Toogood: A House of Exceptions
On our mission to explore singular independent brands, Toogood stands out as a unique example. Founded in 2008 by Faye Toogood, the studio is deeply rooted in art, interior and product design, describing itself as “a contemporary British brand creating clothing, furniture and objects”. Toogood’s venture into fashion began when Faye’s sister Erica joined the team in 2012 and together the siblings embarked on imagining functional garments devoted to trades and artisans. Over a telephone conversation, Erica shared how studio Toogood has adjusted to coronavirus lockdowns, their existence outside of industry standards and the importance of unlearning to evolve.
Advance Copy: We are speaking during coronavirus lockdowns and of course, this pandemic has affected everyone in very different ways. Erica, could you tell us how Toogood is functioning right now, how are you coping personally and as a creative company?
Erica Toogood: There has been a complete abandonment of daily business and daily life, we are spending quite some time discussing how we will move forward from this and also completely questioning how we work. It’s about juggling the timeline and making the most of the time now – which I think is best for creative thinking.
I have managed to set up a studio at home and I’m asking our colleagues if we could use different spaces in different ways, which we are all excited to do. I also feel like we are really close to one another, which is remarkable. It’s interesting to create these new ways of connecting, to feel proud and close to our incredible team across the different sections of the business.
“It’s interesting to create these new ways of connecting, to feel proud and close to our incredible team.”
AC: You mentioned using this time for creative thinking, have you noticed a flourishing of individual creativity since you’ve transitioned to working from home?
Erica: Leaving people to do their job is a brilliant trust element because you allow them to crack on with what they want to do, to go on their journey, have a thought and then coming back to apply it once it’s become clearer and more concise.
AC: I think this moment is also giving people time to think about what’s most important to them, what changes they want to bring forward and what future they want to be a part of.
Erica: Everyone we know and ourselves want change, and this is the perfect moment for it. Newness and change come after something traumatic, like new flowers that grow after something as horrific as in-land fires.
AC: I certainly hope that, like nature, creativity will come out stronger and more wild.
Erica: Yes, and I think if the Earth can do it so can we.
AC: What developments do you foresee in the wider creative industries as a result of the pandemic?
Erica: Thinking ahead, there will be a lot of creative people with time on their hands, people who would have lost their jobs or have been furloughed, with more space to think. I think that amateur thinking will become prominent and there is space for it, whereas before there wasn’t.
AC: Studio Toogood is an independent company, could you reflect on the advantages of this position during the lockdowns?
Erica: We are flexible, which is very exciting – especially now, as being flexible is absolutely the key. So many people have experienced this domino effect with everything towering on them, everything relying on a huge amount of promise and developments but actually if you keep it as long as your arm, you’ll be able to draw it back in and back out again. It’s not wanting to have too much but enough.
“Amateur thinking will become prominent.”
AC: Let’s go back to when you and your sister, the cross-discipline creative Faye Toogood, decided to work on a line of clothing. Could you tell us about this moment?
Erica: That is one conversation that has been going on for a long time. Faye and I have always worked together in some capacity. Faye, in her early days of styling at The World of Interiors, would bring me along to sew for various shoots. When she created Studio Toogood she worked on sensory environments like La Cura and Natura Morta, and she would say ‘I have 20 members of staff can you make some uniforms for them?’ Later, for the London Design Festival in 2012, we worked on a project Seven by Seven creating 49 oversized coats that hung over the streets to celebrate the trades that have been and gone, like the Watchmaker, the Pimp and so on. We made these coats using bathroom blind fabric with dropped shoulders and pockets that have been pushed down as if the trade have been inside these coats. Then they were completely hand-painted by Faye. We wanted to do something together and Seven by Seven was a real starting point of us thinking that maybe this can be a trade-led approach.
AC: How did this concept develop to become Toogood’s first official fashion collection?
Erica: We thought that the 001 Collection would be a one-off project and made eight coats from canvas manipulated in many different ways: we screen printed it, rubbered it and hand-painted it. We did everything we could because we couldn’t afford to buy 500 meters of cashmere from Italy at that point. We started with just coats because, to us, it was one of those key pieces in your wardrobe that you would keep.
