JAILmake: Design and fabrication in the heart of Peckham

Photo Credit: Helen Ward

JAILmake is a 3D design and fabrication studio in Peckham, South East London. Started five years ago by Jamie Elliott and his then-business partner, the business focused on making “long-lasting” things “out of good materials in the correct manner”. When I meet Jamie to talk about Jailmake, there’s a world-weariness about him that makes it clear things have come a considerable way since then.

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Photo Credit: Helen Ward

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Photo Credit: Helen Ward

Now, Jamie and his team of freelance studio assistants make anything and everything, from beautiful welded metal and wood tables for Liberty’s fabric department, to hundreds of wooden dolls for the Burberry Christmas window. These are high end clients with a clear style and brand identity to which Jamie and his team must conform. And for the past two years, large-scale fabrication has been a big part of the business, a far cry from the early days of making minimal pieces of furniture and working on small jobs for friends.

I wonder if this is what Jamie saw his business doing when he started in a garage in Deptford five years ago. I ask him about his work ethos.

“I don’t want to limit myself to furniture. [I want to] use my spacial awareness to design anything. I’m interested in combining different things, and generally designing through making as a practice, as an approach to a lot of different situations. [It’s] using material knowledge, process knowledge, and combining that with the information from the client, or the brief, or the space, or the viewer, or the user. It’s just adding those things back into the mix instead of just designing something for the style or aesthetic value where the material doesn’t influence the end product as much.”

Photo Credit: Helen Ward

Photo Credit: Helen Ward

Photo Credit: Helen Ward

Photo Credit: Helen Ward

Photo Credit: Helen Ward

Photo Credit: Helen Ward

While the last couple of years have been spent working solidly on fabrication projects for clients, and reinvesting profits into machinery for the workshop, Jamie intends to invest more time in people. He hopes to utilise the workshop as a residency space for young designers interested in Jailmake’s original belief in “practical engineering and urban sustainability.” This would then feed into workshops and open days allowing the general public to visit the studio, see the resident designer in action and have a go at some of the techniques being used, such as welding or carpentry.

It’s a fully involved way of engaging the community with the making process from all angles – designer, space, tools, techniques, finished product – and it enables a dialogue between consumer and producer that perhaps might never have occurred otherwise.

There’s already a strong sense of a creative community at Jailmake; since moving to the current studio three years ago, the space has become home to a graphic designer and photographer (Limner Studio), four web developers (Tableflip), and two bike frame builders (Rusby Cycles; Hartley Cycles). As well as doing the occasional skills exchange, helping each other out on their respective projects, they also cook lunch for each other everyday. It’s a chance to take a real break from work and adds an element of fun back into what can sometimes be busy and stressful days. It’s a nice image; a reminder that there are highly-skilled but nonetheless regular people behind the products we see and buy everyday.

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Photo Credit: Helen Ward

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Photo Credit: Helen Ward

Photo Credit: Helen Ward

Photo Credit: Helen Ward

I ask Jamie if he can describe himself in three words. He refers to an interview with Crafts Council he did back when JAILmake was first starting out; in comparison with his old business partner, Jamie was described as the “shorter, bearded, and more intense one” of the pair. I ask if there’s a similarity between the way he describes himself and the way in which he’d describe Jailmake.

“Jailmake is basically me, it definitely reflects my mood. That’s why I’m trying to get more people involved, so it’s more autonomous. I want it to be a successful business, I want it to be a platform for different things. I want it to have weight behind it, real interest, and real knowledge.”

Story and photos by Helen Ward who heads up LOIS, a shop that celebrates independent makers. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram.