Artisan-made ethical textiles that put a fresh spin on traditional craft techniques – that’s the ethos behind London-based design studio A Rum Fellow, founded by Dylan O’Shea and Caroline Lindsell seven years ago.
‘There’s vibrancy and energy to South and Central American textiles; all that colour and pattern attracted us,’ recalls O’Shea, of a three-month trip to Bolivia and Peru in 2012, when they met remote indigenous communities. It kick-started the couple into setting up their own business (previously Lindsell was a fashion designer while O’Shea has a background in charitable development). What began as an online shop selling second-hand furniture that the pair reupholstered in vintage South American fabrics swiftly morphed into them designing their own.
‘Our first commission was for an interior designer, who wanted a bespoke fabric for a set of dining chairs. Caroline created the design and we partnered with a fair-trade weaving co-operative in Peru. What it allowed us to do – and still does– is to essentially work in an uncompromising way, making textiles that are as beautiful, complex and detailed as we want,’ explains O’Shea.
The studio specialises in hand-weaving, so it’s partly the constraints of a particular loom that dictates the pattern. Fabrics including ikats and boundary-pushing brocades are made in Guatemala; the latter on a simple back strap loom where artisans embroider the pattern as they weave the cloth.
It’s so intricate that a single panel takes up to a month to complete.
‘Instead of replicating ancient designs, we see our role as understanding the possibilities, then moving them in a new direction with our own aesthetic,’ says O’Shea, who takes it in turns with Lindsell to visit the artisans in their isolated highland locations every six weeks.
As well as being sold by the metre, the fabrics are made into lampshades and cushions, and used to upholster furniture. The patterns are also up-scaled into flat-weave and hand-knotted rugs in India.
In a new departure, this season the duo is launching its first print collection, ‘Kindred’, in collaboration with George Spencer Designs. ‘Print is a lot more freeing, so Caroline began by asking, “If we were going to create a globally connected tribe today, what would the mark making look like?”’ explains O’Shea of the bold, contemporary designs that explore woodblock, screen and etched rotary printing.
This side-step into printing aside, ultimately their vision remains to ensure a future for heritage techniques. ‘The artisans get to use their incredible weaving skills and we put them out to a much larger audience – that’s our mission.’ arumfellow.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration October 2020
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