In Studio with Kaylee Higgins of By John Designs

INTERVIEW BY Gina Dionisio

By John Designs is a bold, fun, quirky homeware brand rooted in creativity and local craftsmanship. We caught up with Kaylee Higgins to find out more about her design approach and inspiration behind the brand.

If you made it to Decorex Cape Town in June you would have spotted the By John Design stand. It would have given you an instant hit of dopamine with its bold pink walls and quirky-cool decor pieces (we’re obsessed with the lobster wall hooks). The brand just screams FUN!

How it started

Kaylee’s idea to start By John Designs took shape over a few years, but it was during the pandemic that the spark to get it off the ground was ignited. “My work in the film industry as an Art Director was heavily affected, and my dad, who runs an events-based manufacturing company, also faced significant challenges. One day, I visited his factory and was struck by the eerie silence – no machinery noise, no clinking of metals, no laughter, just quiet,” says Kaylee.

By John Designs Kaylee John

This prompted her to think about how she could repurpose his machinery and skilled employees for something new, something she was passionate about that wouldn’t be hindered by COVID-19 regulations. “This is where the idea to create homeware was born. My experience as an Art Director has been invaluable, as it has taught me to pay attention to detail, think creatively, and bring a unique touch to our homeware designs.”

Building the brand

The journey of developing By John Design’s first range of products began with the humble coaster. “This choice was intentional because its shape and size were closest to the products the factory already produced, making it the easiest option to start with. Following this, we expanded our range to include cupboard knobs and wall hooks,” explains Kaylee.

Developing these new products took about a year, as it was a completely new venture for everyone involved. “We had to rethink how the factory machinery, traditionally used for a very different type of product, could be adapted to create my designs,” she says. At first, the technical limitations were tricky to figure out, but patience and 3D printing were a big help to the By John Designs team. “Despite these hurdles, the process was incredibly rewarding. It was a slow but steady progression that allowed us to refine our techniques and learn a lot along the way,” says Kaylee.

Part of why By John started was to keep a local family business and its employees going, so manufacturing locally is part of the brand’s DNA. “Being present in the factory allows me to oversee every step of production, ensuring each piece is crafted with meticulous care and precision. I believe that this commitment to local production is what makes our products truly special,” explains Kaylee.

The approach to design

Kaylee’s creative process is organic and often starts with inspiration from everyday life. “I draw a lot of inspiration from nature, art, and the people around me. I love to experiment with bold colours, playful patterns, and unique shapes,” she says. Once she has a concept in mind, she starts playing in Illustrator until something begins to take shape. “I like to think that I teeter on the edge of “too much,” and I love pushing the boundaries until the balance is just right.”

Future plans

The business is continually evolving. “Over the past year, I have received a lot of customer feedback, so I have a pretty good idea of what they want to see,” explains Kaylee. She’s in the process of expanding the textile range to include more tableware and more wall hooks, which she is very excited about. “These will be slightly smaller than our flagship Lobster Hook but equally cool. Currently, they are in the 3D printing stage of production. Ultimately, I want to continue growing and evolving while staying true to our mission of creating homeware that makes people happy.” |

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