Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with Cat of Howkapow!

Illustration by Gareth A Hopkins

Amelia met a whole load of creatives during her recent ACOFI book tour – illustrators, web designers and makers. It was at Soma in Bristol that she met Cat and Rog from Howkapow – a wonderful website selling allsorts of wonderful items made by new designers all under one metaphorical roof.

Howkapow began only eight months ago but already features over 50 unique designers selling their wares – from brooches to lamps, drug you’ll find an array of interesting and vibrant objects here. I managed to have a chit-chat with Cat about their company, young creatives and self promotion. Here goes:

Cat and Rog of Howkapow, illustrated by Natsuki Otani

Oh hai Cat, how are you?
Ooo in spirits I’m feeling dandy actually Matt, thanks for asking! In body I’m suffering a little – just back from the hospital after an X-ray on my knee… fell off me bike! Wine + cycling = Cat in ditch.

Oh gawd! Well, tell us a bit about Howkapow – when did it start and why?
We opened in December 2010, after we moved from London back to Bristol where Rog (my husband and business partner) and I met at university almost, err, 10 years ago. I had just finished my MA at Saint Martins and we wanted to work together on something that supported creative people and built a community. We had peddled my jewellery at markets in Melbourne and Brick Lane and had met many wonderful people who made beautiful things. But a lot of them either didn’t have a website or any means of self-promotion (like an agency) and so Howkapow was born… 

Oh! Howkapow’s an interesting name… where’s it from?
Ah! We merged our second name – ‘How’ – with the fact that all our products are bright, loud and in-yer-face, so… ‘kapow‘! 

So do you and Rog split the work equally? How is it – y’know – working with your husband?
It’s bloomin’ brilliant! Nice coffee breaks, decadent lunches and business meetings in the garden, arguments over how to load the printer paper… No, in all seriousness although it was a bit strange at first as we’d only worked for other people before (Rog for the BBC and I was a journo before Saint Martins).
It works really well because we have well defined roles. I split my time between designing and acting as creative director so have (somewhat) complete control over the look of the site as well as stock purchases and sourcing new people. I always ask Rog what he thinks about a certain product but ultimately I RULE! He deals with all the accounts, legal tings, backend web development, site maintenance… y’know the really fun stuff. 

Illustration by Claire Kearns

How do you select the designers that you feature and support?
There are around 50 designers and illustrators on the site at any given time, and we’ve been releasing a new designer a week since we opened. Honestly we could release many, many more! But our criteria for choosing them is simple. They have to be a new and / or an independent designer or illustrator and their work has to fit at least two (although ideally all) of our brand values of quality, colour, humour and fun. 

Home products available on Howkapow (images courtesy of Howkapow, products selected by Matt Bramford)

How do you think young creatives can stand out in such a saturated environment? Everybody’s at it these days…
Very true! I think it’s a combination of a) doing something original b) doing something useful and ultimately commercial and c) being good at self promotion. Ideally young creatives need to know the market that they are going into. Whether this be design or illustration, you can have a great idea but if it’s not transferrable into a commercial product then it falters. Gosh that sounds a bit cold doesn’t it? But that’s how I choose new designers and illustrators at graduate shows. I was shocked by how many graduating product designers this year had no idea what their wholesale or retail price was for the work they were showcasing…

The flipside of it is, and this is a huge generalisation, but being very creative and original means you’re – more often than not – not massively great at self promotion or PR.

Illustration by Gabriel Ayala

That’s probably why you’re offering The Agency service – tell us a bit about that…?
Yes, the agency. It’s still in it’s infancy (the shop itself is only 8 months old) so we’re currently building up our base of creatives. Instead of it being based on static image-based portfolios, we want to develop it more as a ‘product’ agency where we manufacture a range of products from creatives. There’s the commercial / useful thing again… We can then use these products as a showcase for our illustrators / designers alongside their other work. It means they can be approached by shops as well as ad agencies or whatnot. 

What do you offer young designers that they don’t get from websites like Etsy where they flog their own stuff?
Well, the main thing is we hand-pick all our designers to match our brand values so people know exactly what sort of work to expect from our store. As opposed to a web resource which is open-to-all, we ‘curate’ our shop with exactly what we want which enables us to have a really strong brand and identity. We employ a PR company to help promote the shop and our designers; and we’ve also started to collaborate with some of our illustrators on products to then sell on the shop (and to wholesale to other shops). When the agency emerges it’ll be there to help promote our designers even further. 

Illustration by Sandra Contreras

Tell us a bit about some of your favourite products or designers… if you’re allowed, that is:
Oooo! Well obviously we LOVE it all (otherwise it wouldn’t be on the shop), but we’ve always greatly admired the work of Scottish illustrator Eleanor Meredith. We’ve recently designed a Tea Tiger and Coffee Chimp mug and a Gin Slug Tea Towel with her. 

Illustration by Jenny Robins

What role do you think tools like social media plays in the way we promote ourselves?
HUGE! Never underestimate the power of social media. Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest (recommended to us by Amelia when we went to a talk of hers recently and to which we are now totally addicted) are one of the main ways I find new designers and illustrators. You’ve got to be in it AND on it to win it.

There’s a million different websites for creative people these days. It’s exhausting. What are you favourites and why? Are there any you’d advise against or avoid? MySpace is awful, isn’t it?
Hmmm, yes I have to say Myspace is a bit of a dead duck, isn’t it? We’re literally never on there. It’s true – there are lots of different websites, and actually being on too many can dilute the perceived brand values of your label / work. If I see someone on lots of different open-to-all sites, as a buyer it actually puts me off. Choosing your outlets carefully can really help your brand. Again it’s about knowing your market and where you think your work would suit. There are one or two sites we would advise against, but we’re all about the non-negative vibes here at Howkapow, maaaaan.  

What else is on the Howkapow agenda? Do you have sights on a real shop?
Yes indeed! We’re planning to open up a shop in Bath (20 mins down the road from Bristol) early next year. In the meantime we’re working on more collaborations with illustrators on our own Howkapow range. We’ve started to build our selection of jewellery, mugs and tea towels but want to look into other products like trays, ipad / iphone cases, ceramics, cushions and even deck chairs! 

Howkapow jewellery and gifts; pictures courtesy of Howkapow, products selected by Matt Bramford)

What else do you and Rog like to do when you’re not Howkapow-ing? (Keep it clean, purlease)
Drinking fine wine! And sharing it with friends, obviously. We’re really into our food so growing our own veg on the allotment and brewing our own selection of (questionable) booze is always high on our agenda. Oh, and cycling on our tandem… although given the state of my knee, maybe not for a while now.

Rog and Cat at Amelia’s book tour at Soma in Bristol; photograph by Amelia Gregory.

Categories ,ACOFI, ,Amelia, ,Bath, ,bristol, ,Central Saint Martins, ,Claire Kearns, ,designers, ,Eleanor Meredith, ,Facebook, ,Gabriel Ayala, ,Gareth A Hokpins, ,Howkapow, ,illustrators, ,Jenny Robins, ,Matt Bramford, ,Pinterest, ,Rog & Cat How, ,Sandra Contreras, ,shop, ,Social Media, ,Soma, ,twitter

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