29th January 2018

Onome Otite is an illustrative textile artist who uses a variety of self-taught techniques to create her artworks. She has built her business in just a few years thanks to the support of the Cockpit Arts | The Prince’s Trust Creative Careers Programme, which she joined in 2016. She has won several newcomer awards, exhibited her work in central London and recently designed the front cover for style bible Estila magazine.

After graduating from the London College of Communication with an honours degree in Film and Video in 2010, Onome worked in photography and styling for a number of years on Interior shoots for international design magazines such as Wallpaper* and World of Interiors, as well as retailers including IKEA, John Lewis and Selfridges. It was while designing a space for a tailor that she hit upon the idea of combining textile collage with illustration. “I really liked the imagery I created for the mood board on that project,” Onome explains. “I enjoyed the process of making, so I kept on doing this on the side.” She soon accumulated a body of work and exhibited at a space in central London. “I got some really good feedback from the public, but these were original artworks. I wanted to understand how I could create and sell work that was more affordable.”

Onome turned to The Prince’s Trust and embarked on a business enterprise course. It was here that she first heard about the Creative Careers Programme offered through Cockpit Arts. This provides young people working in crafts a year’s free studio space, along with business support and mentoring from craft specialists. “At that point I really needed a studio space to start creating more work,” Onome explains. “The Prince’s Trust is great at giving general business advice – but I knew that I would receive mentoring that was much more focussed on craft at Cockpit.”

Onome was awarded a free studio space at Cockpit Arts’ Holborn incubator in September 2016. Now in her second year, she currently benefits from subsidised studio rates. “It’s given me the freedom to focus on my craft and my product, as well as the business side of things, without having to worry too much about paying the rent,” she says.

Since her arrival, Onome has immersed herself in the Cockpit community, taking advantage of all the professional development opportunities on offer. “It’s really helped me focus on where I want my business to go, and has given me perspective on what’s important,” she says. Sharing a studio with other makers has also proved hugely beneficial. “You get a lot from just being in the community,” she stresses. “You’re in a space where everyone is in the same boat, whether they’ve been there for 10 years or one year. Everyone’s trying to establish themselves.”

Early on, Cockpit introduced Onome to Fig Taylor from the Association of Illustrators. At the time, she was exploring the idea of licensing her designs. “It’s great to be able to sit down with somebody and share your ideas and get feedback,” she says. “Fig Taylor was helpful in identifying and clarifying the different avenues I could go down as an illustrator. In the end I knew I wanted to work more collaboratively, to take on a client’s ideas and ethics and tailor a design to my aesthetic; it’s why I started this up in the first place. It may be the longer and harder route, but for me it’s not about churning out new designs every quarter.”

Just five months after arriving at Cockpit, Onome was selected as one of five finalists for the London Evening Standard Young Progress Makers Awards. This involved pitching to a panel of industry experts in front of an audience at the Round House in London. “Before coming to Cockpit I would probably have backed out of doing something like that!” she laughs. “But I was already in the habit of speaking about my business to the general public thanks to Cockpit’s Open Studio events, which was a real confidence builder.” She worked on her pitch with Imogen Lawry, Cockpit’s Business Incubation Project Manager and says that on the night it was as scary as she’d feared – but would do it again! “Although I didn’t win, the experience has had a roll-on effect. It’s given me the confidence to put myself forward, meet new people and introduce them to what I do. It’s really helped me build my profile and my business acumen.” Onome has stayed in touch with the panel and the Evening Standard. As a result she was offered exhibition space in central London. She was also assigned Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council, as a mentor as part of the Evening Standard’s ‘Progress 1000 Mentorship Programme’, and is exploring opportunities to develop her brand and collaborate with international designers.

Although Onome has progressed beyond the Creative Careers programme, she hopes to stay on at Cockpit Arts. With support from the Business Incubation team, she is busy writing proposals for grants and bursary schemes, and is currently preparing for an upcoming exhibition at Circus in central London in June. “This was an opportunity that was posted on Cockpit’s internal email,” she explains. “I would not have known about it otherwise. It’s the great thing about being part of this community: everyone pushes each other on. I’m definitely not ready to leave yet. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”