Meet the Maker: Caroline Jackson, Boxroom Print
Welcome to Hope and Story's Meet the Maker Series, where we chat to some of the people behind our favourite independent British brands.
Caroline Jackson is a mum, a West Country local, a lecturer and the creator of Boxroom Print. She makes beautiful vintage pieces for the home from aesthetic and nostalgic items that she sources second hand. We caught up with Caroline and Lizzy (our Director and old uni friend of Caz) to talk recycling, production, future plans and lots more…
Can you explain to anyone that hasn't come across your work before, what is is that you do?
Caroline: I think a good way to phrase this would be ‘a curator of the miscellaneous’, because it’s how Boxroom came about from the start. I was taking forgotten items, that you have in your box room, and framing them and creating new pieces of individual art. So it’s taking the nostalgic, something aesthetically beautiful, and recreating that in a different way so you can appreciate it again. The idea is that it’s all the things that you collect in your spare room that you don’t know what to do with but you still love. Like that old tape collection from when you were 13, or those books that someone has given you that are a bit tatty but you still love. I’ve been shopping many times to little vintage markets and charity shops, where you’re like ‘that’s really cute but what am I going to do with it?’. The books and cassettes especially, are those items we all want to cherish again but don’t want to just have in a little cupboard in your box room.
I should mention here that you and our director Lizzy here, are good mates, is that correct?
Caroline: Yes. We met in our first year of uni.
Lizzy: Yeah and we lived together for a few years after that.
Is Caz a hoarder? Can she get rid of anything?!
Lizzy: I’m actually worse than Caz! But yeah between the two of us, we like stuff. Things that are very nostalgic. It’s a way of literally framing a memory. It’s just so precious, I think it’s perfect.
Caroline: We used to go into charity shops, as students with no money, and just find little scarves, or tops that we would make into something else. Or bags, and vintage jewellery.
Lizzy: Caz did textiles at uni and is very creative, and I did fine arts - we would often be up making stuff at 3 in the morning.
What’s your background and what led you to starting up the business?
Caroline: I had lost my mojo in terms of what I was doing. After I finished uni I was at home for a year or two, and then I got my first big buying role. I went to be a buyer’s assistant for Monsoon. So I moved up to London and slept on the floor of my mate Kate’s room – we shared a room together as we couldn’t afford our own. I went and did my first year buying job and continued through that really. I worked for Monsoon, then Ted baker for 11 years, then Jigsaw and then Debenhams. And I think it was a combination of things that led me to get to the point where I’d just fallen out of love with London, and with my job. And it’s bizarre because it was a really creative job. I was working at Debenhams with the Jasper Conran team and they were really brilliant at colours and textures – we had a similar love for vintage items and stylings, and overall a similar creative perspective, and that was really lovely. But the other side of buying is fairly challenging and I just got to the point where I thought 'I’m not loving this anymore, its actually not making me very happy'.
Lizzy: You travelled a lot didn’t you? Back and forth a lot..
Caroline: Yeah we did a lot of New York trips, China, Japan. The New York ones were the fun ones – it was 15 years ago with Ted Baker. We’d go to vintage shops, flea markets, we’d love it. I’d come away with a bag of goodies for myself. Again it was those questions of ‘I love this saucer but what am I going to do with it?' All the time I was continually thinking about how I'd frame something, or how I'd mount it. How I could create something pretty cool and quite different using these things we see. You’d get these underground garages full of all the vintage stuff, and crazy new Yorkers, and you’re ferreting through musty clothes – it was really good fun.
When you're a buyer everything is centred around consumerism and new seasons and trends - now your ethos is all about reusing and recycling. Why is that so important to you now? Did something change in your mindset?
Caroline: I think it kind of went hand in hand with where I started to feel a bit despondent with buying because of that. It was like ‘what was the most important conversation you’d had that day?’ And it was a 3 hour debate about what colour pink to use. I suppose with any business trying to be dynamic and profitable there's a big drive towards that. And on the flip side I started to feel like it was very immaterial, ironically, to anything. My mum worked for the NHS and was an intensive care sister - we’d be on the phone and she had been saving someone’s life, and I was tired, stressed, upset and frustrated because I’d been in a meeting – but it was just about clothes. And I think from then I started to lose that passion towards I was doing. I still loved looking at pantone books – I’ve framed some of those actually. Looking at colours and textures and putting palettes together, and looking at things that were interesting and aesthetically beautiful, which stems from my textile degree where it was all about surface design. And I was just thinking I needed something a bit more meaningful and relevant in what I do, and that there’s more going on in the world than arguing about clothes. Boxroom wanted to be creative, something about me and what I was passionate about – it took a while to work out where that would fall. I did a lot of brainstorming and looking at what was on the market. I got to the point where I thought 'I love a vintage book' especially the penguin books - one of my favourite items. I love finding a really cool title, I think they’re really impactful. It kind of led me to Boxroom being the creative element, and it meant something to me – it had a purpose and was relevant to the vintage and creative side. I now teach at UCW Weston college and part of my module is on business and sustainability, so Boxroom flows into that. So the more I’m learning, researching and teaching about sustainability it kind of feeds intro Boxroom.
I have this image of you scrounging around in all of these vintage shops trying to find that little gem. Where do you source your items?
Caroline: I would say anywhere and everywhere! Charity shops are great. There’s a load of stuff I got form my Nana’s loft -she likes to keep hold of loads of stuff. There were old magazines, a trigonometry book, some old frames – amazing stuff. I’m trying to get across the fact there’s a modern simplicity that goes hand in hand with this nostalgic aesthetic. If you can merge the two – so you’ve got something that’s vintage and old school but has a story sat next to it that’s really modern and cool. That juxtaposition really works. So I’ve got some bits from Nan’s loft that she keeps sending down. And again it’s just finding the right piece with the right frame. I had some Islwyn Watkins lithograph originals limited edition that I got from a house clearance. They were amazing – I actually kept 2 of them. One’s now above my fireplace. Something like that is really the icing on the cake, but they are few and far between. On the website there’s the books, the tapes - we do vintage mirrors too. We’ve done vintage cocktail and beer mats, and bottle labels as well.
Where do you put everything together?
Caroline: So it started off in my tiny rented cottage in London, on my kitchen table. It overtook the house pretty much. Then we moved back to Clevedon into a house with a little conservatory tagged on the back which is very useful. It’s a complete tip – it’s like my brain fart in a room. It’s where everything comes together. Its slowly getting bigger - so its progressed from a kitchen table to this. It’s either freezing cold or a complete sweat box! There’s never a pleasant time to work in there. In the winter I sit on a heater with fingerless gloves on because it’s so cold. I’ve set up a little area in my kitchen with a light box for the photos. I need more space!
When someone finds something on your website that they like I guess they just have to get it, as it’ll evoke memories or conjure up nostalgia – do you have any rapport with your customers and do you have a typical customer?
Caroline: There is quite a variation of people who are buying for gifts. So when it’s a gift, it’s a memory. Someone messaged me about a George Michael cassette - it was her and a friend that lived in America and they went to one of his gigs back in the 80s – it was just a brilliant memory for them. So I think it’s really personal – that album or that artist reminds them of a certain time. We’d have something like Shania Twain or Bon Jovi wouldn’t we Lizzy? There’s a lot of dialogue with the customers, in terms of specifying what album or book they want. Vintage mirrors get a lot of uptake. Something a little bit unique and a little bit different to decorate your house with. The bespoke orders are based around trying to expand on their horizons a bit, they tell me what they are interested in and I go and try and find it. I’ve had customers who have had their first published books framed. I’ve just had a production company in London who want about 15 penguin books framed for their office, so I’m doing a collection for them. I did nine in one frame for one lady, which was a challenge – you have to consider weight and structure and make sure it’s not going to fall apart. So yeah I like the bespoke orders – the individual pieces that people get really passionate about .
