My Foolish Heart: An interview with Jo Smith

We decided to catch up with Jo Smith: local designer, member of the Bias Peckham team and maker of our brand new (unique to Bias) 100% linen and 100% cotton tea towels, oven gloves, and cotton canvas aprons. We interviewed her to find out a little more about her latest enterprise My Foolish Heart, and what her weekly schedule looks like...

“There’s something quite wonderful about finding a piece of fabric from the fifties that’s laid completely unused for sixty odd years and you turn it into something useful and beautiful.”


So what made you choose the name 'My Foolish Heart' for your business?


When I first began making my homewares I knew I couldn’t use my name, as it’s a fairly boring one! I’d heard the 1940’s song ‘My Foolish Heart’ sung by both Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett and loved the sentiment of the lyrics: both hopeful and sweet, but with a bit of an undertone. Anything that’s a bit of an unexpected mix gets my interest and I thought it would be a great name for my brand as that’s exactly what I do.



What is it about Vintage Fabrics that inspire you so much?



I used to make disco outfits for my Sindy dolls and that really made me develop the bug for being obsessed with fabrics and fashion. I studied first fashion design, then fashion promotion and illustration and so I really immersed myself in the historical side of textiles and design. II’ve also volunteered at the Fashion & Textile Museum in Bermondsey, that was a wonderful place to learn more about the history of fabrics.


There’s something quite wonderful about finding a piece of fabric from the fifties that’s laid completely unused for sixty odd years and you turn it into something useful and beautiful. Or turning a pair of curtains into an apron: you’re breathing new life into something often forgotten.


What's the smallest project you've ever been asked to do?



Usually one off commissions: sometimes I buy a piece of fabric and there’s only enough of it to make one glasses case or a make up bag.


I made a trio of tiny 12” cushions out of these 1950’s Australian nature handkerchiefs (unused, I hasten to add!). They were for a little girl’s bedroom whose mum was Australian and she wanted her daughter to have something of her heritage to learn about animals and plants from. The little girl kept hugging them when she was given them! That was a really satisfying job.


How did you find yourself working for the Mary Portas shop in East Dulwich?



I’ve always done voluntary work over the past 7 years, as I have a long term illness that has meant full time work has not always been possible. I’d had a spell of 10 weeks in hospital and decided that I wanted to go back to volunteering, so that I had something to look forward to when I came home. I had been to the shop as I live in the area and loved the ethos behind it. It takes a lot of work to hand pick pieces and you do have to know your labels and an item’s worth. People don’t often realise the shop is run almost entirely by volunteers and Save The Children is an amazing charity to help.



What does your average week look like?



Usually it’s a mix of making new My Foolish Heart products, developing new designs and buying fabric and so forth. That’s interspersed with clothing alterations (a bit of a side project which I love doing too), volunteering at Mary’s Living and Giving shop on Lordship Lane and of course helping out at Bias! I love that I make all parts of my work life balance out. It’s all in the planning!



What's the most interesting alteration you've been asked to do?



I do a lot of bridal for some reason! The best one was rescuing these very delicate French men’s overshirts for a client and his brother. They both had these amazing pieces made by a tailor, but they’d managed to rip them to bits as they were in a band and they would burnt cigarette holes in them or they’d tear them when drunk. I had to find patches and do complicated stitching to make them look how they liked them, they didn’t want them to look too ‘done’.



You've recently just built the new website for your business. What would be your three top tips for anyone wanting to do this?



Listen to recommendations for website builders from your peers: there are reasons some are more popular. Have in mind how you want your website to look from the start – a clear idea of your business identity, demographic, how your website may develop. Lastly, I’d say planning helps massively. I had completely underestimated how long the photography for each piece would take, that was an eye-opener!




Is there anything else you'd like to reveal?



I’m secretly a mod.



You can buy My Foolish Heart linen homeware textiles, and vintage fabric glasses cases and makeup bags in Bias, and here is Jo's online store:

My Foolish Heart



Sally HindleComment