Name and company: Helena Maratheftis, founder of Thefty and freelance illustrator/designer.
Where are you based? : London
NDA : Tell me a little about your business and why you decided to start out on your own?
I am the founder of Thefty, a London-based illustrated homewares label. Following from my philosophy that no surface should go undecorated (!), our products are designed to punctuate homes with vivid jolts of colour and pattern, with inspiration coming from varied and sometimes unexpected sources.
We officially launched a year ago with The Retroviral Collection, a range of Fine Bone China mugs covered in patterns based on the microscopic structure of virus particles. I like to create products that are talking points, and the mugs are hopefully as beautiful as they are thought-provoking. We’ve also designed art prints, cushions, and have our eyes set on lots of new products for the coming year.
The name Thefty is derived from my surname (Mara-THEFT-is). It was a nickname given to me years ago by a close friend. I loved the name and immediately started using it as an artistic alias, knowing in my head that Thefty would become the name of my future brand. What attracted me to starting out on my own was the complete creative freedom, but the fact that I have control over manufacturing quality is also very important to me - materials matter just as much as the pattern sitting on top.
NDA : What do you love most about your job?
I love lots of things about my job. The best thing, for me, is that I found a way to merge my skills and interests – Illustration and design, biology and science communication – rather than having to choose between them. I also love that every day is different, and that I get to work with so many people on a wide variety of projects.
NDA : Your background is in Biology, where did the idea to combine your love of science and illustration to create homewares come from?
I never had a lightbulb moment - It happened very organically. For years I’d wanted to put my illustrations and patterns onto homeware and lifestyle products, and it just so happens that I’m particularly captivated by biological imagery. It felt natural to merge the two, although I realise that it wouldn’t occur to most people to put virus particles onto Fine Bone China.
NDA : Is the fascination with discovering patterns in nature something you have always drawn inspiration from?
Absolutely! As a high school student I was photocopying biology textbooks for collages and gluing glass microscope slides onto canvas. The way I see it, a pattern is a pattern is a pattern, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. If you look closely enough you can find design inspiration anywhere.
I wanted to take this a step further with the Retroviral Collection. The subject matter is delicate, but I didn’t want to hide my source of inspiration. Instead, I wanted to highlight the juxtaposition between the beautiful and the morbid in a way that is striking and memorable…yet subtle enough to hold your coffee. Through Retroviral, we’re also raising money for charity - for every mug sold, we donate 5p towards research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
NDA : What project is next in line for your illustration work and Thefty?
I’m currently working on new virus designs to expand the Retroviral Collection, and I’m also developing a brand new Fine Bone China mug range. This range will be natural history based, indulging in my love of botanical illustrations and beyond.
I’ve also just submitted a collection of hand-lettered greeting card designs to my favourite stationery company, and they should be in print in early 2016. Watch this space!
NDA : Do you get to travel much with your job and where are your favourite places to be in the world?
My mugs get to travel a lot more than I do – they’ve been delivered everywhere, from Australia to the USA to Finland to the Netherlands to all over the UK! I’m pretty jealous!
Although I don’t do much work-related travelling, I do feel at home in quite a few parts of the world. I am of Greek-Cypriot heritage and grew up in Australia and Greece, so I love to spend as much time as I can in those places. Having said that, I live and work in London, and I’m very happy spending most of my time in this beautiful city, too.
NDA : What do you think is your biggest achievement so far?
Thefty is relatively new, so it was incredibly exciting to have our collection picked up by the Wellcome Collection shop in London. It made it feel like the hard work, the vision behind the designs - and the obsessive attention to detail and quality – had been recognised.
NDA : If someone came to you to ask for advice about running a creative business what advice would you give them?
Ooh. I’d urge them to be sure they’re creating things they really really love. Running a creative business can be hard, sometimes lonely work where you’re constantly learning on the job, so unless you’re super passionate about what you’re making it can be hard to stay motivated.
NDA : What does the first two hours of your day look like, do you have any rituals?
I am one of those chirpy morning people. 8am counts as a lie-in. I generally fall asleep thinking about breakfast and wake up thinking about breakfast, so after a bit of scrolling through Instagram in bed, I’m in the kitchen. I work from home on most days, so I make a point of dressing properly for my sanity. Then, the computer is on, and I’m checking emails and social media, as well as redrafting my paper to-do lists which get increasingly messy as the week progresses. Once the to-do list is sorted, I’ll stick on a Podcast (Radiolab is, perhaps predictably, a big favourite of mine) and get cracking with the day’s work.
NDA : Lastly, how lucky are you, and why?
I have a quote on my pinboard which says ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get.’ I really like the idea of creating one’s own luck, of opening doors by constantly pushing on them, rather than hoping passively that the universe will drop things into your lap.
Having said that, I definitely count myself as lucky! I happened to be born into a supportive family, and was fortunate enough to live comfortably in many beautiful places, and to experience plenty of inspiring and stimulating things growing up. I was given opportunities. Now I am surrounded by wonderfully supportive friends and family who champion my work and encourage my creativity. That’s not all thanks to my hard work! That’s luck. And I’m grateful for it.