You mentioned branching into mirrors and beer mats etc – where do you see Boxroom evolving over the next year and beyond?
Caroline: There are some new collections that I’m trying to push out. I’ve been trying to do vinyl for ages, but I need to get it to where I want it to be. It’ll be 7 inch vinyl at the moment, not 12 inch, just because you start to have difficulties with shipping then. That was another massive challenge about the integrity of the piece, being shipped – you have glass on that so I have to look at how to manage it and keep shipping costs down, which has been fairly difficult. If you start to do 12 inch vinyl then that gets pretty big. So I’m starting to get a bit of a collection of 7 inch vinyl together first, and making sure that I’ve got the right source of frames for these as well, and just getting ready to launch those as a collection. So that will probably be later this this year. I’m doing the wallpaper travel guides too – we always used to use those when we did our buying trips. They had a bright coloured cover and had all the cool places to go: where to eat, where to visit – museums and art galleries. Different editions in different years. So at the moment I’m just trying to get a collection of those together. It’s just thinking about personalisation – you might have met your husband in New York, or you’ve had a girly trip to Barcelona together. Or you got married in Madrid – we’ve all got special places and I think these books are a really nice memento of a place you’ve been, in a really visual way. So I’m working on that, hopefully that will be in the next couple of months. It’s a bit more straightforward with those, with the kit that I’ve got set up already.
Quite often I've spoken to people who have gone out on their own, and the creative element is the bit that they love and they enjoy doing, but then everything that comes with setting up a new business: managing a website, fulfilling orders, calculating shipping, all of that other stuff - have you found that quite a big adaption in terms of becoming a business manager? Has that taken you away from your core creative and why you did it in the first place? Or are you on top of that?
Caroline: I would say the difficulty is that you are solely reliable on yourself. For example with something like shipping or marketing - I’ve always been used to working in a team where you have a shipping team or a marketing team. So in that sense I’ve got the understanding of the roles and the experience working with those teams but putting that into practice in your own business is a lot harder when it’s just you to rely on. I think the biggest challenge for me has been the marketing. It’s baffled me a little bit, and the time spent in between. I work four days a week at the college and then obviously, as Lizzy will tell you, I’ve got my son Gabe and I’ve got Boxroom, and I’m doing my teacher training. So amongst all of it I’m trying to work out marketing – emails and blogs and Instagram, Facebook and Pintrest, and how do I do that? And people are doing Tiktok and I think ‘should I be doing Tiktok?’
Lizzy: You’re managing though. You’re juggling it. I think with your experience you’re used to juggling things – you’re business minded as well as creative. Obviously you’re teaching it as well. You’re good at strategizing and thinking outside the box.
Caroline: It’s funny though because when I’m talking to my students I say things like ‘you need to write a business plan’ and then I'm thinking ‘I really need to get this done’.
You are an incredibly busy woman! Finally, what attracted you to work with Hope and Story?
Caroline: I think the ethos of Hope and Story really mirrors Boxroom Print in terms of what it is that you're trying to establish and to promote those British values and to treasure what we do well here. That repurposing, recycling and considering our impact. In terms of sustainability how we’re creating things. For me things don’t have to be brand new, and there is more value in those things that we’ve looked at in terms of nostalgia and aesthetic value and the beauty of vintage pieces. Actually you can create something new out of something old – and that’s the recycling, the repurposing which felt like it went hand in hand with Hope and Story. And I love the look of the brand as well. You guys come across as very professional and I feel like I sit in there nicely with what you do. It’s nice to be part of it, it really is.
Check out the full Boxroom Print collection here.
And just like that, it’s Autumn again! It’s time to get out...
Welcome to Hope and Story's Meet the Maker Series, where we chat...
The Importance of Self-Care! In modern life, the hustle and bustle of...
We are here to discuss some of the top interior design trends...
Welcome to Hope and Story's Meet the Maker Series, where we chat...
Clear place, clear mind. The more that the space around you is...
What is Provenance? Provenance is a word used to describe an...
There is nothing more exciting than being a child and watching the...