similar to the invaluable data you give in your reports.I will bookmark your weblog and test all over again here continually.I am rather definitely sure I will master quite a bit of latest stuff best suited here! Fantastic luck for the future!

  • nerea fan de garra 9 months ago

    What a stunning collection of beautiful Australian designed fabrics. The perfect gift for friends overseas.
    Hope the launch goes well.
    Congratulations.

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