Charlene Edwards is an apparel graphic designer at Watermelon, a London design consultancy. For the past 12 years Charlene has designed commercial apparel graphics and prints for fashion retailers, specializing in the tween market and partnering with global brands such as Disney and Sanrio.
A self proclaimed visual junkie since her childhood, growing up in the East Midlands in England Charlene was always sketching, painting, flicking through her parents record collection or watching music videos. As a child she dreamt of becoming a “designer of some sort” and was accepted to art college, where she loved photography, ceramics, fine art and printing, and didn’t want to specialize in one area in particular. It wasn’t until Charlene studied surface decoration and print that she started to develop a love for fashion and textiles.
After moving to London, Charlene began designing for retailers such as Topshop and New Look via various fashion suppliers. The energy of London enhanced her love for music and fashion simultaneously. This, coupled with becoming a parent, would later become the inspiration behind OddKinCreate, which started out as an alternative, collaborative creative outlet with friends and family.
OddKinCreate showcases the diverse portfolio of a “creative kin” that are connected through their love of art and design, promoting creativity and inspirational art through fashion, print, graphic design, illustration and music.
Charlene shares how she got started in her career, her newest creative collaboration and the best career advice she received.
I create the patterns and graphics that get printed onto garments!
After I left school I studied Art & Design at Mackworth College in Derby, now called Derby College. Then I moved to Leicester to study Surface Decoration & Print at Leicester SouthFields College, now called Leicester College. And finally, I studied Fashion & Textiles at De Montfort University.
My first job was as a junior design assistant for a fashion supplier and manufacturer in Leicester. There was an in-house vertical operation, meaning that all graphic design, pattern cutting, printing and garment make up was done under one roof. This was a real eye opener for me, as I gained experience in all of the in-house departments.
FIRST BIG CAREER BREAK
I remember I applied for the job of junior graphic designer, knowing I didn’t have the right experience for the job specification, but I just hoped for the best! You usually get set a project as part of your interview process, I did a project by hand as I didn’t even have a computer at home in those days. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job, but they offered me an assistant role instead.
Because of the vertical operation, I was able to choose which department suited my skill set. It was graphics for sure, the senior designers had their own retail accounts they were each responsible for, as everyones graphic “handwriting” was different. Eventually, I got to work on the Tammy Girl and the New Look 915 account, which led me to have an affinity toward designing for the tween fashion market.
MY TYPICAL DAY
I work part-time at a design consultancy who partners with licensed brands and retailers to design bespoke ranges. My day usually consists of liaising with the buying teams or licensors in order to pull together design concepts most suitable for their particular customer.
Every season we gather research on graphic, catwalk and lifestyle trends to produce mood boards in order to pitch a concept to the client, which is always my favorite bit. We work with brands such as Disney and Sanrio, so it’s always exciting to produce artwork that has a point of difference to what you might see usually on the high street or in the supermarkets.
On the days when I’m not at work, I usually paint or draw. Four years or so ago, I started to collaborate on projects with my friends and family, under the name of OddKinCreate, which has really become another creative outlet. It’s great to have my 9 to 5 and OddKinCreate as two separate entities; it means it’s possible for me to enjoy working on both.
My friends and I are putting together an exhibition of our OddKinCreate artworks, called “Not That Deep” at The Tabernacle, in West London. Simple and spontaneous is the goal, no hype. I think it’s important to let people express themselves freely, without over explaining; whether you are creating the art or viewing the art.
I’m still very much in love with the idea of people coming together in real life, having conversations, making connections and being inspired to take action and building communities, offline.
My biggest achievement so far is to thrive outside of my comfort zones.
When I’m not working I love to listen to music and dance! I have a 5 year old daughter, so she’s my excuse to not be a serious adult all the time and to let go and just have fun! She’s a big MJ fan too, so lots of shapes get thrown at home. I love listening to live music, I’ve been going to a night called Jazz re:freshed for around 10 years. It’s always inspiring to be surrounded by people who are passionate about music.
It sounds corny, but I can’t live without the love, support and encouragement of my family, colleagues and friends – my Odd Kin.
I’m quite a hippy at heart, so I’m always inspired by spirituality. I make sure I take time out to just be still, be present and connect with whatever I believe is my purpose in that moment. Sometimes that might mean meditating, reading, drawing, or even doing the ironing!
I can recite some 90s hip hop verses! I’m convinced I should be member of Wu Tang!
When I went back to work full-time after my maternity leave, it was difficult to juggle work, family, projects and myself. I had too much going on and was toying with the idea of going part-time. My manager said “You need to balance things out. Whatever you decide, you’ll be supported.”
I acknowledge that I’m very lucky to be valued by my employer, and thankful that I could have that open conversation with my manager about my concerns. The advice she gave was applicable to many aspects of life, not just my career, and once I realised that everything became less of a struggle.
Looking ahead hopefully I’ll be making some more connections with people. I’d like to exhibit some artwork abroad. My ultimate dream is to live near a beach somewhere, creating art with my loved ones around me. In the meantime, I’ll fully enjoy taking the baby steps towards that dream.
I LOVE WHAT I DO BECAUSE…
My parents always encouraged me to branch out and explore my creativity, and they still do to this day. I get to create and give back to people, whether that’s seeing my designs on a child’s t-shirt, in a gallery space or inspiring my friends to create for themselves. Every day I get to immerse myself in the things that I’m passionate about.
Interview by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema