Eva and Chris Lock are a British couple who relocated to Lunigiana, in Northern Tuscany, from the Cotswolds 14 years ago and started a business that oozes love for their adopted country.

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I met Eva, Chris and their sweet dog Lazzaro a few days ago in Pavia and we immediately clicked. Not only are they a lovely couple with a great sense of humour, but they’ve also set up a fantastic business that truly expresses their love for Italy, called Shabby Sheep Design – I know, not really an Italy-related company name, but keep reading to find out why they chose it!

Shabby Sheep Design is a clothing and accessories brand that creates witty designs based around Eva’s and Chris’ passion for Italian life. These guys are simply great at turning icons of Italian lifestyle like Prosecco, Spritz and gelato into truly captivating logos with the addition of original and funny text.     

I thought I’d share with you their story in the form of an interview where we talk about their experience of living in Italy and their Shabby Sheep project. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to Eva and Chris!

Shabby-Sheep-Design-Eva-and-Chris

Hello Eva and Chris, thanks a lot for taking the time to participate in this interview. Why don’t you start telling us a bit about you?

Ciao Val, thanks to you for inviting us to share our story with your readers. We are two Brits who proudly call Italy their home since 2005. We live in a farmhouse in Lunigiana, in the north of Tuscany, away from the popular tourist circuits, where we’ve recently started to create Italian themed t-shirts and accessories that we sell online as Shabby Sheep Design. In our previous life we worked for a big retail bank in London, Chris was in customer services while I worked in advertising, but we never really fitted in that lifestyle.

After running an art gallery in the Cotswolds for some time, we finally decided to take the plunge and move to Italy to start our dream new life with our dog and 3 cats. We like to think of ourselves as “immigrants” rather than “expats” because we came here to better our lives, integrate and make Italy our permanent home. 

When was your first time in Italy? And what made you decide to move here? 

We first came to Italy about 30 years ago on a whirlwind tour of the usual suspects in Tuscany. We were WOWED! We didn’t have dogs in those days and so we could fully enjoy the architectural wonders. Most of our previous holidays had been driving around in France, which at the time we thought was where we’d like to live one day.

Then on one ski holiday we went over the top of the mountain dividing France and Italy and skied down into a little Italian resort. It was honestly that moment that was like a lightbulb flashing and a siren sounding ITALY, ITALY.

How easy was it to adjust to life in Italy? Any major challenges or cultural differences?

Relocating to a foreign country always brings some kind of challenges along the way and Italy is no exception. And deciding to live in a remote village in the rural Italian hills didn’t really help from this point of view.

We’ll share a funny story with you (well, not that funny back then….). When we moved, there was no reliable telephone service, no mobile signal at all and no broadband in the village, nor was there any likelihood of it ever getting to our house. Eventually we found a local cableless broadband provider but even they couldn’t get a service over the hills to our place. But necessity is the mother of invention and so Chris drove the technician to an agriturismo located on the distant hill line, who confirmed that if a repeater was installed on the roof, a signal would reach into the valley where we lived – however, the company would need at least 12 subscribers to make the required investment!  So, over the coming weeks we visited all our neighbours in the surrounding villages and with our basic Italian we managed to gather sufficient signatures to convince the company to go ahead with the works for a broadband connection.

Having said that, life in Italy is truly amazing, just don’t expect it to be a bed of roses.

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How did you come up with the idea of Shabby Sheep?

Before we left the UK we used to run our own art gallery selling Eva’s paintings and work by other local artists. After we settled in Italy Eva continued to paint, but selling art here is much more difficult. Getting work into a gallery is not a simple matter and can be very costly to the artist. Much of the local market is restricted to wealthy foreigners and again, that is not an easy market to tap into.

But people still loved Eva’s creativity and friends too kept encouraging her to find a different way of making her creative output available to more people. So we started researching print options and especially online printing. One thing lead to another and here we are!

Shabby-Sheep-Design-EvaWhy the name Shabby Sheep?

