You know I’m a sucker for artisan textile brands that help preserve traditional craftsmanship techniques and support indiginous communities around the world.
When Angharad Allsop, founder of Routes Interiors, got in touch with me on Instagram to introduce me to her products and brand ethos, I knew immediately that I wanted to support her work however I could. Not only do her products encourage a deep connection with both craft and nature, but she is also based in Chester —a short train ride from me— so I was eager to meet her face-to-face for a coffee (at Jaunty Goat, Chester’s finest) and a good natter to learn more about her brand.
Since my own trip to Guatemala to visit my boyfriend’s homeland, I’ve been enamoured with Mayan culture and, in particular, the hertitage crafts of the region. The backstrap loom —which can be considered an ancient form of technology— has been used across South and Central America, as well as many parts of Asia, for centuries. Weaving using a backstrap loom is a customary and domestic practice for women and is typically passed down through generations of a family. The bottom of the back strap loom is attached around the weavers waist, limiting the width of the fabric, whilst the top is commonly attached to a post or a tree. The women use their body to create the desired tension and then pass the threads in and out of the warp to create beautiful and intricate fabrics. And it is these beautiful fabrics, alongside those created using the flying shuttle loom and pedal looms, that Angharad commissions for Routes Interiors considered collection of cushions, throws and tabletop textiles.
I met Angharad a week or so before her latest trip to Mexico, to visit her artisan partners who are based in remote areas of Mexico and Guatemala. They have little access to modern communication systems, and often speak local dialects, so Angharad believes it is incredibly important for her team to visit each and every partner personally in order to connect, unite and co-create something special and regenerative together. You can find all of her artisan partners profiled on her website, allowing customers to gain a greater understanding of exactly how, and where, each of the Routes Interiors pieces are created.
While my favourite textile pieces are the more muted in colour, the more brightly coloured pieces are more typical of the region, where each vibrant colour and intricate pattern tells its own story about the local culture.
GET THE LOOK.
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As a Northern based brand, it was wonderful to be able to include Routes Interiors in our inaugural North is Now pop-up recently, and witness the local communities reactions to all of the beautiful pieces on display. I loved seeing how much care and attention Angharad gives to detailing all of the makers details onto her product tags, including the location in which the piece was made and the time spent crafting. For example, the Emiliano handwoven cushion takes 16 hours to complete, spread across 4 working days. Details like this always provide a great talking point when discussing products with a customer, and help bring a greater clarity and understanding to both the price point of a piece and its value as an item designed to be cherished and passed down for years to come.
I found my conversations with Angharad at Jaunty Goat to be so insightful and inspiring that I wanted to share a full interview with her here, detailing her passion for both social and environmental sustainability as well as how she actually set about starting her own business. Read on for more…
Let’s meet… Angharad Allsop, founder of Routes Interiors
You’re a former fashion buyer – how has that experience shaped your approach to setting up your own brand and what did you specifically want to do differently?
It has helped me to shape my business based on key sustainability values which always come above everything else. These values influence every decision I make within my business. They are at the heart of Routes Interiors. I really feel like we have lost the connection with the artistry of creating textile pieces, whether that be clothing or homeware. Throughout my seven years in the fashion industry, I only visited a factory floor once, so I wondered that if I felt a sense of disconnect with the production of textiles, how might consumers feel? The perceived value of textiles has unfortunately hit an all time low, as the market is flooded with cheap products that utilise cheap labour and materials. When I started Routes Interiors, my mission was to share the journey of the product just as much as the product itself, to co-create the artisans across the world, to share stories from mountain tops and cotton fields, and reignite the value and skill that goes into creating our textiles.
What prompted you to take the trip to Mexico and Guatemala that inspired the brand?
I’ll be honest; the need for time out after experiencing total burnout working in the fashion industry. I knew something had to change and I knew I needed to realign to my values and work on something with meaning. I’d travelled to Central America back in my early twenties and had loved every minute of immersing myself in the culture, landscape and the beautiful and vast array of textiles. So, when the opportunity came to go back, I began researching areas to visit where I could delve a little deeper into the textile history. From there, I let everything happen organically, taking time and space for myself to begin with, which in hindsight was one of the important things I did along my journey. I reignited my love for design, craft, colour and textiles, I felt connected to the process of creating beautiful things and I knew at this point that this was the path that was set out for me. It’s my job to be able to share this with the rest of the world.