“The cutter is just as important as the wearer and you’re part of one cycle.”
AC: Would you mind giving us a glimpse into Toogood’s manufacturing process?
Erica: We’ve moved some manufacturing to Europe because there was a point when keeping London-only production would compromise our garment quality. We are maintaining some manufacturing in the UK, for example, our coats and jackets, but we celebrate and use the people whose skills are right for the task. It’s not always just about making things right near you and supporting your local, but really honing in on what people’s skills are, celebrating that and working with that. The people whom we work with, have been with us for many years and that’s an aspect of sustainability in itself. It’s also good to mention that we have Toogood Passports inside each garment, which give you the initials of the cutter, seamstress, presser, finisher and where the piece was made, and when you buy this item you add your name. It’s about legitimacy and understanding of a garment’s history, showing that the cutter is just as important as the wearer and you’re part of one cycle, that’s been an integral part of Toogood’s journey.
AC: The idea of a garment Passport is simple yet beautiful because it helps to illustrate the significance of each maker and inspires customers to take responsibility for their purchase.
Erica: There is certainly removal of hierarchy by placing all those names inside the passport, that’s very important to us. We first delivered the passports to one of our Portuguese factories and one of the seamstresses cried because she was so happy to see her name being acknowledged in the passports. It is a process of looking after your suppliers and manufacturers backwards and forwards at your stockists as well as the final wearers who support and buy Toogood. It’s an incredible process where we are in the middle and feel very protective of both sides.
“I want people to be themselves as I will be me.”
AC: There are many preconceptions in fashion on how things ‘should’ be done in the industry and it feels like Toogood are building a brand almost from an external point of view.
Erica: We do receive feedback from young designers and the old guard who are excited to see an approach that comes from a genuine place, one that is about seeing our life’s work as a development journey with some amazing creative collaboratives along the way. It’s not the pomp and ceremony of the fashion world as we know it. Fashion is known for a kind of attitude as though you sit above the rest when you don’t, and everyone is paranoid about what they’re wearing but I want people to be themselves as I will be me. We feel very privileged to work in our own way, we work hard for it so it’s amazing to see the reaction and to feel that appreciation from the wonderful people who avidly follow each Toogood collection.
AC: I’d love to dive into the uniqueness of Toogood – a fashion label that exists within a multi-disciplinary creative studio and under one roof with architects, interior and product designers. Could you explain this unusual model and how it influences your design process?
Erica: Faye runs through the entire business and I run the fashion part of Toogood. Faye is that single thread through the whole company and is integral to how we work. She is known as ‘the brain’ and I’m the scissors. Faye’s conceptual storytelling, design eye, editing and my cutting and linking up with that concept to design something that is away from the boundaries of normal fashion has led to what has been some very instinctual pieces. That’s where the garments become like objects, not fashion, and these objects are treated in the same way as we would make a chair, an artwork or an interior – the approach is the same. We don’t have boundaries, we question everything and we approach things how we want to approach them.
“Faye created Toogood with no blueprint.”
AC: Perhaps we should question the prevailing emphasis on building competitive brand names and instead explore different ways of cooperating with others. What are the advantages of working in this cross-discipline way?
Erica: This is one of the most important things about the studio, you come with your trade and as a process, you almost unpeel everything that you’ve learnt, question it all and start building it back up together in a way that you can find your own path and your own way of working within a house of equally exceptionally creative people. Part of that approach is also that we are a family, with Faye and I being sisters it gives an essence of a family with people being with us for many years. There is a natural flow that has been created by the longevity of people staying at the studio and iterating in such a broad sense, understanding each other’s projects: whether you’re discussing a rug, a chair or a coat – the same thinking and respect of the object are applied. That is something that has been there since day one when Faye created Toogood with no blueprint and people were trying to compartmentalize her into an interior designer, a product designer, an artist or a fashion designer but actually, we will be who we want to be. We hope to take on many opportunities and keep innovating and Faye has been quite rightly described as ‘relentless’, in the most affectionate way, that is Faye. I’m excited to be going on that journey alongside her to create and have that new approach to everything that we do and to always question the process and to embrace it.
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