Meet Ollie of Betty Buckinghamshire on Etsy
Ollie is one of the most beautiful people I've ever 'met.' And it gives me the outmost pleasure to have her here so you can meet her to. I am learning many new things about her through this interview. One of the things I love most about her is how open and full of life she is.
A little about yourself
My name is Ollie and I'm 54 years old. I live in the UK on the South Coast in Hastings. Hastings is a small town full of very individualistic - some may say slightly eccentric, creative people – and I love it!
My father was Nigerian and my mother English/Welsh but I was brought up by my aunt and uncle in Buckinghamshire then Surrey – places that in the 1960/70s hardly knew black people existed!
I left home when I was 16 and moved to London after a year or two.Having studied fashion and textiles for a couple of years in my 20s and after running 4 market stalls a week I opened a shop, The Glorious Clothing Company with my friend Jane in Islington North London. We sold vintage clothing and clothing made by as yet undiscovered designers such as Christa Davis
We had a great time, our clothes were regularly featured in magazines such as The Face (our very first item featured was a pair of 1970s bikini bottoms worn by a very young Kate Moss), they were used in theatre productions - the one I'm most proud of is Cabaret starring Alan Cumming as the MC and our customers included Bjork and Suede.
What is your Craft story?
All good things come to an end and 10 years later Jane moved to Spain and I moved to Sussex. By now I had a lovely husband and 3 beautiful children.
I wanted to do something more meaningful, that took me deeper into life's mysteries so I studied alternative medicine. This took me on a long healing journey where I realised just what an effect being separated from my mother at 6 weeks old, only seeing her once a year when she came home on leave and being brought up mixed race in a community that ignored or rejected half of my heritage had had on me. I had gone badly off the rails as a teenager, which included heavy drug use, I was in abusive relationships til my 20s, a single parent with a 2 year old when I was 22 and even though I loved my shop behind the scenes I had little self esteem.
I was in practice as a homeopath for a while and as the patients I treated healed, often their creative side would come alive and they would decide to go to college to study art. I found myself yearning to do the same. I had never wanted to study art before but both my parents were artists – my father had come over from Nigeria to study at the Royal College of Art where he met my mother. After giving birth to me, she left me with her sister and went to live in Nigeria to teach art. This seemed the next step in my healing journey.
I secured a place at my local college to do an art foundation. Sometime while I was there I remembered I could sew (I had actually forgotten - I hadn't done it for so long!) and thought I could explore my African roots and help fund my studies by sewing garments made from African Wax prints.
As I learnt about wax prints I found that they originated in Indonesia, then the Dutch and the British developed the technology to mass produce them. African soldiers had long been bringing home wax printed textiles from Indonesia so when the Indonesians weren't interested in buying the mass produced versions the Dutch and British turned to the African market where they took off big time.
I really like that wax prints aren't what they seem to be at first glance - they seem to fit my story very well.
The name of my shop – Betty Buckinghamshire - came from this idea. I have a picture of myself as a child standing under a willow tree in our garden in Buckinghamshire looking very awkward wearing traditional Nigerian costume. I showed it to a friend and he said “ooo Betty Buckinghamshire!” And I thought yes that's me - Betty Buckinghamshire – displaced, not sure of where I fit in, learning to feel comfortable with who I am and my mixed heritage.
What inspires you?
Through working with wax prints I have developed a pride in my roots which was missing before. And to my delight as I look around me I saw people like me with African blood coursing through their veins stepping out of the shadows and celebrating their roots, their creativity, themselves! Maybe I am only seeing what I am feeling myself, but it does appear to me that before, even when there was a pride in being black, there was a certain defiance behind it where now there seems to be more of a sense of joy and self-acceptance.
I am also inspired by my vintage clothing/textiles background and tend to look to any time between Edwardian times and the present day when I choose what to make. I love Yinka Shonibare's work and how fantastic wax prints look made up in what is referred to as "Western" style clothing, whatever the era. I am still developing my style and learning on the job – I have a huge list of things I want to make, but each item takes time to develop – I am having to learn patience, not my strong point! But developing an item from scratch is ultimately very satisfying though it leaves plenty of room for frustration, if you're me - so I have recently also started buying and selling vintage stuff to try and appease my need for instant gratification!
How did you come to be on Etsy, do you sell anywhere else or would you like to?
My daughter discovered Etsy long before I did but once I understood what it was all about it has been a godsend to me. Having come from a market background, Etsy was a natural place for me to set up shop – a virtual market place where I can be myself, list as little or as much as I want and sell to a niche market from all over the world. I love it!
I work from home and do everything myself - sourcing the fabrics, the thread and zips, the design and making, the photographing, illustrating and listing, contact with customers and packing and posting sold items. I find though that I miss daily contact with actual people so when a new weekly market started locally I jumped at the chance to sign up for that. It's been brilliant to get out of the house even though the first few weeks have been freezing cold, with snow, hail, gale force winds and rain!!
Since then I find myself signing up for several one-off events too, there's always loads going on in this town and over summer we have a lot of tourists so there is great potential for selling without having to go too far away. I'm not getting any younger and I find the markets pretty exhausting – I've gone a bit soft over the years - I'm hoping if I throw myself in I'll toughen up again!
What makes your work special and different from others
I think everyone's work is special and different if they stay true to themselves. Everything I have been through in my life, my journey to make sense of it and heal, my ancestral heritage - Nigerian, English and Welsh, my connection to the natural rhythms of life as a woman, my hopes and dreams for the future all influence the work I do now. - I am sometimes disappointed that all that amounts to is a skirt – but I hope something of my energy and love comes through what I make and through the interaction /connection there is with my lovely customers both on Etsy and at the markets.
I am no longer in practise as a therapist but my dream is to train as a psychotherapist and develop my own healing practice using psychotherapy alongside the alternative healing therapies I have qualified in already. My ultimate desire is to help others who feel displaced, misunderstood, to come home to themselves. On the surface that seems like a simple task but I know from my own experience it can be the hardest journey ever to embark on. I found I had to heal myself and develop an inner stability that was missing, before I felt truly ready to help others. Once again my business is a vehicle to fund my training and I am hoping for a good summer so I can start my training this autumn.
As for my clothing business I would love to carry on with it but with more emphasis on creating my own textiles. If I am able to earn my main living from my therapy practise I would be able to experiment more with the things I create. I would love to dye and print fabrics with natural dyes and indigo, to produce one off garments and items for the home. I may be 54 but I feel my life is just beginning!
Thank you so, so much, Ollie!