It was a few months ago when I was first contacted by Richard Frost, the founder of British-made interior accessories brand Thread & Favour. He wanted to let me in on the news that he was just about to launch his new company with a limited edition range of exquisite cushions and throws made from rare and exclusive fabrics from around the world. The Hampstead launch collection pairs Harris Tweed with Suffolk Silk to make wonderfully crafted cushion covers that are fully lined in Thread & Favour’s signature turquoise cotton sateen lining and filled with plump duck feather pads. But the intrigue surrounding Richard’s story for me is not just restricted to the products themselves (and his beautiful branding) but extends also to the manufacturing and production process and the fact that Thread & Favour has a focus on provenance and supporting future weavers of the famous tweed. As soon as Richard told me all about Thread & Favour I couldn’t wait to find out more and dig a little deeper into inner workings of this intriguing company. Luckily Richard agreed to an interview so we could all learn more.
Can you start by telling us a bit about your background and what you did before Thread & Favour?
I’ve been working with textiles since I graduated from university. I was in the fashion industry for just over ten years, working in various different roles, but my passion was always the sourcing of textiles and manufacture into finished goods. I always got a real buzz from seeing a design on a piece of paper coming through and ending up for sale in a shop.
How did you come up with the idea for Thread & Favour?
The idea for Thread & Favour came about on a trip to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, which was a trip I had always wanted to make but never got around to. I think the outer Hebrides in particular have an air of mysticism about them. You can’t really imagine what they’re like and what it’d be like to live in a place so remote. I’d always looked at them on the map and thought that I’d love to go one day to find out, and also to try to understand how this funny archipelago off the west coast of Scotland could be the birthplace of such an iconic textile: Harris tweed. Seeing such a beautiful cloth being used for all different purposes (not just tailored jackets!) really inspired me and I saw an opportunity to offer a high end, bespoke type service using this amazing fabric for soft furnishings. The idea to pair with silk came from seeing all the stunning linings in tailored clothing, and since we have this amazing silk weaving tradition here in the UK, which is still being continued today in Suffolk, it was a bit of a no-brainier.
Is there a story behind the name?
The Thread part of the name is to do with the story of the brand itself. We see the word thread being used in this context all the time; if you’re telling a story and you get sidetracked, you might say you’ve lost your thread. Or you might be said to be spinning a yarn when telling a tall story. So it relates to the fact that everything we do here at Thread & Favour has a story, background, provenance. The fabrics we use aren’t ordinary, run of the mill cloths that can be found everywhere, they’re special, rare, exclusive. They have their own story to tell, as much as we as a brand have a story to tell too.
Sourcing fabrics in this way is fantastic and such a contrast to my old job in the clothing industry, but these small producers working in traditional ways need to be supported, as there is always the danger that skills can be lost and traditions will disappear. This is where the Favour part comes in. For every item we sell, we contribute a percentage to support projects that encourage or sustain the people and places where the fabrics come from. This is not entirely altruistic – it’s also practical, since without the fantastic producers, we don’t have cloth to make into goods to sell, so it’s worth our while giving a helping hand.
All the interior accessories that you produce are British made. Can you tell us more about the making process?
In our launch ‘Hampstead’ collection, the tweeds are all handwoven by a single weaver, Donald John MacKay, in Harris. The silk is woven in Suffolk by a 300 year old family-run mill, and fabrics come to me at Thread & Favour towers for quality control and pattern cutting. The work packs are then sent to one or more of my little army of seamstresses for making, most of whom are based fairly near me, in and around London. As far as possible, all trims, boxes, labels, stickers and so on, are also sourced in the UK.
Why was it so important to you to keep production in Britain?
I’m passionate about British production, in small part from an ideological point of view. I like the idea of keeping jobs and skills in the UK, of exporting to do my part in helping the economy, and lowering the company’s carbon footprint by reducing the number of miles the fabrics are travelling between mill and end user. But mainly I’m passionate about it for entirely practical reasons; the quality of production in the UK is second to none, the lead times are much, much shorter than anywhere else you can source from, and the minimum order quantities are way more favourable than sourcing abroad. All of these factors are incredibly important to a small, start-up venture like Thread & Favour as they allow you to be really flexible and to react quickly.
All your products are made from rare and exclusive fabrics. Why did you choose to use Harris Tweed and Suffolk Silk over any other fabrics?
I’m totally hooked on Harris tweed and Suffolk silk, but they’re just the start! There are so many rare and exclusive fabrics in the world that need to be championed – I’m just getting going!
The provenance of each item is embroidered into the lining. Can you tell us more about this and why you decided to do this?
I really want people to understand the provenance of the goods we make, to know that they’re not mass produced, but lovingly made by individual people with care and attention. To show that the goods have been on a journey and have stories to tell. I think of it almost like a travel itinerary, which also ties in with my delivery packaging, which is reminiscent of an old suitcase, covered in stickers showing the places it’s been. To translate this concept into the cushions and throws themselves, embroidering this journey into the inside, the heart, of the goods was an obvious decision for me. It’s quite time consuming, but it says not only that we’re not embarrassed about where our goods are made, but we’re actually really proud of it.
How has Thread and Favour been received since you first launched it back in Spring?
I’m really pleased with the reception the brand has had. Everybody has been really encouraging and I’ve had tons of positive feedback. Not only do people seem to love the cushions and throws as items, but they seem to really get the concept, and love it. The reaction that I enjoyed the most was probably when I finally went back to the Hebrides with the finished goods and showed them to the Tweed weaver’s wife – she absolutely loved them, which was high praise indeed from someone who’s been in and around the Harris tweed industry for forty plus years.
Do you have any future plans to expand the range or introduce any new product lines?
The ultimate goal for the brand is to offer a complete bespoke service, to become a one stop shop for all interior accessories. This is still quite a way off, but in the meantime I plan to start offering a wider range of sizes, shapes, choice of fabrics, as well as to introduce more product areas, and new ranges of fabrics as well. I’m currently developing a new range for launch early next year and am in talks with another amazing British mill that makes stunning quality fabrics. Watch this space!
All images courtesy of Thread & Favour