Good question! In terms of search engine optimisation we should have called ourselves ‘Italy Fun Shirts’ or something similar. But we felt that the term Shabby Chic kind of summed the two of us up ‘denoting or relating to furniture or soft furnishings that have a pleasingly old and slightly worn appearance’. And it was only a matter of a small number of spritz and beers later that we evolved that into Shabby Sheep and then bolted on the design element. There have been other iterations and there may yet be more!!

You work together on this project, how do you split duties?

Top question! We’ve worked together before and therefore we’ve learned that to have both of us doing the same thing makes no sense. Luckily whilst we both share the same passion and vision for Shabby Sheep and work with the same values, we are both good at different elements of the business, so we each do what we’re good at.

Eva is the creative in the true sense, bringing ideas to life no longer using acrylic paint, but now using various digital tools on her iMac. And she definitely has the final say when it comes to which designs make it to the online store or not! Chris focuses on the mechanics of the business and runs the customer facing side of thingsthough he is allowed to let his creative side run wild occasionally too!

Shabby-Sheep-Design-ChrisDo you create also customised items?

Yes, we’re just starting out down this road as we see it gives us a big opportunity to place Shabby Sheep above the big online retailers. We’re still waiting on some new integrated technology (we depend very heavily on technology to bring the supply chain to life) to enable us to offer personalisation across a whole range of clothing and accessories.

In the meantime we’re excited to have launched an awesome range of beach towels which can be personalised either with names or phrases. The range has started well and people seem to love the designs, the concept and the potential it gives them for owning or giving a truly unique product. 

Shabby-Sheep-Design-beach-towelYou are very sensitive to environmental issues, how is this reflected in your business?

We are, and it’s a tough one Val to be honest. Everything you do has an impact on something else, nothing works in a vacuum. So we insist that we only work with suppliers who operate at the highest levels of managing their environmental impact, and also their social responsibility too. So for example many of our products are made from organic cotton (so no pesticides are used to treat the crop and no workers are exposed to pesticides either) or other organic and sustainable plant based materials such as Tencel (which is produced from wood pulp using recyclable solvents).

Some of the products are made in factories which only use energy generated from renewable sources (wind/solar) and all of them are produced in factories where the workers are treated and paid fairly and where their health and safety is fully respected and protected. Beyond that we use a printer who only works with water soluble dyes and zero plastic in packaging. 

What are your long-term goals for Shabby Sheep? 

Eek – what a question! Well we have no plans for ‘world domination’, and we’d honestly be very pleased to see the business grow in line with the way it has started. Organic growth is what we are working on rather than exponential. If things grow organically we can ensure we continue to wow our customers – to date our customers love our products, our designs and our service, and we don’t want that to change.

We actually run Shabby Sheep Design as a ‘lifestyle business’ which means that for us it’s as much about the journey as it is the destination (profit). So actually our long term goals are as much around learning new things, keeping ourselves creatively stimulated, having a good laugh and meeting new people (and we’ve met some great people like you for example Val) rather than solely to be aiming to make a boat load of money! 

Shabby-Sheep-Design-ChrisDo you have any personal tips & tricks for people looking to start from fresh in Italy?

Oh yes! There are a few things we wished we’d known when we moved to Italy, for example:

  • the importance of “Lei” (the “you” in the formal sense), fiercely guarded by professionals to maintain a sense of importance and respectability
  • knowing people who know people, because this is how most stuff happens in Italy – forget the yellow pages!
  • lots of recipes for excess zucchini, because unless you have offended everyone in your village, you will be given zucchini all the time and so you need to be prepared to be creative in the kitchen
  • and stay away from any trattoria that has a menu printed in anything other than Italian, and certainly no international flags or photos – ideally, no menu at all!

Shabby-Sheep-Design-EvaI’m so curious, what do you love most about Italy?

