24 March 2015
Culture Footprint: Preme James, furniture designer
Preme James trained as a woodworker in Brooklyn, New York. She is now a furniture and product designer with a heart for social enterprise and vulnerable adults. She has spent time teaching unemployed adults to upcycle furniture and loves encouraging others. She is married and lives in Parsons Green.
Were you always creative?
When I was little all I wanted to do was to make;make what? I didn't know. I simply wanted to be a maker. I still am at my happiest when I'm creating something, whatever it may be.
What was it like entering the world of design?
When I started my degree in Furniture & Product Design it was my ambition to work for a design agency. But before my final year I went on a mission trip to South Africa with Soul Survivor and that proved to be pretty life changing. I came back certain that God had given me a very specific call: to train vulnerable people to make furniture.
The most challenging part of my journey was running at this calling with perseverance, while not knowing how it was going to work out! It turned out that this calling led my to Brooklyn, NY to train as a woodworker and after nearly a year there I was offered the job of Xylo Manager and flew back to London to start a social enterprise, doing exactly what God had called me to four years earlier! Both my faith in God’s timing and my heart for social enterprise has grown since then and I’m seeking out new ventures for the future.
So what’s your furniture business all about?
Xylo was a furniture upcycling social enterprise that I launched and ran with the William Wilberforce Trust. I taught long-term unemployed adults how to restore furniture that was sold through our eCommerce platform: xylofurniture.co.uk My vision was to operate a successful business that also created an environment for the Xylo Trainees where they would feel valued, appreciated and have a strong sense that they were playing a vital role in a team. It was very important to me that they felt ownership over what they were creating.
Low self-esteem was an obstacle that almost all of the trainees experienced, I was eager for them to see the difference that they had made and to feel a sense of accomplishment when the finished piece was sold and delivered to its new home. It was incredible to see the change and transformation in each trainee as they grew in confidence, overcame barriers and progressed in finding long-term employment.
How does your faith relate?
My faith tells me that we should ‘rescue the weak and the needy’ and should not ‘neglect to do good’. In the book of James it says: “I will show you my faith by my works”. Our works should be our faith in action; us living out the call to help our brothers and sisters. I look for ways that I can use both business and design to live out that call
How can we value beautiful things without becoming superficial?
One of my favourite Bible passages is in Philippians when Paul instructs, “Whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things”. As a very visual person and someone who could easily spend an entire evening on pinterest, I love that the Bible says this. Looking at the world it would be very hard to argue that its creator doesn’t care about how things look! God is a creative god and delights in beauty.
A struggle might arise when we become dissatisfied with what we have and become hungry for beautiful things simply because of what they might represent; status, success or affluence, that’s not pleasing to God. Getting preoccupied with wanting them, rather that simply admiring them out of a praiseful heart is a danger.
We hear you’ve learnt something new recently?
Calligraphy. I’ve always wanted to learn it and just this February I finally took a class with a lovely company called Meticulous Ink. I decided that over Lent I would handwrite a Bible verse every day. I posted the first few on Facebook and friends started asking if they could have one. I decided to give them all away and use these verses to encourage others. That was how The Paper & Verse Project was born. Now I’m going to keep it going to the end of the year. Within a matter of minutes of posting someone feels that particular verse speak to them and claims it by posting ‘my verse’ in the comments on Facebook. I then send it over to them in the post.
Do you feel you are inspiring others?
The Paper & Verse Project is inspiring people in a way I wouldn’t have imagined. It only launched a few weeks ago and it’s grown fast. When someone claims a verse they often send me a message telling me how its encouraged them or how they had felt God give them that word before. It inspire me to keep going. . Try it yourself! I love that these little creations of mine are in different homes uplifting their owner.