Lichfield designer and maker Katie Figiel, founder of Copper and Solder, is making waves with her unique homewares. Amy Norbury discovers more
Scroll through Instagram looking for home design inspiration and you’re sure to come across a whole host of designers, interiors experts and influencers showcasing beautiful products and rooms which have been carefully curated to look effortlessly stylish. You may have even found perfect items for your own home after spotting them in someone else’s stunning pictures.
Instagram has opened up a whole new avenue for small businesses to get to potential customers, and a way for you and me to connect directly with people who make the things we’re searching for.
For Lichfield designer-maker Katie Figiel, a picture-perfect Instagram feed is key to her success.
The 25-year-old runs Copper and Solder, where she creates unique homewares for modern, casual living spaces with an industrial, minimal feel. Her 10,000-plus Instagram followers are treated to a constant update of images showcasing her stylish products in perfectly pictured settings.
Flick through and you’ll see her copper rail in the beautifully styled home of a well-known blogger and influencer, and her coffee drip stand resplendent in a trendy cafe in Brooklyn, New York.
“I’ve try to make Copper and Solder more of a lifestyle brand,” says Katie. “If I post a picture of someone who’s got one of my pieces in their living room I want people to look at it and think ‘I want that vibe’ rather than just ‘I want that product’.
Katie’s flair for design led her to a degree course at Derby University studying Textiles and Fashion – something of a departure from the business where she eventually made her name.
“I specialised in printed fashion, looking at putting prints onto fabrics,” says Katie. “I loved it and it was amazing, but I didn’t feel like I’d ever get a job in the industry after.”
By chance, Katie found out about a design job going at a burgeoning accessories company based in London and decided to take the plunge.
“My sister works as a packaging designer for major brands like Boots and at the time she was working closely with an accessories company called Betty and Walter on a Christmas range, and she found out that they were looking for a studio assistant and thought I’d be perfect,” she explains.
Betty and Walter was run by renowned print designer Lisa Levis-Stickley, someone Katie had always looked up to, so even before she graduated, Katie went for the job – and was successful. Upping sticks from the Midlands, Katie made the move to the capital to chase her designer dreams.
“I worked for Betty and Walter for two years, and I ended up concentrating fully on their social media at the end,” Katie explains. “It was the time when people were on Instagram a lot, it was the start of it all and I absolutely loved it. It was also great meeting their stockists and really set me up for where I am now. I would meet with companies like Heal’s to find out what they were looking for.”
Unfortunately the company got into some financial difficulty and Katie was made redundant. Rather than sticking it out in the city, she decided to move back to the Midlands when her partner Luke was offered a managerial role at The Edgbaston Hotel in Birmingham.
“It worked out timing-wise with Luke’s job,” says Katie. “And the Midlands has so much creative stuff going on so I thought there had to be something design-wise out there for me.”
Katie took on a part-time job at H&M while she was looking for her dream designer role. But it was her dad Chris, a painter and decorator with a love of making original pieces, who influenced Katie’s jump into her own business.
“Before we moved my dad had made us a copper pipe table for the flat in London,” says Katie. “It was a wooden top, painted black, with copper pipe legs. Then when we moved back he wanted to make some more stuff and showed me how to do it, and it’s all just grown from there.”
In September 2015 Katie started selling copper iPad stands and coffee dripper stands on Etsy – and was soon inundated with orders and requests.
“It just went nuts,” says Katie. “I kept thinking of new products we could make and it quickly got to the point where I didn’t even have time for my part-time job any more.
“We’ve made a couple of drinks trolleys for a non-alcoholic spirit company called Seedlip. It was about my third month in and they found me on Etsy. They were launching in Selfridges in London and wanted something on-brand to showcase their stuff and do tastings. I’d never made a trolley before but I went for it and then made them a second one.
“I didn’t think people would contact me for bigger stuff, I thought they’d just buy my products, end-of. But doing something bespoke was really nice to work on.”
From her initial limited product range, Katie added new lines – and soon added a new material into the mix.
“I started doing copper rails and hooks, and then concrete came into it when I started doing the copper piece on concrete as a candle holder, which is now our bestseller,” she says. “I think it was just the right time for copper, it was just huge in interiors.”
While copper was the start of Katie’s homeware range, much of her product range is now concrete accessories such as candle holders, coasters, jewellery plates, ring cones and pots. And once again, she’s hit on a huge interiors trend as concrete is the material ju jour in interior design circles.
“Years ago I saw a concrete candle holder on Pinterest and thought ‘I need to do that’, just as a DIY. And that’s kind of taken over now,” says Katie.