This would probably require a separate blog post, because there are so many things we cherish about Italy. Our top favourite things are:

  • the unconditional generosity of the locals – you are never more than 5 minutes away from something amazing happening in Italy!
  • any piazza that has a bar where they serve Spritz
  • whacking back a caffè ‘normale’ in seconds whilst leaning on the bar rather than sitting around drinking a ‘bucket sized’ mug of mud like coffee
  • the joy of simple things like respecting mealtimes – gone are the days of sandwiches eaten at our desk!
  • making our own olive oil (Chris planted 50 olive trees over the years) and walking in the olive groves with our dog Lazzaro
  • oh, and of course the Vermentino white wine… so good!

Shabby-Sheep-Design-Chris

… anything that you don’t like about Italy?

Well, there are a few things that we still struggle with despite having lived in Italy all these years:

  • Italian bureaucracy and those “desk jockeys” who hide behind pointless rules and regulations, making even the simplest of tasks extremely difficult and confusing
  • ZTL (Zone a Traffico Limitato), areas in the city centre where you cannot drive but are so deviously badly sign posted that you’ll mathematically get traffic fines (arriving months after your visit, of course)
  • Poste Italiane (the Italian post office), aka the place where people go to die in the queue. Seriously. The anxiety of having to mail something is real and people even take time off from work when they need to accomplish something at the posta!
  • the infamous congiuntivo tense, one of the biggest hurdles of learning Italian. It’s not used extensively in English and is more slippery than a slippery thing!
  • the Italian expression “Arrivo subito”, which literally translates as “I’ll be right with you”, but in reality means “You can wait there for as long as you want, I’m talking to my friend on the phone”

Thanks so much Eva and Chris for sharing your story and funny anecdotes!

 

You may have noticed that I don’t write about brands and products here on the blog that often, but when I do it’s because I truly believe in them. Eva and Chris are super creative and fun, and their love for Italy is infectious. Take a a look at their creations and get in touch with them for any questions about their project, their products and of course life in Italy:

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You can use the discount code MyItalianDiaries to get 15% off your first oder

 

This post contains affiliate links. Whilst these don’t make any items more expensive, it does mean I receive a small commission if you make a purchase through them.

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26 Comments

Anna 16 June 2019 at 21:12

What a job change from a big retail bank to online themed t-shirts sales! It´s so inspiring to read stories about people, brave enough to live everything behind at some point and start a new life in another country! Although I´d love to visit Cotswolds, I share their passion for the Italian lifestyle! When they mention things they don’t like about Italy it just made me smile lol I live in Spain and can definitely see the similarities!

    Val 17 June 2019 at 10:16

    That was a very brave move indeed, but hey we only have one life right? And then their love for Italy and all things Italian is truly contagious!

Sarah 16 June 2019 at 23:01

Love this couple! My husband and I have been dreaming of our next step/move abroad. Their decision to just do it is inspiring. Their best and worst things about Italy are also hilarious. One thing in life I’ve learned is every time you leave something because you hate x the next place will have a y you hate. But it’s not about what you hate when you have so many more things to love! Glad they found theirs and grateful for the inspiration 🙂

    Val 17 June 2019 at 10:11

    You’re right Sarah, Eva and Chris are truly inspiring and I’m really glad that our paths crossed!

Linda (LD Holland) 17 June 2019 at 21:08

I certainly would be interested in meeting anyone who is into Prosecco, Spritz and gelato! I love the name of the designs … Shabby Chic says it all. I may need to visit to get one of the Spritz beach towels! But I am still not eating zucchini! I totally understand why they love Italy and never wanted to leave.

    Val 20 June 2019 at 11:04

    Ahaha, those beach towels are pretty cool right?!

