Keeping warm in Siberia
SHOP TALK NO 3 Jane Audas shopping at The Shop Floor Project
This series of Shop Talk articles has been about shops you can walk into and experience the tactile pleasure of objects and the tacit pleasure of knowledgeable customer service. The other retail to appreciate is the visual, laid-back browsing experience of a great website. The Shop Floor Project website is run by mother and daughter Denise and Samantha Allan. Both are fine artists by training, and it shows in how their site looks and in the products they sell. The site isn’t your usual ecommerce offer. You can’t, for instance, filter stock by price. Instead they give us stories about makers, stories behind objects and then they photograph the objects in a suggestive manner, encouraging a ‘click to add to basket’ before you know it.
The Allans are based in scenic Cumbria: with an online business you can live somewhere very pretty indeed and sell the world over.They describe what they do with Shop Floor as ‘curating, designing and co-curating’. The site began because they were both interested in how things were made and sourced. It was called The Shop Floor Project as at first they didn’t quite know how to define what they were hoping to do: hence ‘on the shop floor’ and ‘project’ as it allowed them time to form their selling practice. The stock selection is quirky and unapologetic too. It includes waxed cotton fisherman’s coats and armorial cutlery by Japanese designer Mitsuhiro Konishi; hand-woven baskets made by the women of the Tuareg, a nomadic African tribe; graphic Scottish lambswool blankets and painterly cushions featuring naive collages of writer’s houses by Amanda White; as well as other treasures. The site changes as stock comes and goes. Some products, however, are recurring, like sconces and chandeliers by Malin Appelgren and bird ceramics by Michaela Gall. Increasingly the Allans are designing and codesigning the products they sell, and have an adjacent business designing products for museums, which Samantha knows well from a previous work life.They have just designed new scarves inspired by ancient Greek and Roman glass in the British Museum. The names of the scarf colourways alone make them covetable – clay, plaster pink and rust.
Product development takes anything from months to years but it is without a doubt worth the wait. The new animal paintings from cult Japanese artist Miroco Machiko were a long time coming – but how grand and dramatic they are. Pleasingly, they have smaller Miroco Machiko animal calendars for those of us saving up for a painting. Andrea Shemilt Kashanipour’s candlesticks are inspired by 19th century Staffordshire figures and they are joyous enough to perk up any mantelpiece. And Japanese maker Yukihiro Akama’s wooden houses, carved in Yorkshire, epitomise the unusual combinations present in many of the Shop Floor’s projects.
The Allans have just celebrated their ten year anniversary running Shop Floor. That is a long life in Internet years. So many ‘lifestyle’ websites come and go. Mind you, ‘lifestyle’ is a grim word, reducing the things we live with to something here today, replaced tomorrow.A life lived with style is a different thing and is something The Shop Floor Project site can certainly help you with. ••• www.theshopfloorproject.com
PERMANENT COLLECTION The philosophy behind the Korean label Oma
LOFTY AMBITION Fibre from the roof of the world
It covers eight time zones, stretches from the Ural Mountains in Western Russia to the Pacific coast in the Far East and takes about seven hours to fly across in a jet. Siberia is vast. From the air, much of the northern part of Siberia looks like a wilderness, seemingly endless forest and tundra interspersed by the occasional river, road, town or village. It may appear empty from the air, but it’s home to at least nineteen different groups of indigenous peoples. Some of these cultures have existed there for a thousand years or more. In the Soviet era they were often referred to as the ‘Small Peoples’, the name having more to do with their population than stature.Today, the smallest group are the Entsy, who number just 227 people, while the largest group is the Nenets who have a population of over 44,000.
The primary activity of most of these northern Siberian peoples is reindeer breeding, along with hunting, trapping & fishing. It is fur from the reindeer they breed and the animals they hunt and trap, that provides them with the materials they need for making their traditional clothes. Siberia can be bitterly cold during the winter months when temperatures can plummet below -60°C, but native people cope with this by using fur for their winter clothes. Reindeer skin is used by peoples around the Arctic to make coats, parkas, trousers, boots, hats and mittens, as well as bags and household items. It is remarkably durable, as well as being windproof and water repellent. It also offers the best insulation against the cold and is much more effective than goose down or man-made fibres. The reason for this is that reindeer have a thick under fur close to their skin which traps air; and also, reindeer hairs are hollow which gives excellent insulation against even the severe cold of a Siberian winter. Most reindeer skin clothing is made from summer hides as the hair is shorter, making it less bulky.
Making skin clothing is a lengthy process and there is a huge amount of work involved in preparing a reindeer skin for sewing. It has to be cleaned and any trace of fat or meat removed. The leather is then worked on using scrapers and other tools until it reaches a stage of softness that can be sewn easily. For items of clothing where just the4
“An object in a museum case... must suffer the denatured existence of an animal in the zoo,” observes Bruce Chatwin’s narrator in his novella Utz. “In any museum the object dies – of suffocation and the public gaze – whereas private ownership confers on the owner the right and the need to touch.” Chatwin’s Utz is speaking of porcelain, but he voices a sentiment that regularly troubles the revival of traditional craft skills. Museums archive examples but keeping skills and knowledge alive – rather than offering custodianship of objects – is a different challenge entirely.
“I started to think about precious things,” explains the Korean designer Oma when I enquire about the origins of her eponymous design label. Based in Seoul, Oma now spends several months of each year overseeing hand production in the picturesque region of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The launch of her first clothing collection in 2010 at the celebrated Livingstone Studio in Hampstead was prompted by her sense that traditional textile production methods in Korea were dying out. “I was ashamed to see ancient textile practices disappearing,” she explains; hand crafted textiles were visible “only in a museum or gallery – but not really alive.”
