The story of Red Hand Gang starts with two small girls who love drawing, especially on walls, and their über-clever mother, Abi Simmons, who makes colouring books for them to encourage their artwork off the walls and on to paper. Word gets out about these little drawing book gems, and the Red Hand Gang is born. Now Abi makes a whole range of papergoods and gifts for kids, including the incredible children’s plywood hangers that have captured our (and everyone else’s) imagination. We talked to Abi about her inspirations and her own childhood influences…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello, my name is Abi and I am Red Hand Gang. I design and make gifts for kids in a little terraced house in Oxford that I share with my two daughters (five and three) and my partner Andy.
Personalised sketchbook, £4.50
Where does the name Red Hand Gang come from?
When we were kids my brother, sister and I loved American films and programmes. I think we completely wore out the VHS recording of The Goonies. But our all-time favourite was The Red Hand Gang. So in honour of great childhood memories, cool 70s kids, long socks and sneakers and care-free times I chose the name Red Hand Gang.
What or who inspires you?
Where to start… Alain Gree, vintage Ladybird book illustrations, Junzo Terada, Scandinavian aesthetic, Japanese packaging, 50s children’s book illustration, Galt puzzles, Yoshitomo Nara, anything made of plywood, Pinterest, finding new colour combos that clash nicely!
Have you always been a maker?
Yes, pretty much. I grew up in a very arty house – mum and dad were and are very talented makers. So we were always making, drawing, creating something or other. There have been gaps here and there. I had a stall on Portobello market for a good few years. It was amazing but it was a seven-day-a-week job – no holidays, and not much social life. After I gave it up I didn’t do any making for a couple of years. I think I was all crafted out!
As well as Red Hand Gang, you are also a photographer and have two children. How do you fit it all in?
I don’t! I tried to fit it all in, but it was too much of a squash and a squeeze. The photography is on the backburner for a while. As for Red Hand Gang, I am just about keeping on top of the work load. We put the girls to bed (I wish it was that straight forward!) and then I get cracking with the making, emailing, answering enquiries, ordering packaging etc. Sylvie and I hang out in the day. I tried to sneak some painting into the day a while ago… it didn’t end well, so we stick to post office trips on the way to playgroup now.
Can you describe your workspace?
I work at my kitchen table. I love working there – I get furnished with snacks and tea! I’ve just invested in lots of storage upstairs for packaging, fabric, paints, tools, and finished products, so I’m quite well organised upstairs. The disadvantage is that I do quite a lot of running up and down stairs to fetch stuff.
How do your designs develop?
There is usually lots of initial sketching involved but to a certain extent the materials lead the design. I love plywood and I wanted to use it somehow. So after much sawing and sanding, the hangers were born out of a determination to use ply somewhere.
The same goes for the beautiful Dutch grey linen my best mate Rose gave me. It looks amazing with bright colours. The Happy Apples were a product of lots of playing with the linen and fabric paints.
Did you have a favourite toy or game when you were growing up?
I think it has to be the Fisher Price hospital. My mum still has it, and now Sylvie plays with it. I’ve started collecting my own Fisher Price car boot finds now.
What did you want to be when you were small?
A sign post cleaner or a zoo keeper!
Is your own home as bright and colourful as your work?
For better or worse, yes it is. I love the Scandi interiors aesthetic that is super trendy at the moment. I love the clean lines, black and white and uncluttered rooms, but however hard I try to simplify the colour palette in the house I am always drawn to crazy bright colours, vintage tat and orange plastic!
Is there a piece of your work you’re particularly proud of?
I love my plywood hangers!