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Career Changer: From fashion to furniture design

Before enrolling on our Professional Furniture Making Course, James Weir, founder of Alexander Weir Designs, enjoyed a past life as a tailor on Savile Row. But after a decade of tailoring London’s elites, James found himself in search of something different.

Here he explains what inspired him to pursue a career in fine furniture design, and why woodworking and tailoring aren’t all that different.

You were previously a tailor on Savile Row. What inspired you to move into woodworking?

Like for so many others, lockdown was a period of contemplation and reflection – after more than ten years as a coat maker and clothing designer, I realised I wanted to work as close as I could to a natural material. Wood was the inevitable answer.

Tailoring and woodworking might seem like very different paths, but I see them as deeply intertwined – working with my hands, an attention to detail and an aesthetic eye are the fundamentals of my practice, whether I’m working with textiles or with wood.

Why did you choose furniture making as a career path? And why did you choose the Chippendale School as your place of study?

I don’t think of myself solely as a furniture maker so much as a designer. Good design, be it the lamp over your kitchen table or the spoon you use to stir your soup, should work towards a harmony of form and function. It’s an exploration of this careful balance that drives me, and which made the Chippendale School such a natural place of study.

The Professional Course equips you with a great foundation for a wide range of techniques, but within that structure, there’s a huge amount of freedom and support to find your own path and explore what makes your work truly your own.

How did you find the transition from tailor to woodworker? Have there been any surprises along the way?

Setting up a new business is always one long surprise, but I’m grateful that my formal training on Savile Row – the discipline of being a craftsman – has translated naturally into my new work. When I need a break from the sawdust, there’s always a chance to pick up my needle and thread and patch up my overalls.

What is the inspiration behind the designs and style of your business, Alexander Weir Designs?

I like to approach design with a sense of playfulness – that means being open to inspiration wherever it comes from. As a result, my influences are drawn from the world around me – the art that moves me, the shapes of my everyday objects, the walks I take, and the spaces I inhabit.

What is your advice to anyone contemplating changing careers?

Go with your gut. You can spend a long time carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages, but in the end, your gut instinct is often the best guide.

Thank you to James for his contributions to this piece.

If you would like to learn the skills to set up a business like Alexander Weird Designs, take a look at our Professional Course here. We are currently accepting applications for our 2022/2023 course.

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