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Interview · Brianna Pike and Anna Harves of Sixhands

Creative People

6th September, 2013
Lucy Feagins
Friday 6th September 2013

The Sydney workspace of textile design studio Six Hands.  Photo - Phu Tang.

The Sydney studio of textile design house Sixhands.  Photo - Phu Tang.

The Sydney studio of textile design house Sixhands.  Photo - Phu Tang.

Brianna Pike of Sixhands at work in her Sydney studio.  Photo - Phu Tang.

Colourful details from the desk of Brianna Pike!  Photo - Phu Tang.

Brianna Pike and Anna Harves of Sixhands in their Redfern studio.  Photo - Phu Tang.

I first discovered Sydney textile studio Sixhands early last year, and ran a very brief post about their work in February 2012.  I was instantly smitten with their vivid and incredibly detailed pattern designs - I can't actually believe it's taken me this long to pin them down for a proper full length interview!  Major oversight.  These girls are doing seriously amazing things.

Launched in 2006 by designers Brianna Pike, Anna Harves and at the time Alecia Jensen, (Alecia is no longer with the company), Sixhands originally made a name for themselves creating custom printed textiles for the fashion industry. Their stunning work was quickly picked up by many of Australia’s best known fashion brands, such as Sportsgirl, Alannah Hill, Wayne Cooper and Bianca Spender.

After following their fashion roots for a few years, Brianna and Anna were keen to produce a range under their own name.  Rather than go into competition with their existing fashion industry clients, they launched a range of  interiors fabrics, soft furnishings and home accessories under their own name, including cushions, lampshades, rugs and wallpapers.  This vibrant range now forms the basis of their core collection today, a truly stunning collection which incorporates highly detailed, layered visual elements - from soft painterly splashes, to strong linework and graphic photo prints.

In addition to producing their own collection, the Sixhands design team also offers custom textiles for interior designers, decorators and architects.  All their textiles and soft furnishings are designed and printed right here in Australia, with the exception of the rugs, which they have recently started producing through a fair trade network in India.

The Sixhands Collection is now represented Australia-wide by Radford Furnishings, who also represent iconic global brands such as Designers Guild and Cole & Son!

Tell us a little bit about each of your backgrounds – what did each of you study, how did you meet and what path led you to launching Sixhands in 2006?

Brianna: Anna and I both completed a Bachelor of Design in Fashion and Textiles at UTS. We became good friends during the course and remained friends when we started working in the industry. We both started out working for different fashion labels, but one day we got together, and the idea of starting something of our own came up.

We had identified a niche for exclusive textile prints, so we completed a small business management course, and on 30th November 2006, Sixhands was officially born. We brought in coloured pencils, art lines, paint brushes, and computers from home and never looked back!  For the first few years of the business Sixhands was purely a print design studio - we were doing monthly ranges that we would present to fashion labels.

Brianna Pike of  Sixhands. Photo - Phu Tang.
Sixhands now specialises in textiles for interiors settings, which includes a range of wallpapers, rugs, lampshades and custom furnishings. What was it that changed your focus from fashion textiles to interiors?

Anna: After following our fashion roots and designing for the fashion industry for a while, developing concepts for ranges that we would hand over to brands to produce through their own channels, we got to the stage where we wanted to express Sixhands signature style through our own collection. We didn't want to put ourselves in competition with all the fashion brands we would continue to work with, so we started a collection of interiors fabrics, and products that are the core of the collection we have today.  We started experimenting with new substrates, while also offering custom design services, which has now progressed into a range of high quality, locally made décor and lifestyle products for the home as well as commercial projects.

'Briar Rose Rust' wallpaper by Sixhands. Photo - Phu Tang.

'Briar Rose Rust' wallpaper by Sixhands in situ.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? How do you collaborate day to day? How do you approach the creation of a new textile design? Is each new design pre-planned or created very intuitively?

Anna: As friends and business partners we have a powerful dynamic and great creative chemistry - we share a similar view point and approach to design, and we work exceptionally well as a team.

We design and develop the collections together, we are very in tune with each other and are regularly in contact outside of work to share inspiration, ideas and experiences.  We are both pretty compulsive with our creativity!

We find inspiration from all around, a combination of collecting, photographing, travelling, library trips and research. We are both involved in design decisions, sometimes an artwork will be developed by one of us completely, but the development decisions will be made and agreed by us both. Other times we may both work on individual elements and one of us will do the design layout. Sometimes one of us will get up from drawing or designing on the computer and the other will sit down and take up where we have left off.

Designing as a team always means the artwork is resolved with fresh eyes and we can collectively critique it so that it is as refined as possible. Whichever way an artwork is developed, they are always a Sixhands design, we believe the collaboration process is what makes our prints so successful.

Brianna: Sixhands’ designs are created using hand-drawn and digital techniques and are created for screen printing, sublimation and direct digital production.  The approach is always a fusion of traditional craftsmanship with new technology. There is no exact recipe, each design takes its own path and sometimes you can find beauty in the mistakes during the process.

Designing onscreen allows you to experiment with placement and scale quite easily, compared to designing on paper. Once the pencil and gouache are down, it is hard to remove them!  Designing on screen allows us to take our painted or sketched elements and manipulate them to create the final desired effect.

While we to study and try to predict trends, we don’t aim for textiles that reflect popular fashion.  Our goal is to produce designs that are unique and seriously collectable, which chronicle our experiences and unique perspective.

'Skater Wattle' wallpaper by Sixhands.
Impressively, Sixhands still designs and produces almost all your textiles in Australia. Why is this commitment to keeping things local an important element of your business, and has it been challenging to maintain?

Brianna: We have always manufactured our textiles in Australia, as we have been very passionate about supporting and growing our local industry, and we are extremely conscious about making the most environmentally sustainable choices in production available and manufacturing in an ethical way.  We have very strong ideals and we are conscious of the long term impact of every little thing we do, and how that affects our environment and people.

Anna: Up until a few months ago, 100% of our products were made in Australia. With the extremely high cost of local rug manufacturing we were forced to look offshore. We were hesitant at first to explore manufacturing for a range of rugs outside of Australia, as everything else we produce is 100% Australian made.

We are very hands on with the printing, weaving and development of our textiles, and so it was important to find a company to work with in India that shared our core principles. Sixhands rugs are manufactured in India by a cottage industry trade of carpet artisans who work under the ‘Care and Fair’ trading certification, which prohibits the use of illegal child labour. The Care and Fair foundation has provided 13 schools and five health care centres, as well as five adult education projects and a student health care program for the benefit of local families working in carpet manufacturing.

India has a rich culture and history in textiles, and is a country abundant with craftsmen, we have been blown away by the diversity in techniques and a willingness to innovate and experiment with textures. Our rugs are beautifully made with New Zealand wool, we are really happy with our first offshore venture!

Brianna: All other Sixhands products are still manufactured locally. It has been challenging at times as the textile industry in Australia is rather small, you need to be constantly researching and evolving. On the upside, producing locally enables impeccable quality control and supports craftsmanship in Australia.

We have recently launched a collection of woven fabrics, which is really exciting for us. Our fabric collection has been mostly printed up until now so it’s great to move into a new dimension of Jacquard weaving. These fabrics are woven in Australia using traditional techniques.  They are a new facet to our extensive range, and have been really well received by interior designers.

Wallpaper samples by Sixhands. Photo - Phu Tang.
What does a typical day at work for the Sixhands duo involve?

It’s funny, no two days are the same in Sixhandsland. Our first activity is always our ‘coffee date’ where we debrief, catch up on life outside of work, and then it’s back to the studio. Over the years its become a bit of a joint ritual.

A typical day looks like:

6.00am - Anna is up. She’ll most likely be making a breakfast of oats with dates, nuts and honey, or a fresh fruit frappe with chia raisin toast.

7.00am - Anna leaves the northern beaches en route to the city. Bri is still asleep!

7.30am - Bri wakes up has a cup of green tea and a quick bowl of fruit and yogurt or cheese and tomato on toast before getting out the door to the studio with the morning bike ride.

8.00am - Anna has reached the city and jogs to the studio in Redfern.

8.30am - We both arrive in the studio and go through the daily diary so we know what everyone needs to be doing for the day.

9.00am - Morning coffee date.

9.30am-  We spend a little time surfing interior, fashion and design sites for latest news and trends and then check our emails.

10.00am - We could be doing anything from planning/concepts/production or marketing. Typical activities might include a site meeting for a custom design briefing, client work that includes researching concepts and developing artwork, designing new products/range planning, drawing/painting, working on artwork for the Sixhands collection, colour proofing, looking at colour strike offs for production, sourcing trips including meetings with suppliers, trip to the library, liaising with our sales team, planning an event or product launch, working on our website, creating images for press, styling shots, image retouching.

