Artist Gillian's quirky designs take the biscuit

DESIGNER Gillian Kyle isn't short of fans.

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Gillian Kyle in her new studio space
Gillian Kyle in her new studio space

Her drawings of Tunnock's teacakes, Mother's Pride bread, Creamola Foam and Scotland's favourite fizzy 'national' drink have become almost as well known as the originals.

Biscuit tycoon Boyd Tunnock is so taken with the giftwear she creates inspired by his company's confections that he uses her notecards.

Uddingston's answer to Willy Wonka also supplied her with 500 teacakes to construct her wedding cake.

What's more, the Scottish stars of Britain's Olympic team were bowled over by her shopper bags and teacake-shaped medals at a celebration in Glasgow.

And each week she receives emails and photos from ex-pat Scots around the world whose nostalgia has been tickled by her T-shirts, bags, tea towels, aprons, placemats, mugs and stationery.

But her biggest fan, by far, demands a little more of her attention: her 13-week-old baby son, Rufus.

While 34-year-old Gillian has sold thousands of bibs and baby-grows to buyers around the globe, it was only through becoming a mum that she was able to try out some of the designs that have made her enterprise take flight.

"It's a little bit of road-testing," admits Gillian.

"Ours are pretty good, actually – our T-shirts have buttons on the sleeve, which makes them wide enough to go over the head.

"It makes me feel that I'd love to do lots more products.

"There's so many things that are essential to life with a baby, like a changing bag, so a teacake changing bag would be really fun.

"Changing mats and little baby towels – you could go on and on."

Shawlands-based Gillian has only recently returned to work following her maternity leave.

The upheaval to her routine following the arrival of Rufus has come as quite a surprise to the designer.

"It's difficult – I guess I thought I'd just have the baby, sling him over my shoulder and get back to work," she says.

"It's not really been like that. It is trickier.

"You're trying to work and he's sitting there looking at you with his big eyes and giggling – it's very hard to concentrate on what you're supposed to be doing."

Her company moved in April into studios within the Hidden Lane artistic quarter of Finnieston.

"Is it too early for a teacake?" asks one of the three staff members that Gillian now employs to help her with marketing and administration.

The office fridge is jammed full of those chocolate-covered mallows, while tea, unsurprisingly, is served in teacake mugs on a teacake coaster.

The walls are covered in colourful examples of the brand's latest venture – a series of Scottish souvenirs that Gillian hopes will spell an end to the See You Jimmy Hats manufactured in China.

Her series, called Local Heroes, is a diversification of the Gillian Kyle brand.

The homage to illustrious and notorious figures from Scotland's history – Robert Burns, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Mary Queen of Scots and Burke and Hare – feature on mugs and coasters.

Gillian says "There are some lovely things made in Scotland, but when you walk down the Royal Mile, you know what you see.

"It doesn't represent Scotland in a good way.

"It's cheap and it's tacky.

"I think it's time for us to represent ourselves a little bit better."

Instead of doing the drawings alone, Gillian has worked with illustration student Clare Forrest to design the characters.

Clare's talent was spotted by Gillian's husband, Thomas Elliot, who is a tutor in art and design at the City of Glasgow College.

The path that Gillian followed to become a designer was by no means straightforward.

Born and raised in Kilbarchan, she gained her first degree in business and languages from the University of Strathclyde.

She had a brief foray into management consultancy before throwing in the towel to study fashion design at Cardonald College.

"It was a huge risk because in consultancy you've got a career path that leads to a level of material comfort, which would be nice," she smiles.

"I would have liked to have gone to art school straight from school, but it's the usual story – parental pressure and I guess our school was keen to get everyone to do a 'proper' degree."

She eventually graduated with a degree in textiles from Glasgow School of Art in 2008, and set up Gillian Kyle Ltd in early-2009.

She sold her early, handmade designs at markets and craft fairs, going on to build up a network of small boutiques and gift shops.

She acknowledges that her enterprising streak comes from her parents.

"My mum is an interior designer and my dad has a van rental business in Paisley," she said.

"Their entrepreneurial spirit has always been part of what I've grown up with – the idea of being your own boss."

Such has been the success of Gillian's giftwear, which is all made in the UK, that her designs are now stocked by House of Fraser, Jenners and she was commissioned by Harrods to create a 'Westie' dog design.

The brand's biggest customer is the Discover Glasgow shop at Glasgow Airport.

Gillian Kyle designs also fly off the shelves of gift shops in Glasgow Museums and the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Her most recent commissions, meanwhile, include souvenirs for Famous Grouse whisky and Tennent's Brewery.

Gillian's aim now is to grow the business, yet stay true to her hand-crafted design roots.

"If I can marry the two, then that's what I would like to do," she added.

"We feel that we've got a niche – it is commercial, but it's a bit more thoughtful and we like to think about the manufacture and the crafts that go into it."

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