You may have heard of them but often we don’t know the story of how popular brands came to be. For decades, luxury wall paint brand Annie Sloan has been helping to decorate, renovate, and revamp homes around the world. But how did her journey begin?
Today, we’re chatting with Annie Sloan about her paint adventures, from the initial idea that sparked the luxury wall paint brand to what we can look forward to in the future…
Who is Annie Sloan?
Annie Sloan is a colour expert and the founder of the eponymous wall paint brand, who invented Chalk Paint in 1990.
Annie, when did you first notice you had an interest in design?
It’s what I had in common with my father. He was a journalist – a very intelligent man. We moved across the world when I was 11 years old, from the UK to Australia, and art was one of the few constants. We had the same prints in our home, studied the same artistic movements at school, and, on weekends, we visited galleries hosting painters I had heard of. I felt like art was “our” thing.
What were your first creations, before starting Annie Sloan?
I had a successful career as a furniture restorer. I taught and wrote widely on the subject and saw myself as something of a conduit between people’s potential and their dreams – I still think of my work this way now.
Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you first had the idea for Annie Sloan?
I had been making Chalk Paint for years – in the back of my first shop in Headington, Oxford – and wanted to do it on a larger scale, both for my own ease and because other people were always asking me to make paint for them.
It was never a lightbulb moment, just a series of logical next steps with plenty of luck. I met an Austrian man who owned a factory – when we began working together, things really took off.
What was the first luxury wall paint you created?
Old White is organised in our systems as “01. Old White”. It was one of our first colours and, across the world, it is still our bestseller.
What were those first years of Annie Sloan like?
The business has grown hugely – from being run out of a tiny shop in North Oxford to our own factory and having a global network of stockists. But it’s still in Oxford and I am still there every day. We never had to worry about copycat brands, but a good idea attracts imitators, and I’d say dealing with them is among the most frustrating.
How did it feel, seeing your creations in people’s homes for the first time on a large scale?
It is joyful seeing paint made in vats, visiting new towns, and checking out the local Annie Sloan stockists. But the best marker of success is when I am out and about, and customers show me their painted furniture. They always have photos on their phone, which is heart-warming. The pride they have in their own work makes everything worthwhile.
Which formulas or colours did particularly well?
People are drawn to neutrals. Furniture renovations and upcycling were big in the last recession. We are expecting similar trends during the cost of living crisis, but I hope people are more drawn to bright colours – I truly believe they bring joy.
Are there any lessons you learnt in those early days that you still carry with you?
We never spend more than we have. My husband David is in charge of the finances. We avoid borrowing as we saw so many small independent companies collapse because of the banks. Fundamentally, I believe Chalk Paint is a fantastic product. If it wasn’t, people wouldn’t buy it in times of financial distress.
What does the future hold for Annie Sloan?
Collaborations: I am taking advantage of my Instagram network – I want to play alongside other creatives. I want to bring the Annie Sloan touch to hotels, tea towels, and everything in between. I’d also love a reality show about my business.