25th June 2018
Just three years since setting up her business, Majeda Clarke is already garnering awards and praise for her luxury woven fabrics that fuse traditional techniques and her Bangladeshi heritage with contemporary patterns and colours. A recipient of the Cockpit Arts / Clothworkers’ Company Award (previously Clothworkers’ Foundation), she has used her two years in Cockpit Arts’ Deptford weave studio to set up her business. She is currently exhibiting in west London’s Mint Gallery and has been made a talent ambassador for the Crafts Council.
Majeda arrived in Deptford in the summer of 2016, less than a year after graduating with a 1st Class Honours in Textile Design from London Metropolitan University. “I’d received quite a lot of attention when I first graduated and this gave me the confidence to set up my own studio rather than work for someone else,” she explains. “Initially I’d worked at home on a hand loom, but I quickly found that impossible. I felt very isolated without any backing. It’s hard to break into an industry that’s already very established. I knew that Cockpit Arts had a great reputation and strong business support, so I applied for its Clothworkers’ Company Award.”
The award contributes towards the cost of a shared space in a dedicated weave studio equipped with a dye area and Leclerc, Louet and electronic ARM looms. Majeda shares the studio with four other Clothworkers’ Company awardees and together the group has formed a collective. They have their own Instagram account and collaborated on a group exhibition at TENT at the London Design Festival in September 2017. “It’s so much better when we work together,” explains Majeda. “Rather than slogging away on our own, we’re able to pool our resources. I think people take you more seriously if you are part of a group. It raises our individual profiles and gives us a group identity. Weaving is still a relatively unknown craft, so being part of a group makes it easier for people to discover us.”
With high-end professional looms costing upwards of £10-15,000 each, it’s been access to a fully-equipped weave studio that has proved especially beneficial to Majeda. “The award has been a huge boost financially. It’s enabled me to set up my business from scratch,” she confirms. “It’s allowed me the creative freedom to experiment and get my product right. If I’d had to carry the expense of buying a loom I very quickly would have had to work on more commercial products to cover my costs. Not having that financial burden, and not having to work extra hours elsewhere to earn other income, has allowed me time and space to create in the way that I wanted.”
Majeda also benefitted from a raft of business support offered by Cockpit’s in-house team. “All the Clothworkers award winners were given a series of initial training sessions which were absolutely fantastic,” she says. “We covered pricing and costing and profit – all the things that makers are not usually very good at thinking through.” One-to-one time with Madeleine Furness and Emma Jeffs from the Business Incubation Team proved equally useful. As Majeda explains: “Having their input has been a huge support because often you’re not sure yourself what’s going to work and you need someone with a little bit more experience to guide you.”
Taking every opportunity open to her, in 2017 Majeda applied for the Crafts Council’s intensive incubation programme, Hothouse. “I wanted to be able to hit the ground running as a business once my two years in the weave studio were up, so I made the most of my time,” she smiles. It was Madeleine Furness, who had previously worked on the Crafts Council’s professional development programmes, who suggested applying. “Maddie helped me write my application and acted as my referee,” says Majeda. “She totally supported it.”
The six-month programme ran alongside her time at Cockpit, complementing the support she was already receiving. “It was a two-pronged attack that really helped me focus and set up my business,” says Majeda. “Together Cockpit Arts and Hothouse have created lots of contacts for me and increased my reputation and standing within the textiles community. I recently spoke to someone who runs a gallery, and she said the fact that I was from Cockpit meant that my craft was already of a particularly high standard.”
Majeda says that her time at Cockpit has also given her the space to work out where she wants to position herself as a weaver. “Prior to Cockpit, I had a confused notion that I had to be one thing,” she elucidates. “But guided and directed by the mentoring and support from Cockpit and the Hothouse programme I’ve been able to hone in on what my values really are. What’s been great is that Cockpit has given me the confidence to be an individual and realise that it is ok to make lots of different things as long as there is a common thread that runs through everything.”
This, she believes, has given her the creative freedom to take on a varied range of projects, encouraging her to think beyond the scope of what she initially perceived her craft business to be: making and selling product to retailers. As well as producing gorgeously colourful blankets in small batches in a Welsh mill, she is also exploring the possibility of using her practice to connect in a meaningful way beyond the product itself. For instance, she has recently embarked on a collaboration with a choir that celebrates the refugee and immigrant story. “The choir, which is made up of a mixture of refugees, immigrants and locals, is composing a song about their journeys, and has asked me to weave a piece depicting these different stories.”
Through the different threads of her business, Majeda has managed to remain true to her core values. In whatever she does, her work celebrates regional weave techniques and the identity of the maker, as well as remaining sustainable and local. There’s a narrative that she is now comfortable with, thanks to her time at Cockpit Arts. “It’s really nice to feel that I’ve not been pigeon holed,” she smiles, “and it’s given me the confidence to go on my own creative journey and say that I can make blankets in mills, as well as do these kind of art projects.”
With her time as a Clothworkers’ Company awardee drawing to end, Majeda reflects back on the last two years: “I would never have thought all this would happen in such a short time,” she enthuses. “If you’d told me two years ago that I would have my pieces in a top west London gallery (Mint) as part of their Spring Show and that at the same time I’d be developing an artist in residency project… I’ve achieved far more than I thought possible and the confidence that I’ve gained here has been amazing.”
Majeda is now looking to the future, and is hoping to move into a studio nearer to her home at Cockpit’s Holborn incubator. “I absolutely intend to stay on at Cockpit Arts, I’m just waiting to hear if a studio is available,” she says. “I’ll have to invest in a loom, but in the interim I can still hire a loom at Deptford. Everyone at Cockpit is being very flexible about it. Just knowing that support is there is a huge boost”.