The coming together with London-based design studio A Rum Fellow is a first for us at Tom Raffield, and in terms of appreciating and promoting traditional craft and contemporary design with sustainable business practices, there's an exciting synergy between the two designers.
Celebrating the collaboration which features three exclusive handcrafted steam-bent pieces from Tom Raffield bedecked in A Rum Fellow's striking Catarina Ikat Indigo Fabric, we caught up with A Rum Fellow's founders Caroline Lindsell and Dylan O'Shea to find out more.
The new products have also been selected to feature alongside other Tom Raffield furniture pieces at Heal's Best of British event happening at its flagship Tottenham Court Road store between Monday 31 July and Monday 28 August 2017. Come and see us!
TR: How did the collaboration with Tom Raffield come about?
ARF: We met Tom at Decorex last year during London Design Festival and totally fell in love with his work and strong signature style. There's real integrity in the designs and process that chimes with what we do at A Rum Fellow. Although the materials we use are very different – we use wool and cotton rather than wood – I think our approach is very similar in that we're approaching traditional craft traditions with a fresh perspective and both with a constant focus on quality.
TR: What does the future of craft look like to you?
ARF: I'm really encouraged by the attention shown to handcrafted design in the UK, people appreciate handmade objects and the media is keeping a spotlight on it. There is a real energy in the community of makers too and it's brilliant to be a part of it. The future of craft elsewhere in the world is also in our hands, and it’s not always such a positive picture.
Traditional crafts are increasingly under pressure from global trends toward mass market and cheap alternatives. This impact is especially acute in countries where we work as cheap imported textiles threaten traditional weaving culture. Talented artisans are being forced to find income elsewhere, as such younger generations don’t see a future in weaving and the skills get lost. It's a concerning trend, but there are positive ways that we can support craftspeople in adapting to a more sustainable future.
TR: In what ways is A Rum Fellow a sustainable business?
ARF: We're extremely passionate about discovering old weaving cultures and partnering with master weavers who specialise in interesting techniques. We work with charitable organisations on the ground, cooperatives and social enterprises, and this route allows us to have multi-layered benefits. Firstly, it means we work directly with the artisans who set prices and benefit wholly from the income. Our female artisans have the flexibility to work from home allowing them to realise their economic potential whilst maintaining the family. Through our support of the organisations the artisan groups also benefit from vocational training, and a range of social and health programs. We've worked with Maya communities since 2014 and when we first started it was only the elder women that we worked with, but now lots of younger women weave too – it’s great to see. In a way we solve a problem. There are the most exquisitely talented weavers who don't have a domestic market for their art, you have an ancient craft that needs a little adapting to the times, and an interiors market hungry for unique designs which have integrity. All these issues can be solved through thoughtful design.
TR: Tell us more about Ikat and the Catarina Ikat Indigo fabric used in the collaboration
ARF: Ikat is a type of weave where the pattern is achieved in the dying of the yarn before its woven. It's an ancient textile art found in many cultures around the world, in Central America it’s called 'jaspe' and it has been practised for over 1,000 years. In the video below you can see our master Ikat weaver Don Rudi in the highlands of Guatemala who carefully oversees every stage of the lengthy process.
Although these days you can find many printed Ikats nothing is better than an authentic Ikat cloth. You can spot an authentic ikat as it has the characteristics of a handcrafted textiles – the pattern will have a beautiful variation unlike the perfect repeats of a print and you will see slight bleeding in the pattern where the dye has seeped under the binds. TR: What’s your reaction to the finished products in the collaboration?
Having our textiles adorning Tom Raffield’s beautiful furniture is a dreamy collaboration.