1.00pm - Go to the park for lunch, get some vitamin D.

2.00pm - After lunch we’ll get back to designing and range planning activities.

7.00pm - We are both likely to still be at the studio wrapping the day up. We keep both evenings and weekends free of any work-related activities and use that time for personal projects instead. It’s important to set boundaries and keep a good balance between work and the rest of life.

7.30pm - Bri rides home, where evenings include anything from watching documentaries to making jewellery and family time. Anna jogs back across the city to catch her ride, settles in the for drive home, after that she’ll cook up one of the 10 minute meals she has mastered after all these years of commuting and having late dinners.

Anna Harves at work in Sixhands' Sydney studio. Photo - Phu Tang.
Can you list for 5 creative resources across any media that you turn to regular for a bolt of creative inspiration?

Art books, Pinterest, Fbi Radio for music, blogs including Design*Sponge, designboom, Fashion Gone Rogue and The Design Files of course!

Which other local creatives, artists or designers are you loving at the moment?

Brianna: I’m loving Miranda Skoczek’s work, she has such beautiful colour palettes.

Anna: My favourite would have to be Manly’s The Shop Next Door, it emulates sun kissed shores, sandy feet and watermelon on a hot day. The store is like a candy shop of collectable surfboards, and has a changing atmosphere with its rotational concept ‘Manly Style’ hosting iconic brands like Deus Ex Machina and The Critical Slide Society. These guys really support local craftsmanship and fostering design networks.

Anna Harves in Sixhands' Sydney studio. Photo - Phu Tang.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Anna: We have received such great recognition for achievements in textile design, including being included in the Top 25 Australian Homeware Designers by Design Local, being voted ‘The Next Big Thing’ by GQ Magazine, being awarded Wallpaper of the Year by House and Garden Magazine, and being featured in the Sydney episode of TV series Designer Travel that aired throughout South Korea, Canada, Spain, United Kingdom, Italy and France! Sixhands spoke at the Habitus Conversation Series at Sydney Design week, and we've had artworks published by Spanish Patterns In Fashion book.

'Parlour Paradiso Denim' wallpaper by Sixhands.
What would be your dream creative project?

Brianna: To deck out the interior of our own private jet, design the food and drinks menu and staff uniforms!

What are you looking forward to?

Both in unison: Summer!

SYDNEY QUESTIONS

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

Brianna: Surry Hills, it’s a mecca of art, music, food, coffee, fashion and shopping. It’s close to the city and a short trip to the beach. What more could you want?

Anna: Probably Avalon. It's like an alternate country village, with a real local atmosphere, and it's only a short drive from Sydney's CBD. You are surrounded by beaches, bush and Australian wild life, it's a really inspiring place and not surprising that its a hub for so many Australian creatives in the fashion, art and music industry.

Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade?

Brianna: I love a trip to Reverse Garbage, you never know what you’ll find there. Anna and I regularly go to see what we can find. Vinnies is great too, we found bundles of coloured pompom trim on our last visit which has inspired a range of cushions.

Anna: We are also partial to markets and garage sales. Bri and I are diehard collectors and love finding unexpected gems. We have also been known to source components from hardware supplies. A great place to find inspiration is Garden St Bazaar in Narrabeen, we love mixing vintage and modern, and are often on the look out for collectable pieces to style up our studio and show along side our pieces in shoots.

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

Brianna: Mr Wong. We had an epic banquet lunch there with 40 friends spanning across two massive tables, I think we ordered everything on the menu!

Anna: China Beach. They have two pretty amazing cocktails, the ‘Ginger Cat’ and ‘Apple Pie’, not to mention an amazing menu and sensational décor designed by Burley Katon Halliday, with a little textile help from Sixhands!

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Brianna: On my regular breakfast date with my partner, good coffee and a hearty brekky. We look forward to it all week!

Anna: Beachfront with a local crew of friends catching up on all things amusing.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Brianna: Malibu’s sandwiches.

Anna: Pat and Stick's ice cream sandwiches in caramel pecan.

Another cute portrait 'cos I couldn't resist! Brianna Pike and Anna Harves of Sixhands in their Sydney studio.  Photo - Phu Tang.

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