Renata – www.byemyself.com 17 June 2019 at 22:36

First of all, their name is genius. Then, I can totally relate to what they are saying: I’ve had a soft spot for Italy forever, learned the language and do visit on a regular basis. However, regarding the job situation in Italy, I think that at this moment I’m economically better of in Germany. Ma al cuore sono italiana <3

    Val 20 June 2019 at 11:11

    Hello Renata, thanks for your comment, I’m always so happy to hear from people who are in love with my country!

myfarrahdise.com 19 June 2019 at 03:46

It really takes a great courage to make that switch, I so admire this couple. And Tuscany is in my bucket list places to visit. The place looks amazing in photos and videos too, no wonder they migrated there.

    Val 20 June 2019 at 11:14

    The love these guys have for Italy is super infectious, I can see where they found the courage to take such a big step!

Shreya Saha 9 July 2019 at 16:17

It is so interesting to read about Eva and Chris. I enjoyed the part where they mentioned how Spritz and beers helped them got the name Shabby Sheep. Their story is inspiring – how they managed to get broadband to their village by convincing neighbors when there was no internet around, also how they left their life in UK and settled in Italy, and more. Loved reading about them and would love to read more such stories.

    Val 12 July 2019 at 11:26

    Thanks so much Shreya, I might look into starting a series of such stories then 😀

Susanne 9 July 2019 at 18:51

This is such a great interview. Chris and Eva sound so friendly and nice, and I love that they started such a cute brand in a – for them – foreign country and fell in love with it! Also, I hadn’t known that you can make your own Olive oil …. can you ask them how? I need it for a friend.

Thank you so much for sharing the interview. If you excuse me, I need to buy a fancy beach towel now 😉

    Val 12 July 2019 at 11:25

    Making your own olive oil is amazing (although very hard work), just ping them a message via their website, I’m sure they’ll love to share some details 🙂
    Btw, the beach towel is a great choice 😉

Summer 11 July 2019 at 03:03

It definitely sounds like a dream to move abroad to Italy. It is wonderful they were able to start a business doing something they love. The designs are really cute — I love the spritz towel. Cheers to Eva and Chris!
-Summer

    Val 12 July 2019 at 11:22

    These guys are incredibly creative, right? Those towels will rock on the beach 😀

blair villanueva 11 July 2019 at 12:21

It was an amazing and inspiring story. Sometimes good ideas flashed instantly out of no where and if we pay attention, it was the best one. I wish to visit Italy, and I bet I will enjoy it because of its laid-back lifestyle.

    Val 12 July 2019 at 11:20

    Yep, there’s a high risk of falling in love with the country 😀

Shane Prather 11 July 2019 at 22:02

This sounds like such a neat experience! I moved to Australia for my first job out of college and though it was very culturally similar to the USA, I didn’t prepare myself for any big differences and a lot of things caught me off guard. Thanks for sharing!

    Val 12 July 2019 at 11:19

    Thank you Shane! I think one will never be enough prepared to face cultural differences when moving abroad, but hey that’s part of the adventure right? 🙂

Eden 12 July 2019 at 08:54

Fantastic interview, these guys seem like they’d be so fun to hang out with. Also, I would move to Italy in a heartbeat if I could figure out a way to support myself after I got there. Good for them, I’m so jealous!

    Val 12 July 2019 at 11:18

    Thank you Eden and… never say never 😉

Ana 12 July 2019 at 22:28

Thanks for introducing us to Eva and Chris. They both sounds to have a dynamic personality. I enjoyed their interview and you’ve asked them some really nice questions.

    Val 16 July 2019 at 20:46

    Thanks so much Ana, glad you liked it! I really enjoyed interviewing them 😀

Christopher Mitchell 12 July 2019 at 23:50

Being someone who has lived in a number of different places around the world, I can relate to a number of aspects of this interview! Thanks, I really enjoyed reading it!

    Val 16 July 2019 at 20:47

    Thanks a lot Christopher!

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Ciao! I’m Val

Ciao! I’m Val

Ciao! I'm Valentina, an Italian blogger with a huge passion for my country, its culture and traditions. My Italian Diaries is the online space where I share my expert knowledge of itineraries, activities and off-the-beaten path places to help you experience the best of Italy like a local.

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