PEOPLE: SHIRLEY FROST
Shirley Frost, the founder of DesignGAP, definitely has design running through her veins, and it shows with her passion for its contemporary and innovative members. DesignGAP is primarily a platform for fledgeling artists, designers and creators to spread their wings into trade shows and events to get their products out in the public eye, but caters for established designer makers too. A recent merge with The Giftware Association will allow DesignGAP members access to all the services and benefits the GA members receive.
Shirley has lived design all her life, training in ceramics at the Royal College of Arts, and exploring the world on travelling scholarships before settling into teaching herself at the Birmingham College of Art where the lack of outlets for creatives became apparent. Shirley states, “the hardest part of the year was at the end of the academic year, I could see there were very few jobs out there for exceptionally talented students.” She continues about the state of the country at the time, “The UK was a very different place, with very few trade shows, few craft fairs or craft shops to showcase designer makers products, and it was an extremely daunting task setting up your own business.”
This led Shirley to voluntarily set up DesignGAP in 1980 as a ‘not for profit’ to act as a facilitator, not as an agent, for innovative, contemporary UK artist makers and designers with the intention of showcasing their work in the best light possible. To this day DesignGAP has not received a grant or any outside funding to keep it running. The Design Council had worked with Shirley exhibiting her work for several years and offered her a stand at the 1981 Spring Fair under their umbrella, where she co-ordinated 16 other designer makers using her eye for design, as well as including her own mixed media jewellery.
From this very first and very successful Spring Fair, Shirley has helped in excess of 3000 members. “Some would start out on DesignGAP stand and then as we grew into a DesignGAP area, they would occupy nearby spaces and have their own successful stand at shows,” she says, “at the height of its success we had 49 members’ stands at a trade show at one time”. One such early member was Nick Munro, who later won the Giftware Association’s ‘Award for Excellence’ and continues to be an icon in British design today, designing a range for the 2012 London Olympics.
Continuing this winning formula, DesignGAP has shown in Trade Fairs and events over the UK, New York, Paris, Japan and Dubai as well as a retail concession in Hyper Hyper on Kensington High Street and a yearlong retail experiment in Birmingham. During this period Shirley’s photographic collection of designers’ work was used as the main source for a V&A museum collection of contemporary jewellery. Shirley also launched the first incarnation of the DesignGAP’s website in 1997 featuring about 200 members, which coincided with the first of several printed directories.
A successful 2005 saw DesignGAP celebrate 25 years, the very same year Shirley received ‘The Honorary Achievement Award’ from The Giftware Association as a recognition for her innovative work promoting designer makers. She was also awarded a Doctorate of Science from the University of Birmingham, also for her innovative work with mini micro creative businesses.
Unfortunately, Shirley has experienced ill health over the past few years, with admin work building up and further developments being hampered.
Sarah Ward, Chief Executive of The Giftware Association became aware of DesignGAP’s issues and offered the Giftware Association’s resources and expertise to continue the story of DesignGAP. Sarah states, “It’s been a pleasure to work with Shirley and to work on the transition of our members; it also means the DesignGAP members get a host of benefits which will enable them to prosper more. Shirley has created a great organisation, inspiring creatives and designers and we hope to continue on the success of DesignGAP in the future”.