Q and A with Nicki Ellis of Love Milo

Meet Nicki Ellis the talented designer behind the beautiful creations of eco-conscious design studio, Love Milo. Nicki tells us all about the exclusive new range designed in collaboration with retail powerhouse Superbalist, her design process and her style inspiration.

Q: Tell us a little bit about Love Milo and how the journey began for you and Matt…

It all started when I fell pregnant with my son Milo.  I wanted to be a role model for my kids, and to be able to create the way I like to create. I resigned from my job in the advertising industry in 2010, where I felt that I created for others as part of a mechanical process, and began to experiment with my own designs and fascination with the imperfection of nature.  I had a curiosity and desire to make naturally beautiful things.  You will never find a straight line in nature, so my designs are about finding the harmony between line and form; juxtaposing the imperfect elements with handmade elements to create something unique. In today’s world, many don’t have the time to stop and enjoy nature, so the aim with Love Milo is to find the beauty in the outdoors and bring it to you through our designs in every day accessories.

Matt joined me in the business in 2015, as the Operations and Business manager. He is very good at getting things done, and takes a lot off my plate so I can focus on the design process. 

Q: How does Love Milo embrace sustainability and environmental awareness?

We place huge emphasis on sustainability, taking care in the sourcing of materials. Everything from the base fabric to the printing, is done locally. For wooden products, only alien trees that are harmful to the natural environment are used, like Blue Gum trees, that rob the indigenous flora like fynbos of water and prevent them from creating their own indigenous habitat. The wood from Blue Gums is too hard to use for furniture, so we mould the wood into imperfect shapes to create unique hand carved wooden bowls and saucers, serving boards and kitchen utensils.  We do not believe in cutting down indigenous trees that take many years to grow for the sake of beauty, but to rather find a clever way to reuse what doesn't serve us anyway. All fabrics used in the Love Milo range are printed with eco-friendly ink, are 100% cotton, and are made in South Africa, which is rare in retail.  

Q: We absolutely love the new candy floss and dove grey range designed for Superbalist! What brought about the departure from the usual black and white aesthetic of Love Milo?

We really wanted to try something different and step out the box on this one, and this was a great direction to go, as these are undoubtedly the colours of the season.

Q: How did you choose the colour palette?

Love Milo was approached by the team from Superbalist with a brief that included hues of soft pinks and greys. This was then worked into the designs with the end products being textiles and ceramics in delicious shades of candy floss and dove grey. While the palette may be a change from the usual monochromatic look that we are known for, we tried to keep the designs in line with our ‘creative simplicity’ aesthetic. 

Images curtesy of Superbalist.com

Q: Was it a challenge using colour?

Achieving a cohesive look within the range was definitely not without its challenges. Colour was a bit of a tricky issue with this one. We had identified the exact shade of pink that we wanted for our designs but it kept on turning white in the kiln, so getting the balance just right took a bit of trial and error.

Q: How do you begin the design process?

My process begins with photographing elements of nature that have striking patterns. Sometimes this begins in my own backyard, when my son, Milo, brings me a variety of interesting creatures he has found in the garden, like dragon flies and butterflies. I look for the smallest detail in elements, like the wings of the dragonfly or the pattern of a branch and then photograph these in a light box.  Next, I play with the imagery in black and white, as this speaks to the minimalist approach to our designs. Matt and I also spend a lot time in the outdoors, where we come across elements that stir up the creativity for a design.

Q:  How did you get your distinctive style to work with Superbalist, and grab the attention of the typical shopper?

The simplistic design of the range allows for versatile functionality of each product.

Q: What have you got in the pipeline for 2018? Any more collaborations?

We are working on doing another collaboration with Superbalist for the summer. Watch this space. 

Q: Let’s talk a bit about your other new range, Serendipity. What drew you to the word?

Put simply, ‘serendipity’ is the act of finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it, which is subsequently the root of many of my creative processes. Unexpected surprises in nature such as the intricate patterns found in flora and fauna, the ethereal night skies and vast Namibian desert have all found their way onto Love Milo creations.

Q: What is your favourite piece from the range?

I am particularly fond of the storage jars and I recommend grouping the small and large one together to create a pleasing visual collection. They can also be used for coffee and tea in the kitchen, pens and pencils in the office, and can be transformed into a pot for indoor succulents.  

Q: Do you have a particular person in mind when you are designing?

No, I find it difficult to design for another person’s taste. I very much design for myself and create products that I feel are beautiful. If others like it, then that’s a bonus. 

Q: Who or what has inspired and informed your style?

I am inspired by the harmony between line and form found in nature.

Q: Is your home your sanctuary or does it double as your workspace?

Home is my sanctuary. Matt and I work from our studio in Cape Town, Gardens.

Q: Has your styled evolved over time? If so, how?

The Serendipity range is a product of my organically evolving style as a designer and showcases my willingness to be playful in the developmental stages of the crafting process. I’m definitely less afraid to try new things now, although I am always aware and conscious of keeping the designs within the Love Milo look.

Q: What is the best design lesson you’ve ever learnt?

You can’t find a design in your head. You can have an idea, but the real end design can only come from the process of creation.

Q: What does a typical day in your life look like?

With 3 children, it gets pretty hectic! I go to the studio and try get as much work done as possible, then I leave in the early afternoon to fetch the kids while Matt will generally stay at the studio.

Quick-fire questions:

Dream holiday destination? Italy
Best advice you’ve ever received? Grow your business organically
One thing you’re trying to improve on? My need for things to go my way
Morning person or night owl? Morning
Coffee of tea? Coffee!!!