Spotlight on: Tom Pigeon, the independent design shop founded by Pete & Kirsty Thomas
Tom Pigeon is a creative studio founded by husband and wife team Pete and Kirsty Thomas in 2014 and, aside from taking on design commissions and consultancy work, the pair also design and sell beautiful prints, jewellery and stationery.
You can discover their much-loved designs online and via a wealth of notable stockists (Barbican Centre, The Conran Shop, Liberty and Tate Modern, to name a few). And they do all of this from a small fishing village in Scotland. We spoke to Kirsty about how they met, where they find their inspirations and what has worked well for their business over the years.
First up, how did you both meet? And how did Tom Pigeon come about?
Pete and I met at art college back in the '90s. We both studied design and have worked in the creative industries since graduating – product, fashion, graphics, furniture, interiors, retail, education. I set up a design company in 2010 and when Pete and I decided to join forces in 2014, Tom Pigeon was born.
What did your careers look like before launching your own brand?
Our careers are pretty varied. I worked in fashion and then graphics for a streetwear brand before establishing my own streetwear company back in the early '00s. I then worked in art and design education before becoming a full-time designer again.
Pete set up the design agency Uniform whilst still at university in Liverpool and was creative director until 2014. He has worked on a huge variety of projects, and in 2013 was a Designs of the Year finalist with his Postcard Player. Pete now splits his time between design lecturing in Dundee and the Tom Pigeon studio.
Where does the name, Tom Pigeon, come from?
Tom comes from Thomas which is our surname and Pigeon is just a nickname I used to get called – Tom Pigeon is our mysterious design pseudonym!
Being in business with my own husband, I also get asked this question a lot – but how do you both make it work?
We have different strengths and weaknesses, which makes it work (most of the time). I think I approach work from a more art-based route and am definitely more disorganised; Pete is systematic and very pragmatic. These traits somehow combine to make a smooth business. I think it's also super-important to find things other than work to talk about at the breakfast table and on weekends.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
We work and live on the East coast of Scotland. The East Neuk is a string of really picturesque fishing villages and people wouldn't necessarily associate our work with this environment, but I am really inspired by the geography of the land around here, the geometry of the harbour walls, angles of sails and masts, reflections in water and the colours of ice cream and washed up sea plastic. Conversely, we also love Modernism, Brutalist architecture and mid-century type.
Can you describe your process?
I work quite organically, while Pete likes to establish rules that guide his creative work. I like to take a theme and explore colour, shape and balance, gradually paring elements back to their most basic forms.
For our Shipwreck prints, I was inspired by the rhythm and colour of objects washed up on our local beaches – old tyres, bleached wood, nets and plastic. I then explored how these forms could be simplified whilst still retaining the sense of movement created by the tides.
Is the shop your only focus?
We sell our work online but we are also really lucky to work with galleries and design stores around the world. We also collaborate with places to create bespoke collections. We've worked with The Barbican to create stationery for the Eames retrospective, with the Science Museum on their Cosmonauts exhibition and with Tate Modern on their recent Alexander Calder exhibition. We love collaborations and are currently chatting with the V&A about an exciting new project.
You have stockists selling your stuff across the UK (including Liberty and V&A) and as far away as Australia and Japan. Do people approach you, or is it the other way around?
Initially, we approached places that we really wanted to work with and we still do this if we spot a really great store. It's always nice to introduce ourselves to new people. We are lucky now that people also approach us directly – it's a really nice position to be in.
What has worked well for your business? How have you made it a success?
We're nice people and we have always set out to make our customers happy – whether that be the folk buying from our online store, our stockists around the world or the people we work with to create our products. We aim to give the best customer service we can! I think this makes a big difference and in a highly competitive industry, a good reputation goes a long way.
In business terms, we focus on quality and affordability. We have a small in-house team that crafts all of our jewellery pieces and a great group of UK makers and manufacturers that help us bring our designs to life.
We work pretty hard, but try not to lose sight of the other things that make us happy – friends, family, food, being outdoors, sunshine!
You're based in a small fishing village in east Scotland. It sounds ideal. Do you feel your location benefits you, or holds you back?
It's pretty idyllic here and it works well for us. We have an amazing rural studio with a veg patch and we can cycle or walk to work. I don't really feel our location has held the business back at all – we travel to London quite a lot for meetings or exhibitions but most of the time we can keep in touch with everyone really well via email and phone.
Working here gives us the space to think a bit more clearly and create work that isn't always influenced by wider trends.
Which products are the most popular?
Anstruther was the first print we created at Tom Pigeon and four years on it remains our best-seller. Our Form jewellery collection is also really well received and keeps the jewellery team pretty busy.
Can you share five things you're currently selling and explain why you love them?
Anstruther – a hand-pulled screen print with traditional brass foiled detail. I love it because it's super simple but really reflects the geometry and colours of our local harbour.
Béton Bangle – a solid silver bangle inspired by the strong shapes and sharp shadows of Brutalist architecture. This is the only piece of jewellery I wear and I wear it every day.
Shipwreck Mobile – we're about to launch this sculptural piece inspired by our Shipwreck print series. I am a huge fan of Alexander Calder and Bruno Munari and have wanted to create a mobile for a very long time. I really like its boldness of colour and simplicity of form.
Play Cards – a box of 26 postcards that we designed for the Eames exhibition. They are designed to encourage creative play and communication. They can be used to play card games, make art, write to friends…
Steam Trawler Dazzle Ship – a handmade model boat created by Scottish artist Edward Smith. Edward records the history of the British boats through his amazing handcrafted model boats. They are little works of art and it's a complete pleasure to work with Edward. We've just finished a collaborative Shipwreck Dazzle Ship to add to our collection.
Is there anything in the pipeline for Tom Pigeon?
I would really like to explore the aesthetic of our prints through textiles and in particular, weaving and tapestry.