William Kroll is the man behind this month’s i-Sustain brand Tender.
William worked tirelessly to establish a network of artisan producers in the UK to supply his needs. The jersey for his T-shirts is knitted in Leicester and the garments are then constructed in the same town. His denim is imported from Japan but then dyed here using traditional English plant dying techniques; his leather belts and bags are made in the last functioning oak bark tannery in the UK and the wool for his knits is needless to say from British sheep. This level of commitment to authenticity is what we need to make people trust the businesses they buy from and to remind us all that our success is based not just on what we do but on what we make.
Why do you think you’re part of this project? One of the main ideas with Tender is that the thing you buy is really only half way through a bigger set of stories. It’s the product of everything that’s gone into it – the work of the people processing the fibre, spinning the yarn, weaving the fabric, tanning the leather, casting the brass accessories, sewing, dyeing, it’s endless – but it’s also only the beginning of the wearer’s experience of it. The name Tender comes from the coal truck on a Victorian steam engine, an aesthetic that I like, but it also suggests tending to something like a garden or a flock of sheep. The idea is that the wearer plays an important part in bringing out the qualities of the garment built in by the people who made it. Working with nice natural fabrics, vegetable dyes, pit-tanned leather, there’s a lot of potential in the materials which really only become evident a year or so down the line. I think this approach works quite nicely alongside the sustainable fashion concept.
Do you have a philosophy? The philosophy for Tender is really just to go that bit further in considering the reasons why every bit of everything I make should be made that way. A nice thing about jeans construction, which I think can apply to any product really, is an idea of honesty and structural transparency. There’s not much on a pair of jeans that you can’t work out by looking at it. There are no linings, pads, stiffening, the seams are basically the same on the inside as on the outside, and if you put a pocket on you’ll be able to see the stitch lines on the back of the cloth. Products like this have evolved to be the best for both the wearer and the producer. If you get it right the design process itself becomes invisible on the whole (you just have a product) but it becomes apparent in the details as the thing ages – the direction of a seam inlay, the reinforcement of a pocket. I think as a business philosophy, being friendly and polite and paying your bills on time will take you a long way!
Who or what inspires you? As a designer you get excited about all sorts of things, but I’m always fascinated meeting people who are really expert in their field. Any field! But of course more specifically it’s people who make things themselves and really understand materials and processes. I did a year and a half with a bespoke tailor and cutter, learning about coatmaking and patterns- it was a real privilege to be on the receiving end of a chain of master-apprentice relationships that go back hundreds of years. More recently I spent a couple of months in Japan learning hand indigo dyeing, which was wonderful. When I design I’ll always leave room for changes based on the opinions of the person that’s actually going to make it. If you don’t have a proper dialogue with your producers you’ll end up forcing out something that could be done better a different way round. From an aesthetic direction, I really like looking at less dressy historical clothes, workwear and day-to-day tailoring. Another cutter who taught me a lot once told me that the historical clothing which lasts tends to be the special-occasion outfits, the expensive embellished things which were highly valued. So we think of Generals’ uniforms covered in frogging, silk top hats, but some of the most interesting things ended up used as wall insulation, or left to rot in a ditch- a C19th clerk’s frock coat, an C18th military linen shirt (considered underwear) or a pair of 1920′s work overalls can revel a lot more than a fancily embroidered silk robe.
What could you do better? A big thing about the fashion industry is that it keeps moving. Even if you’re making relatively un-fashion products, as I am, if you work within the seasonal structure you have to keep coming up with new things and delivering new products. This can mean you don’t always get as much time as you’d like, but it also means that with every season you get the chance to improve on what you did last time. If you’re content with what you have, you can’t improve, and you stop evolving. So I suppose the answer is everything!
What are you working on now? The collection is getting bigger every season, and it’s great fun to approach new items and think about what to do with them. I’m starting work on a little web shop. At the moment Tender’s all sold through other, excellent, retailers. The web shop will be called the Tender Co Trestle Shop (trestleshop.com), named after the amazing Victorian trestle railway bridges built by the likes of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It’s based on the idea that it’ll sell things that you can display on the top of a trestle table, something like a market stall, or a tools bench in an engine shed.
Click here for full shoot and credits.