Bamford: tales of texture and tradition

Bamford Xochi Balfour

 

Ahead of my first guided meditation session in their Draycott Avenue store on June 15th, and upcoming Daylesford book signings in London and Gloucestershire, I spent an inspiring and eye-opening morning with Bamford last week, getting to know their beautiful natural clothing collection and their accomplished Head of Womenswear, Karen Leck.

Bamford clothing, home and beauty comprise the natural, sustainable living arm of eponymous founder Carole’s organic vision (centered around Daylesford) and their exclusive and limited collection of products and designs perfectly captures the ethos behind the brand as a whole: simple, timeless and firmly rooted in mother nature, with all the sensual luxury of her raw textures and materials at the heart of the collections. Attention to detail is everywhere and craftsmanship of the highest standard speaks louder than any busy pattern or print; muted creamy fabrics with flashes of vibrant Jodhpur blue or moss green make create a truly timeless feel alongside grounding earthy textures and gentle silhouettes that ask little of the wearer other than to just be. Paying little (or subtle) heed to the ebb and flow of trend-driven culture, these pieces are timeless adornment: allowing a truly beautiful union between us and nature, one that provides infinite comfort and sensory delight as the softest yarns brush against your skin and the deepest blues delight your imagination; and ultimately allowing freedom to move, explore, adventure, roam or just sit present and still – truly, these are creations made for life.

I spoke with Karen to gain some insight into the processes and traditions underlying the collection, and she shared her journey with me. I hope it inspires.

 

What are the main values behind the Bamford collections? 

We want to make clothes that are relevant and have a story, that are timeless classics yet have a twist, something slightly quirky that will work in your wardrobe and be of exquisite quality in both fabric and design. We work with makers who specialise in their particular craft and share our philosophy. We commit to using natural fibres and to be organic where possible. We call this slow clothing… Slow to weave or knit, slow to make and slow to wear.

How do you go about designing a new collection? 

It all starts with Carole. She is a great traveller and an inquisitive observer. She is also highly creative and can “see” a shape or feature very clearly – often scribbling it on a piece of paper which we then develop into a physical toile. She might return from the summer with a shell or pebble for texture or a scrap of fabric for colour. We also look to the previous season – what have we sold before – so that we make something in the new collection that will give earlier purchases new life. This way, your wardrobe is constantly evolving without being discarded. The team visit the trade fairs to see what’s new and innovative in fabrics and yarns, but we are consciously not fashion – however, we are always aware of trend.

 

 

The pieces are made in a few different places. Can you tell us about how you came to work with these producers? 

There are a small group of us in the business who have a long history in the high-end clothing industry (basically the old ones – like me!!) and we already knew some high calibre expert makers from working in previous companies. Others are recommended by these makers and sometimes we discover new ones along the way and on our travels. The majority of the people we work with have been with us from the beginning and have grown with us. They are established, family owned businesses – real experts in their craft, some of them three generations old, with a proud history. They love what we do and what we are trying to achieve, and we feel very lucky that they like to work with us as we don’t make big numbers, but they are committed. They don’t want huge orders – they also want to do something with a heart.

Your pieces are beautifully timeless – is this something you always consider in the design process?

Yes, very much so. Because they are made from natural fibres and are handmade, our pieces are not inexpensive. But they are value for money (which doesn’t mean cheap). We expect them to last for many years if cared for properly and so the design must be unique but in a way, invisible, so that each piece can be worn year after year. We concentrate on silhouette and shape and silent details like stitching, seam detailing – the interior of the clothes and how comfortable they are to wear, how soft the fabric is to touch.

 

 

Where do you think our society as a whole is at in terms of embracing a more sustainable way of buying clothing? 

At our level and among our clients, there’s a real appetite for the stories behind the clothes. People are curious to understand how the garments are made and, importantly, where the garments are made. They love the stories about the people we work with and how those skills have been handed down over generations – and they can see this “emotion” in the clothes. Some clients want to buy whole looks from us; others buy maybe just one piece of knitwear a season. They all understand why the garments are made the way they are and why the price point is as it is. There’s a lot more material to read about sustainability – the horror of landfill, the wastage in the mass market, the poor conditions endured by workers in the textile industry in some parts of the world –  we are much more educated as a result than we once were. People are moving away from branded collections with logos – they enjoy the stealthy luxury of our clothes. The visible quality IS our branding. Of course, there’s along way to go on a general level: you only have to ride past Primark on Oxford Street to see from the huge queues that sustainability is not a priority to a great many people.

What are the main challenges of producing with sustainability at the forefront of the process?

Finding the right yarns and fabrics. Often it can be a costly process to produce truly Organic fabrics and so the minimums can be very high – 500 meters or more. In our case, since we make only 20 or 30 pieces, that would leave a huge amount of excess fabric behind – so it’s no good, using fabric just so you can say it’s organic if you can’t use it all up. Otherwise, you’re not being sustainable, just creating a fabric surplus. Also, it’s being sure that sustainable and ethical principles are in place right through the whole supply chain. Does the factory look after its workers well? Are the dyes used as kind to the environment as possible? What is the recycling policy in the factory? Also, where are you sourcing your pieces from? It’s no good buying something and then having to fly it from a suppliers on the other side of the world.

 

 

Which women do you most admire? 

Ordinary women. Women who work and raise their families, who care about how they look, who eat well, enjoy cooking – who are interested and interesting; who see the beauty in the simple things in life and enjoy beautiful things, who love Nature and the Earth and value their health. Women who take time to educate their children. Women who are kind and are supportive of other women. All women.

What advice would you give to those looking to tread a little more consciously and move towards a more sustainable way of buying clothing?

First of all – know your style and only buy what suits you. None of us NEED more clothes but of course we like to buy nice things. It’s an old adage but spend a little more on fewer pieces – you’ll have a more versatile wardrobe. Always look for natural fibres – they will last longer – and learn how to take care of your clothes, how to hand wash properly and how to store your clothes away for the season. Make the majority of your wardrobe a neutral base so you can add pops of seasonal colour through scarves or knits. That bright print dress will look amazing for one season but will linger in your wardrobe once it’s off trend!

Also, recycle your clothes. Don’t hang on to clothes: take a critical look at your wardrobe from time to time and let go of items you’ve bought that don’t suit you. And don’t be shy to ask where things are made: a good retail assistant will be well educated about the brand they work for and will share that information.

 

 

All clothing: Bamford

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