Can you share any specific experiences on your travels that helped you gain the perspective you needed for your brand vision?
Although many indigenous communities across Mexico are marginalised, the most profound thing I noticed whilst travelling from village to village was that although they live with many challenges, they all had smiles on their faces and are incredibly proud of their textile roots and tradition. Women from the community come together with their families to weave and it’s not only a way to generate income, it’s also a way of life, an artform and a skill, giving women a sense of independence. Weaving works around life, tending to crops, cooking tortillas over a hot open fire and caring for family and friends. Prioritising health and happiness within a challenging environment inspired me to build a business which is built on balance, whether that be working in alignment with the planet, my partners or just encouraging myself to take time for me. I wanted to create a brand which I’m proud of that isn’t just a job but a way of life, just like my partners.
Can you describe your creative practice and processes, and what it is about working with textiles that you love?
Routes Interiors textiles are a co-creation between mother earth and the hands of our ancestors. The creative process starts when a seed roots into the earth later blossoming into the spinning of a fibre, the use of natural ingredients to create colour, the hand weaving of yarns into beautiful designs and all whilst using ancient techniques that have been passed down for generations. It is still incredible to me that that the backstop loom technique we use in so many of our cushion designs is 6,000 years old. This ancient technique has been conserved within the Mayan community and shares so much history about the area through symbolism which reflects their ancient beliefs and rituals. The designs vary distinctly from village to village but have never lost their identity. These are designs which withstand the test of time with their bright colours, intricate techniques and most incredible quality.
You place a strong emphasis on the ethical and sustainable creation of your products. How did this ethos develop and how do these principles manifest themselves elsewhere in your business?
I was very lucky to work alongside the Sustainability Manager at my previous role, bridging the gap between the buying and CSR teams. As someone with an understanding of the social and environmental impact that fashion has, alongside my knowledge of what required from a commercial collection I was able to help balance the transition into becoming a more sustainable business. The key challenges I encountered here have helped shape my business in a way that these road blocks won’t be encountered. My ethical principles go far beyond fibres, production and packaging; I’ve considered every stage of the product lifecycle from dyes to aftercare. Sustainability for me isn’t just about the physical product, it incorporates every aspect of my business from who I bank with, who I collaborate with, what materials we use in setting up pop up shops and what hours I work.
Part of the process of setting up Routes saw you relocate back to the North of England from London. In what ways has this supported and/or held back your new business venture?
Having the support of my family and friends in the setting up of my business has been crucial. My family, and a few of my friends, are based near Chester. My parents lovingly allowed me to move back in with them whilst I saved every penny I could to invest in the business. Although it may not seem like the most profound thing that has helped me, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support them and without making the move. I’ve also found the kindness in neighbours, in friends of friends, and complete strangers to help the business flourish. There is a real sense of community and family up here. Everyone is always so supportive and willing to help and I think that can get lost in the big city. It has however been a little bit more challenging to market the brand with the vast majority of premium pop-ups, trade shows and creative connections being based in London. I am witnessing this changing though, which is encouraging, with events such as Design Central and The Sustainability Show now having a larger presence up North.
What inspiration do you draw from your local area and/or favourite Northern locations?
The people. I’ve met so many people who have made a similar move or career jump like myself. It’s amazing to see that they did not let fear stand in their way, that they have carved their own path and created their dream businesses that are profitable in more ways than one. I also absolute love to be outside in nature and moving back up North enables me to immerse myself in this daily. This daily connection with the planet is a constant reminder to aspire to do better for people and the world around me.
How do you see the Routes brand progressing through 2023 and beyond?
Reflecting our brand ethos of connection, we will be less behind the screen in 2023 and instead out there in the world to make real life connections with our customers and interior designers. I see this as an opportunity for people to connect to the story and to see the quality and beauty of our products in real life. We are also working on some exciting projects with NGO’s in Chiapas to help support our partners in the development of their businesses. This is not just a huge opportunity for the artisans but also a path to future proof Routes Interiors for further expansion in the future.
All interior styled photography © Kate Baxter. All Mexican artisan photography © Routes Interiors, used with permission.