That was back in April 2017.
Fast forward almost two years and Dundee-based designer and maker Judith McDowall is feeling inspired, motivated and making significant progress with her textiles business, Just Judith Design.
Having originally worked in ceramics, Judith soon developed an interest in Scottish textiles.
After returning to study and achieving her BA in Design at Dundee and Angus College and Robert Gordon University, she launched ‘Just Judith Design’ from a caravan in her garden, initially focusing on hand-made, red-headed Scottish dolls.
After moving into Dundee’s WASPS studio, Judith stumbled upon an advert appealing for Dundee women to join the brand new Coca-Cola 5by20 programme.
Judith said, “When I saw the advert, I was ready to give up, really struggling. However much you enjoy what you do, you’re essentially alone when you start out and can feel very isolated.
“My main wish was to get my dolls out into the marketplace, particularly into the tourism industry where I believed they could really take off. I take my inspiration from Scotland heritage and homeland and I was confident that, with their red hair and my use of Scottish materials such as Harris Tweed and Moon Wool, my dolls would appeal to tourists, day trippers and Scots living overseas.”
For Judith, giving the programme a whirl was a ‘no brainer’ and, following her successful application, she became one of the first group of seven to embark on the programme.
The trailblazing ‘Fast Track to Business Success’ course, designed by Programme Director Angie Foreman, gave Judith and her colleagues the opportunity to share and learn from each other while increasing their business knowledge and confidence through industry designed and led topics. Each day, they were hosted in-kind by business venues across Dundee, with interactive, practical sessions covering core business topics delivered by industry led business owners and other experts.
Following one week of creative, experiential learning, Judith and her colleagues were tasked with pitching their business needs to a 10-strong support panel of business experts.
Judith said, “As the first group on the programme, we were essentially the guinea pigs but it was a fantastic experience, and so much fun! We were all in very different businesses but had a shared connection in that we were all trying to be successful. The pitches were both scary and exciting but we all gained so much from them.
“As well as the courses and events, the most important aspect of the Coca-Cola 5by20 programme is that it doesn’t stop when your course ends. Since we completed the Fast Track, the programme has really grown, with more speakers and more mentors.
“The online network, which all members have access to, is also an incredible thing for us and is so incredibly supportive. It’s basically a platform to ask other like-minded members any questions, whether it’s a problem you’re experiencing with your website and social media, or an accounting issue. That network has grown from a handful of women to around 90. There’s a real snowball effect as the group grows. The thing is, we want to support each other – we are all on a journey, we all need support and we’re there to help each other.”
By joining the network, members also have access to a number of networking events each year.
Judith continued, “The networking aspects are also invaluable, with some fascinating and insightful speakers. I’d been to networking events before but it was often a case of ‘men in suits’, and sometimes a little intimidating. Our networking events are genuinely fun, it’s all women together, and all new businesses. I would go as far as saying that the Coca-Cola 5by20 programme is an incredible asset for us here in Dundee and I’d urge anyone with a business idea to give it a go, and take that first step.”
So putting the programme aside, what’s the future for Just Judith Design?
Now working from The Enterprise@D&A, the Incubator space at Dundee and Angus College where she studied BA in Design back in 2014, Judith responded, “When I started out, I was putting all of my effort into the dolls but was lacking business support and felt completely isolated. Now, I’m working alongside other small businesses with like-minded people who I can engage with about my ideas and prod
ucts. Most importantly, I’m using the advice and knowledge which I gained from the 5by20 programme, exploring different revenue streams and products. It’s been truly life changing!”
Although her focus was on dolls alone, Judith is now exploring merchandise more generally.
After being approached to create some textile images of Lunan Bay in Angus, she went on to design a number of other local pictures featuring her signature red-headed characters.
Judith has now digitally printed a number of designs inspired by local scenes and landmarks onto silks and cottons, creating a beautiful range of textile jewellery, scarves and textile pictures.
Her newest gift range has seen these digital designs feature on greetings cards, canvas prints, tote bags and purses, featuring everything from penguins on Broughty Ferry beach to V&A Design Museum and RRS Discovery in Dundee!
However, Judith’s most significant achievement to date – and one which really has potential to tee off! – is her latest doll creation, Isla Rose.
As last year’s Open Championship in Carnoustie approached, Judith carried out some research into female golfers but found surprisingly little, so decided to produce a textile piece of a red-headed lady golfer.
Judith explained, “I decided to make a doll inspired by my Granny, who was a keen golfer, playing many courses throughout the Angus area. My Granny was a redhead too, and had a fiery personality to match. I had her in the back of my head throughout the design process so Isla Rose is an equally memorable and strong-willed character!”
After having Isla Rose digitally printed onto scarves and other merchandise, Judith is now in talks with Carnoustie Golf Links about the role Isla Rose could play as part of their commitment to gender equality. Watch this space!
Just Judith Designs can be found for sale in a number of gift shops and galleries throughout the area including Pretty Fly Workshop in Broughty Ferry, Tayberry Gallery in Perth and Lunan Bay Diner near Arbroath.
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Angela Foreman, Programme Director, Coca-Cola 5by20 Dundee can be contacted on (01382) 228545 or by emailing email@example.com.