“I literally bought a bag of concrete and got started. My dad is told me all about the binders you need to use in concrete and I just started experimenting. I started off using tin cans as moulds, pouring the concrete in and then peeling the cans off when it’s set. Now I use all silicone moulds, which I try to make myself so my designs are unique.
“There’s so much more you can do with concrete because copper is copper. I’m using raw plumbers’ copper pipe, so there’s only so much you can do with it – people have been asking for brass and different colours but I’ve not looked into spray painting yet so it’s not easy for me to change the colours up.
“Concrete is more flexible, I can print on top of it and I can mix colours, make bigger and smaller things; concrete is really taking off now. I still like to keep elements of the copper in my pieces because the business is called Copper and Solder, so I use copper coupling on candle holders and brush copper paint onto items.”
Working out of a small studio in the spare bedroom of her Lichfield home, Katie now has around 30 stockists around the country and overseas, including one in Dubai.
“My first ever stockist was in South Korea, which was nuts,” she says. “I wasn’t sure how to go about it but I just went with it. My stockists are the backbone to the business and keep everything running, while my website keeps the e-commerce orders coming in.
“Instagram plays a massive part in my sales; that’s where I think the majority of sales come from. I’ll post a picture and then sell x amount of that product that day and I’ll know that’s because people have seen it there – it’s amazing. It means you can shout about your products without having to go to markets all of the time. Although I do love markets too; my favourite is one called Paper Dolls in the Custard Factory which is always fab.”
Katie uses both grey and white concrete, using different coloured pigments mixed with the white concrete to create her signature ‘Dalmatian’ patterns, in black and white as well as a newly launched white and blush range which started off as a collaboration for one of her stockists.
“The grey ones are a lot more ‘concrete’ and rustic in feel, whereas people are really loving the different colours,” says Katie. “Every couple of months I also do a limited edition ‘marble’ pattern, rolling a plain white piece in oil paints to create the effect.
“People always say ‘what is it’ because they don’t think it’s concrete. People often think they’re ceramic because they’re so smooth. It’s definitely a very raw material which is hard to get so smooth. It’s mostly the mould, and mixing the concrete and the binder to the correct consistency, and then sanding afterwards is quite time-consuming.
“I’ve bought concrete candle holders before – when I went to Copenhagen they had loads and I went a bit mad! – but they’re all very rustic and unfinished, so that’s what makes mine unique because they’re a lot smoother.”
While copper items are time-consuming and made to order, Katie keeps a stock of her best-selling concrete items – which are simpler and quicker to make – to have on hand when the orders come flying in.
“The raw concrete powder is mixed in small batches with two different binders to the right consistency and not too runny; if there’s quite a lot of liquid in my products tend to crack which is not good,” says Katie. “Then it’s just a matter of pouring it into the moulds, and it usually sets within about 24 hours.
“The soldering side is a bit different; I always work outside with the copper and it’s a long process. I use lengths of copper pipe and each piece is measured out and cut – I think an iPad stand is about 26 pieces in total – and then everything is fitted together and cleaned with a solution called flux before it’s blow-torched and then buffed with wire wool to make it shiny.”
As a favourite of home stylists, Copper and Solder products often feature in photo shoots. With this in mind, Katie is also launching a product rental service.
“I get a lot of people asking me if they can loan products for photo shoots, so I’m branching out into renting my stuff out for those, and also for weddings,” she says.
“For weddings, people always want lots of candle holders but they don’t necessarily want to keep them so I’m going to be offering them to rent instead. Rather than going on eBay and bulk-buying candle holders for super cheap, people can get a quality product without it costing so much.
“And for shoots it’s great because it gives me more exposure but I’m getting the products back when they’ve finished the shoot, and it works for them because they haven’t got to pay out loads of money.”
With her core product range set, Katie is constantly trying to think of new items to add to her repertoire.
“I actually had a dream about a new product the other day,” she says. “I use resin on coasters sometimes if people want them waterproof and I had a dream that I used the resin in the ring cone mould and I put pieces of concrete inside so that’s something I’m working on at the moment.
“I’d also like to go down the route of more bespoke commissions. When I first started I got quite a lot of people asking me for display products; a company was doing a Lancome perfume and they wanted a whole display of concrete blocks and pieces which fitted together. At the time I was like ‘how do I even go about creating a mould just for them’ but now I’d love to do more bespoke work.
“I also love collaborating with my stockists, making something a bit more unique while the rest of the business is just rolling on its own. This year already people are wanting more bespoke things. I think it’s so easy for a shop to say I want these products, and then to realise a shop down the road is stocking the same things. Each store is wanting something unique, which is great because I really can do them a bespoke range either colour-wise or offering a brand new product for them.
“It’s crazy how quickly the business has grown; when I got made redundant I never thought this is what I’d end up doing.”