Oma’s approach offers us an antidote to fast fashion, although she is quick to correct the assumption that fashion alone is the culprit.“It is not fashion and textiles only. All consumption is going so fast,” she reminds me, referring to our “speed obsessed environment”. Fast fashion is sold to us as an expansion of choice. Don’t like what you see this week? Come back next week: colours, hemlines and cuts will have changed. Bored with your look? Minimal investment can correct it all: bin everything and start again! Oma doesn’t subscribe to this logic, instead seeing that “mass production potentially narrows choice.” We may now be awash with volume, but as consumers we do not enjoy much variety of choice. In response to this quandary, Oma set about sourcing textiles made by hand that could become the basis of the collections she designs. “We work by hand as much as we can – it has different energy – a human spirit.”
Admittedly, it is a business approach fraught with challenges. “There are very few artisans left in Korea,” she explains. A technical rather than hands-on education is popular throughout the region and traditional techniques do not – at least for now – interest many emerging Korean designers. (Oma’s own textile education in Korea focused on technology and she admits her interest as a student in studying natural dye recipes from the elderly women still practising was hardly a popular course of action at the time.) Today her inspiration continues to come from “an artisan’s way of working”. She sees the steps to textile production by hand such as spinning or weaving as “processes that are spiritual” and cites the Indian textile design company Raag as a model of inspiration, again taking the local but working with a sophisticated contemporary eye.4
For centuries people have used animal hair or fleece for clothing without harming the animal who continues with its life. Such materials can be found in all sorts of wild terrains including the steppes, sierras and plateaux of the world’s highest mountains. Tengri is a luxury, yet sustainable, fashion label designed in London and made in the UK and USA using natural, undyed yak fibre from central Mongolia’s isolated mountainous Khangai region. It was founded in 2014: CEO Nancy Johnston trained as a social worker and lived with nomadic Mongolian herder families before setting up her company to perpetuate their community and culture. She is engaged in this ethical fairshare business with 4,500 nomadic herder families, thinking long term about conservation and the Mongolian environment – its people, traditions and ecology. ‘Tengri’ appropriately signifies the sky god that protects humans and the beauty of the earth.
Living above the snowline, the yak has a thick coat with shaggy, long hair. At the onset of winter it produces dense soft down as an extra layer of protection – this is collected by hand-combing once a year during the seasonal moult. Yak fibre has many inherent properties that make it desirable – lightweight, strong, insulating, breathable, elastic, hypoallergenic, lustrous, pill, odour and water resistant – it is ultimately weatherproof. Nancy Johnston has teamed up with Italian knitwear designer Carlo Volpi to make clothing and accessories using this precious material that is often compared to cashmere. The wonderful colouration of the indigenous semi-wild Kanghai yaks takes precedence as Tengri avoid damaging bleach and dye chemicals; preferring instead the natural colours ranging from the deepest blacks through chocolate browns, tans and greys to pure white and even (but rarely) gold. By keeping the Tengri label small and using mainly British manufacturers, Nancy can better oversee the spinning, knitting and tailoring processes. www.tengri.co.uk 4
EVENTS dates for your diary AS YOU SEW – SEW SHALL YOU REAP: Re-cycle, Re-use and Re-think Textile production, A symposium in association with Bucks New University, 15 July ETHEL MAIRET LIVING LEGACY: Natural dyeing and weaving masterclass at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, 3-7 April SPRING FAIR The Bath Assembly Rooms, Bennett St, Bath BA1 2QH, 25 March SUMMER FAIR The Dovecot,10 Infirmary St, Edinburgh EH1 1LT, 19 August AUTUMN FAIR Charleston, Firle, Lewes, East Sussex, BN8 6L
WIN gifts and offers for our readers 80 SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS This issue the first 100 three-year subscribers will receive pieces from Kaffe Fassett’s cosmetics range, together worth £53 83 PRIZES THIS ISSUE A chance to win a wool and silk Botanical Inlay shawl, worth £125 along with a hand-beaten brass Wall Sconce by Malin Appelgren, worth £265 and a print from the 17th Century Paint Chart, from the Shop Floor Project: www.theshopfloorproject.com; A kindling basket made by Annemarie O’Sullivan, worth £310, www.annemarieosullivan.co.uk; A throw from Tengri, worth £225, www.tengri.co.uk
INFORM the latest news, reviews and exhibition listings
03 BIAS /CONTRIBUTORS A letter from Polly Leonard and comments from our contributors 07 NEWS Unmade, From Sweden to Sardinia, Sidney Nolan, Weaving Futures, Kaffe Fassett, Kangan Arora, Grayson Perry 09 HOUSE OF CLOTH Wool, Cotton and Silk Khadi 80 SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS This issue the first 100 three-year subscribers will receive three pieces from Kaffe Fassett’s range of cosmetics, together worth £53.
82 BACK ISSUES Complete your collection while you still can! Many issues are sold out or have limited stock. All issues available for digital download. 84 READ Yokainoshima: Island of Monsters, Charles Fréger, reviewed by Marcella Echavarria. The Carpets of Afghanistan, Richard D. Parsons, reviewed by Helen Yardley. 86 VIEW On The Grid: Textiles and Minimalism: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco,
reviewed by Jo Ann C. Stabb. Cary Wolinsky: Fiber of Life, Fuller Craft Museum, reviewed by Joanne Dolan Ingersoll. Fiji Art & Life in the Pacific, The Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, reviewed by Angela Youngman. Kimsooja: Archive of Mind, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea, reviewed by Jessica Hemmings. 95 COMING NEXT The Endeavour issue
SELVEDGE ('selnid3) n. 1. finished differently 2. the non-fraying edge of a length of woven fabric. [: from SELF + EDGE]