Updated: Apr 18
Meet Gemma Forde who decided to establish her own crafting business after ten years of travelling, working and living all over the world.
The artisan maker, teacher and traveller Gemma’s life before ‘Lark Design Make’
When asked about design, Gemma Forde speaks of being a problem solver and maker.
Gemma inherited her dad’s mathematical skills and mum’s artistic flare. She got to use both by completing a degree in Product Design which she loved as it involves both design and making. After getting her degree from the University of Glamorgan, she moved to New Zealand where she worked at a backpackers hostel and got her thirst for travelling. Coming back to teach Design & Technology at Newport University and taking her first job in Swindon. After a challenging 4 years she decided to move to Kuala Lumpur where she got involved in charity work and got a role at an International school.
She taught graphic and product design to 11 - 18 year olds. Gemma was always looking for new ways of developing her teaching and design skills. As she says “I was never specialized in graphics but it happened, as a teacher you just kind of get pushed into new things.”
She had to learn Photoshop and Illustrator and taught kids about the importance of having certain colors and fonts as their brand. She found it interesting that teaching graphics has actually helped her start and brand her own business.
Gemma living ‘a different life’ in Shanghai
“I remember a supply teacher while I was in Swindon telling me about working in Hong Kong and about international teaching, I was just amazed.” Gemma reflected on this and thought going East would give a different perspective and international exposure. She moved to Shanghai in 2012 where she stayed for five years as she found fascinating facilities of a design department and unbelievable 3D printers and laser cutters.
“It was amazing, travelling around on my bicycle and working quite hard but playing quite hard as well and then travel, was insane [..] It was just a different life.”
For the last five years she has taught in a friend’s studio, called ‘Craft’d Shanghai’. There, she experimented a lot of her classes while helping them organise events.
As a teacher, she had the chance to travel for 12 weeks per year and she would always spend those in different places. As part of her role in Shanghai, she headed the school trips which expanded her creative juices to import cultural sentiments of Florida, Prague and Thailand. The initial stages were exciting, but after some time, there was a longing for home and family.
The traveller in her though was not ready yet and in her last year teaching abroad
she visited 18 countries including Russia, Cambodia & Fiji.
Gemma opens her own studio and creating ‘Lark Design Make’ brand
Coming back home, Gemma brought a lot of craft materials from Shanghai which was handy because there are lots of brilliant craft markets there.
Part 1: The creation of Lark Design Make Brand
When I asked Gemma about how she defined her brand’s Identity, she listed two things that would need to be kept in mind: colors and symbol.
I wanted navy and mustard as I like the calmness of these colours, they are also neutral which would hopefully attract mixed ages and sexes.
I always knew the logo would be a bird, I can’t really pinpoint a reason, maybe the Cardiff Blue Bird football team or maybe just their simple beauty.
“I looked on wikipedia all the birds that existed in the world and as soon as I saw the word ‘Lark’ I thought it was amazing because that means having fun doing things, it matched what I wanted the business to represent.”
Part 2: Having a mobile business
After having done crafting classes in her friends' studio in Shanghai, she came home and decided to get a van as she found the idea of the mobile business exciting. Driving around and teaching in different venues was a great start for Gemma to build her own network near her hometown while doing what she loves - crafting, teaching and socializing. As she says: "I did find that a little bit more stressful and a little bit more time consuming than I’d hoped. I had to pack and unpack the van and you had to promote the workshops to all different target markets. Nonetheless, not having a base was a problem as people would ask for things/materials that I didn’t have with me and every week I was almost a bit anxious about what question I would be asked.” That’s when she felt the need to settle.
Part 3: Settling - The Studio
Gemma spent much of her 20’s in Roath and has a big soft spot for its vibrancy. When she was looking for a venue to teach her mobile workshops she asked to use the space of Cardiff M.A.D.E, an independent coffee shop in Roath which supports local artists.
She started to do so and on one visit she spotted an empty room out the back but unfortunately she discovered it had already been hired. She continued to teach there for several months and on one visit the cafe owner asked her if she was still interested as the room had become available again. Gemma jumped at the chance as Roath was feeling like home again.
Entering at Gemma’s studio, you can see great hand crafted work, made with detail to attention, style and personality. From soap making to leather jewelry and espadrille making, kids and adults find a place to inspire and get inspired.
What Gemma enjoys most about that job and her new business is meeting new people and learning new things. “ Someone does something different, that I never thought possible. People attach things in different ways, have different methods of closing or opening something they make, different ways of using a letter.
“Loads of those things now shape the way I teach because they’re such good ideas.”
Gemma keeps up the mobile business as she has got some really good venues that she wants to keep supporting while keep looking for new ones because she thinks it is important and challenging for herself to meet new people and try new things. If you don’t meet her at her studio at Lochaber St, you may find her in local venues or upcoming Festivals.
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Learn more about Lark Design Make and Gemma’s workshops: @Larkdesignmake
Editor & Photographer: Eftychia Ntzereme
Copy Editing: Alegria Bohem
Interviewee: Gemma Forde
Location: Cardiff, UK
Date of Publish: 19|8|2019