The brief flash of video on Skype revealed each of us in matching blue flecked knitwear. And then the etherlink to the remote South West was gone. But our conversations with Ali from Francli Craftwear revealed more in common than a love of the knitwear and rucksacks.
“Consumers are craving a slower lifestyle, one that is more considerate, inquisitive and creative. It's a lifestyle choice that rejects hidden supply chains, a disconnection with nature and careless consumption. We have to celebrate this!”
Boom. Same page. Right there. And this, in response to a cheeky question about whether we are past peak hipster, provoked by Francli featuring in a Channel 4 documentary called “Hipsters that make money”. To us both, what some deride as a passing fad, feels like a change of direction whatever label you slap on it.
Francli make a range of "quality products for outdoor makers", so it was natural to kick off our March of the Makers speaking to them. We love their absolute commitment to sustainability, and how this influences their design process: their source materials are primarily pre or post consumer waste. Often army surplus, but also from sailing, climbing, surfing, scavenged via a network of contacts in the Falmouth scene and beyond. They sell direct from their online store www.francli.co.uk
Making with waste forces a novel approach to design, with Ali following the grain of her material and being creative to meet product briefs. Its an approach she relishes having swapped her degree at Falmouth Uni to Performance Sportswear Design from Fashion Design. "I just loved their design briefs" she confides, contrasting them to Fashion where anything was possible: you just went out and found the ideal fabric, right off the roll. She characterises her current design process as “problem solving”. Which is what it should be. Clearly there is a strong element of aesthetic design, but like the Pompideou Centre or a Vax anticyclone, this is an aesthetic that relishes it's workings.
Many readers will be nodding and mulling on the old homage 'Constraints drive creativity'. This was super evident when Francli were commissioned for the Glastonbury Fresh Fields project. Festivals are close to both our hearts, epitomising the idyllic overlap between art and the outoors. Ali reflects on her favourite festival:
“Port Eliot Festival feels very creative and explorative. In beautiful grounds, by the water, it's a chilled vibe that puts you in a dreamy, carefree bubble.”
Unfortunately, that bubble is often pricked on Monday morning by the the piles of rubbish carelessly discarded to lighten the hungover hike home. Fresh Fields was a Glasto initiative to try and make some good come from it. Francli were challenged to create products from the debris, but this wasnt as easy as you might expect:
“We had a lot of difficulties with the fabric quality. Most of the discarded stuff was supermarket equipment, too cheap to be bothered about leaving behind. It wasn't very durable, most of the groundsheets and synthetic fabrics would easily tear away from stitching.”
This tells us all we need to know about our throwaway culture. The reason these 'outdoor' products on the garage forecourt are so cheap is that they are designed to be disposable. Not as ostensibly as Bic or Durex, but implicitly by the price point set too low for it to last, even if people do manage to shoulder it back to the carpark.
Here again, the Francli wiles came to the fore. Who knew that attacking a pair of wellies with a belt sander would produce a fabric remarkably like suede? Which they then used to create a line of wallets.
Francli are well used to preventing perfectly functional fabrics from going to landfill. Their ethos is to source with as little environmental impact as possible. Whether it's saving discarded fabrics, finding the most durable materials, supporting local industry or making decisions for circular design.
They celebrate all kinds of craft and carry the flag for British manufacturing. A lot of their waxed cotton, webbing, thread and hardware are all made in the UK, and they are friends with other UK adventure makers:
“We're really proud to be the contemporaries of brands like Trakke and Miscellaneous Adventures. Their creativity and passion for building quality, functional goods for adventure makes us feel like our generation is leading the way in re-connecting with nature and sticking two fingers up at conventional careers.
We loved our collaborating with 7th Rise on a butchery apron and knife wrap. Thom was very open and generous, having us to stay in his cottage and teaching us how to fillet a rabbit. It was great for us to be emerged in his lifestyle and learn so much from him. The design slowly evolved with lots of sampling and testing. We're very proud of how considered the final result was.”
We knew that Francli, like all our other collaborators would be totally in tune with a more social approach. They live in a shared house and the farm where their studio is based is full of friends and other small businesses.
“We are constantly sharing clothes, sports kit, cars, surfboards, everything! Falmouth is an incredibly creative community so there's a lot of swapping between makers such as knowledge, skills, machinery and materials.”
Their rucksacks and aprons represent their inspirations from Cornwall: the vibrant community of artists, makers and entrepreneurs that have all decided to base their work there, for their love of being outside.
Francli also fix and adapt bits stuff like bags, coats, curtains and even motor-cycling gloves! They are testament that a more socially aware and ethically sustainable approach can be integrated into business. Iconic Swedish brand Klattermusen started out this way some 20 years ago, who knows what heights Francli will scale in that time? One thing is for sure, their commitment to doing things right will continue to mark them out, and makes us massive fans:
“One day a sustainable business will be the most successful and profitable way of business.”
Amen to that.
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