After writing the other day about marvellous wacky earrings from British designer and manufacturer Toolally, the founder Mags Walker (no relation) got in touch with me and we fell to chatting and I thought she was just terrific. So I asked her if she would do a short interview for The Spike and she said yes!
And here’s how it went:
Tell me a little bit more about your domestic life (if you don’t mind) – where are you from originally… kids? Married?
I’m from Barnoldswick, in Lancashire. I’m married to Martin and have two children, Jack who is 25 and Katie, who is 29.
Where did the idea for Toolally come from?
Katie has cerebral palsy and in 2014 I opened a small creative emporium for kids in Barnoldswick as somewhere for Katie to go to work, having exhausted further education opportunities. I wanted her to have a purpose make a contribution – she loves having a job and having work colleagues.
She enjoys not having to have a carer with her when she’s working (just for a couple of hours at least). She has a wonderful work ethic, which she definitely got from me, and often tells her carers that she’s not ready to leave for the day because she has to finish whatever she might be doing
We called the emporium Tilltots after Tilly, the family Westie. We thought it would be cool for the kids who visited us to design their own jewellery using acrylic charms.
I didn’t want to get the pieces off the peg, so I bought a small laser cutter and got cracking. On a visit to the perspex factory to choose materials, discovered some beautiful frosted acrylics which didn’t look plasticky, (if that’s a word), but almost jewel- like.
The colour palette in acrylics is amazing so decided it might be nice to make some jewellery for adults as well. (Me, to be absolutely precise)
I’ve always loved fashion and jewellery – and I’ve always wanted my own brand having worked on other people’s for years. I decided I’d like to try and create something really unique. I also felt it was time for something a little bolder and more colourful again.
The idea for earrings actually came about by way of a lucky accident. Lucinda Chambers, Vogue’s Fashion Director, who loves acrylic, was doing an 80s inspired editorial; some of her team had spotted me wearing some Tilltots jewellery and asked if I made earrings. I said I did (I didn’t).
Lucinda’s assistant asked me to send some samples to Vogue House. I made several pairs over the course of a very long weekend, inspired by memories of my youth, and sent them down. They used them in the shoot! I got my first credit in the August 2015 issue of Vogue – I figured I was on to something.
The name came from the letter T. I had already invested in some tags for the kids jewellery featuring a single letter T for Tilltots. Martin insisted I use them up, (I can be a little profligate), so I insisted he thought of an appropriate name for adult jewellery beginning with T.
Toolally was his immediate response inspired by his opinion of me as doolally! No-one else was using the name (who’d have believed it?) so we went with it. I kept meaning to have some important brainstorming-type creative romp around lots of clever words for our new jewellery brand but it never happened. Toolally we became.
Having held down demanding jobs in London – how is life different now you are somewhere less urban?
It now takes me 10 minutes to get into work (I could cycle and have done at least once). The views are amazing, we have squirrels and peacocks running around and there is always somewhere to park.
Road rage was a constant feature of my former life, that and a two hour commute. I actually worked in Manchester for 8 years and then split my time between Manchester and London for another 8. I commuted to London on the 6am from Skipton rather than live in London, though.
All my family live in London now and I very much regret that I have never enjoyed the privilege. I had kids, Martin worked in Manchester and I’m from the North so I don’t think it entered my head to move South at the time. My sister has lived in London for 20 years now and Jack moved straight there after uni – he now works at Deloitte – so I visit a lot.
I still work full-time at the content marketing agency Fabl. I do imagine a time when I can spend all my days designing and making things that people love… that would be heaven to me.
Can you expand a bit more on your dream of recreating the camaraderie of the mills? (Without the TB and the 18 hour days)
I’m a terrible romantic and the building our shop and studio is based in is really pretty.
There is a lovely cafe next door which is incredibly picturesque and from the large Victorian- style windows you can watch the world go by.
Lots of kids wander past on their way to school and I started to think how nice it would be if the mums could drop the kids at school, come to the studio for a few hours to make jewellery and have a gossip – and then go pick their kids up. What a great job that would be!
It’s maybe something I might have liked to do if I hadn’t been climbing the corporate ladder. As it was, I didn’t get to spend much time with my kids when they were little. Or get to know other mothers – flexi-time wasn’t a thing. Plus I worked in a man’s world; if you had kids you certainly didn’t talk about them.
When I was young I would go to see my dad when he was at the mill and all the ladies seemed to enjoy going to work and having a good gossip. The mills have all closed now and I thought it would be incredibly cool to bring some manufacturing back into my home town.
Hope (the bike people) have a fabulous Willy-Wonkaish factory in town and I thought it would be fab to create a very pretty factory making beautiful things and surrounded by succulents.
I think my vision is straight out of the sort of novels I read every year on the annual trip to rural France.
6 What were the last two items of clothing you bought?
A black linen dress from Bitte Kai Rand and some really cool vintage Golden Goose trainers.
What are you most looking forward to wearing when the weather warms up?
White and sunglasses – you can’t have too many pairs.
7 What are you having for dinner tonight?
Manx queenies and chorizo with a green salad .
Wow. What an amazing woman. (Have never seen such a prolonged absence of comments on a post here before- was everyone equally impressed into silence?)
the strangest things promote comments…
I’ve come back to this specifically to post a comment because it seems so weird to have silence on this and then masses of comments on things like how to deal with tampons (although that was most informative Esther). I’m sure there must be hundreds of us in awe… I mean imagine achieving all that with children including a child who has additional needs?! And the guts to blag it with Vogue! I achieved nothing this morning except for a school run where I only cajoled, shouted, bribed approx 100 times. Mags, you are an inspiration and if I didn’t live so far away I’d be hanging around the shop and cafe hoping to absorb some of your brilliance by osmosis.
Love these earrings – just ordered some. Thanks for discovery.
Agree with Nicola. I really love these earrings. Would add pizzaz to a LBD. Amazingly creative story too
I loved this, what a talented and very cool lady.
Love this – and I love those chandelier earrings.
What a great story. Awe inducing (is that a term?). I love the earrings. Maybe I should start importing them to Holland!
Ps that comment was not from schraven family (do not know them) but me, Aaf
How kind you all are. Esther said her followers were great people and she was right. x
Just bought five things on an overexcited binge – really excited. Check out the scarves!
Rachel Ralston says
Absolutely inspiring story and a gorgeous brand! Fantastic interview.
Lesley Somerville says
Inspirational and also makes you think what women round the globe could achieve if given half a chance. Come the matriarchy…..I have two pairs, after seeing them on the blog thatsnotmyage. Love them. Great colours, lightweight and stylish. Now I know the back storyI love them even more
I really like these earrings, and enjoyed the interview. Great story.