Behind the scenes: Katy Parkes’ Studio

In Interviews, London by Claire

It’s been six months since I talked to Katy Parkes‘ about her fledgling rucksack company, Dereks Designs. We met for the first time back in December to talk about the story behind Dereks, creating the designs and how she’d decided to start her own business. One of her comments that really stood out for me from that conversation was that the idea that she was doing this for a living hadn’t quite hit her. She wasn’t sure when it would feel real, or what success would feel like. I invite myself to her studio to snoop around and see explore her day-to-day creative practice: I want to know if it feels real yet.

It’s a simple studio. A light converted living room, in her house in leafy Clapham. On one walls hang four rucksack paper patterns, including evidence of her Kickstarter campaign last year. On another, there are three of her beautiful rucksacks, two that I’ve seen before and one new one with a gorgeous waxy leather.

“That’s very Ally Capellino” I say, eating the first of numerous bourbon biscuits.

This month, she’s in the middle of creating 15 new bags; her three main designs in different colour variations. Katy’s materials have changed slightly since I last saw her, with some new colour variations and a beautiful waxed canvas. Pebble blue, navy and red are her main colour choices, alongside the green waxed addition “I think you can get a fun bag out of those colours.”. They all come from Halley Stevensons, a factory in dundee that produces the material, where they can create custom colours (if you’re willing to endure the 46 week wait).

“I’ve got new canvas. It’s got a different finish – it’s much stiffer. I think the bag keeps its shape a lot better. It’s got a lot more of a waxed cotton look to it. I’m doing all of the rucksacks with these lovely little brown flecks, which I just find absolutely wonderful.”

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The logo’s seen a refresh, too. I’m curious. “I was talking to my old boss,” Katy explains. “She said: ‘I’m always seeing bags on the tube Katy, and I’m always glancing at rucksacks and googling where they come from.'” So, out went the symbol-based logo, and the bags are now google-ready for anyone keenly eyeing up rucksacks about town. “It’s still got the original little flag.”

The leather’s a new touch, too. “Since April. I personally really like this look. I think my customers like being out and about but people wouldn’t buy my bags for technical [trips]. So they’re perfect for going out, going shopping and they look a bit smarterr.” They’re more practical and look all the better for it. “I think I was saying to you, last time I saw you, that it was Kennedy City Bikes who’d come to me wanting leather on their bags. And I’d never used leather before so I said “Absolutely!” So I used to buy pre-cut leather but you can’t trace the provenience of that. It’s not very transparent. When you buy it yourself you can get a better idea of where it’s really from.”

I’ve done a few vegan satchels, which has been interesting. It’s nice but vegan leather.. it’s completely weird. It’s just so stretchy. So that was quite challenging but they were quite happy with it.” It definitely doesn’t feel like leather. It’s interesting. “It’s completely synthetic.”

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Katy uses a vintage sewing machine; something that she’s much more familiar with. Heavy and hand-powered, it sits in the centre of the room on her workbench and it’s stunning. Katy comes from a line of sewers – her Mother, and Grandmother all made their own clothing. She follows their behaviour. It’s a gorgeous machine. We circle the machine, cooing.

“One of these [machines] is my Mum’s and one of these is my Grandmum’s.” she says. “One’s from the 1970s and this other one – I have no idea how old it is. My Grandmum’s is such a good machine. It’s just a domestic sewing machine. It’s quite noisy – it’s really heavy and just pumps through stuff. It smells so old!” Did her family used to make bags, too, I ask. “All of us are sewers.”

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“I suppose there’s a lot of it that’s still in my head, even though I have patterns. The rucksack starts off as oblong panels, with the sides shooting off. You take the net and it’s not until the end when it comes together. I’ll sew some straps, then you can see how they’re made,” she says. “And hear how loud it is, too.”

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Radio Four mumbles away in the background. “What do you listen to when you work?” I ask. “I wake up and listen to BBC Radio 4 until about 10:45. Then I start streaming the very many podcasts that I have. I’m really enjoying the Philosophy Bites podcasts at the moment. I think I’ve been recommended those recently. One of my favourite podcasts was Michael Sandel‘s The Public Philosopher. He’s a Harvard professor and went around different universities. Here, at LSE, he did a lecture about medicinal franchise voters and democracy. In Amsterdam he talked about euthanasia. They’re all targeted at where they take place. He’s just very good and very interesting. I also love the Philosopher’s Arms, which is a fake Radio 4 pub where they debate philosophy over some pints. It’s really good.”

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Does she feel like Dereks is a real thing now? “It’s getting quite exciting. I feel like there’s a bit of buzz around it. A very, very small buzz but i’ve had three or four bags to make for the past two months. I’m making four bags a week. My aim by the end of the year was to be making five bags a week, direct from the site. That’s on top of Kennedy City Bikes bags and stuff. So that was really exciting. And then I’ve had weird stuff – a lot of people are getting in contact at the moment and that’s really fun. I’ve started doing this bespoke thing. I have a part of my website that says these are all completely hand made and we can completely adjust the bag for you. And that’s been really cool. At the moment I feel quite creatively fulfilled because I’m doing all these new ones. I’m also making a truffle bag for a truffle hunter. They basically just want a tiny little bumbag that they can put their truffles in when they find them. I think it’s more a bumbag that they’ll use for truffles. “I’ve got a few completely new designs I’m playing with, too.”

There’s a map on the wall. “That’s the GR 5 that I walked.”

Ever since Katy mentioned her walking trip when we last spoke about her own off-track adventures, I’ been thinking about that route. “I really want to go on a big walk. I’m quite booked up for [the next months]. I’m going to Berlin. I’m doing nice things, just none of them are walking. I might go in September. If I work very hard then I’ll almost feel like I deserve it.”

And nestled amongst the excitement of future designs, interest in custom bags, learning leather skills and vegan sourcing, there’s the answer: the holiday. Dereks is go.

ClaireBehind the scenes: Katy Parkes’ Studio