The charming quirks and idiosyncrasies of Britain, as well as your childhood memories of growing up in Africa, feature in your designs for Age of Reason scarves, cushions and womenswear, but are there any other particular cultures or geographies around the world that you look to for inspiration?
It’s an interesting question because I grew up with British parents in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho feeling very much like a child of the world, not from anywhere in particular. Until I came to the UK at 16 I was never 100% African, and never fully British either. I still use the warmth and playfulness of the Basotho culture into my work - even if it’s subtle.
I don’t look to one culture in particular for inspiration but I am always influenced by wherever I go. Having two children means I have to go very slowly, and I probably notice more detail than I ever did before. Children have a way of pointing out the tiniest details - a particular pattern on a tile, a tiny insect or custom that’s different to their own.
In Marrakech a couple of years ago I was really inspired by the dyers in the Souk. I created the Artisan in Teal tunic as a reaction to their craft. My most recent overseas trip was a relaxing break to Le Saint Geran in Pont de Flac, Mauritius. I was inspired by the incredible plants and birds - I’m looking forward to creating a piece based on those.
Where in the world have you had your most memorable moments, either professional or personal?
Although people think of me as British, I will always feel delightfully alien and completely at home in London. I’m thrilled so entirely by that contradiction, I don’t think I’d ever get tired of it. I must have spent hundreds of hours wandering around Soho in my late teens just browsing bookshops, or beautifully wasting time people-watching at Camden Lock. I still love doing that now. I know East London like the back of my hand but here’s always something new to discover. New York is really inspiring too, I’d love to spend a week just sketching in Manhattan.
I think the recent Mauritius trip will always be memorable because I was 6 months pregnant with my second child, who’s now 3 months old. It was a lovely opportunity to unwind after a very busy year of work. We really got to bond as a little family of 3, with my elder daughter, and enjoy that dynamic for the last time before becoming 4!
What are your personal travel necessities?
Sunscreen, because I’m so pale! Factor 50 all the way!
I think smartphones have ruined the joy of being lost. I love to leave mine behind if I’m travelling for pleasure. It’s easy to rely on them too much, so a good camera is critical to me. A photo my husband took of me on our honeymoon in the Maldives actually made it into one of my scarf designs, which wouldn’t have been possible without a good quality digital SLR. I did a lot of bartering for pictures in Mali where I travelled over 10 years ago to the Festival in the Desert. This picture of a little girl in a market place is one of my favourites. She was such a self-possessed young person, and she didn’t want anything for the picture - she had a lot of pride. I have this picture in my studios, and every time I look at it hope that she’s a strong, happy woman now.
Shoes are also important. And when I’ve twice been pregnant it’s been even more important to have comfortable ones. I’m an explorer at heart anyway, so if I can’t walk, run, climb and stomp in my shoes I’m not happy. Brands like Po-Zu make ethical, sustainable shoes you can walk in. Their cut-out red and blue ankle boots are killer. I don’t buy that much – just 2-3 pieces per season - but they’re definitely on my list. I’m lucky because I have a label and I can wear pieces from the collection, but I usually only choose 2 pieces per season to keep. Everything is designed for comfort and versatility as well as style. And I’m a firm believer in designing things that transcend seasons, which can be styled differently all year around and easily layered. If everything were designed like that we’d need less stuff.
A good quality backpack is also a must for me - I can’t lug camera, baby and bag around on one shoulder. I have a backpack from Sussex designer Anna Pugh. It still looks new after 3 years. Quality always pays off.
Where’s next on your list in terms of travel goals?
I love history but growing up overseas I missed out on British history at school. So now I’m really into the idea of exploring the British Isles. I did a bit of that for my recent collaboration with English Heritage where I created a silk scarf inspired by 18th century gardener Capability Brown. It was really enlightening, because for all the wonderful places I’ve seen in Africa, Asia and America I’d forgotten how many incredible things are on our doorstep in the UK. We also source our cushion filling wool from Orkney and I still haven’t been to visit the seaweed eating sheep!
Historical sites like Stonehenge amazed me when I first arrived in the UK aged 16, and having children has brought me back to that magic. I want them to see their heritage and understand that Britain has always been a hub of meeting cultures, from the Romans, to the Normans, to the Huguenots. I was born in the West Highlands of Scotland, and my Dad’s an historical potter - Potted History - so he’s passionate about British history, and that’s rubbed off. My fantasy trip would be island hopping around Orkney and the Shetland Isles by boat, and staying in luxurious cosy cottages. I like everything from camping to 5 star hotels - but in a colder climate I’d want a bit of luxury like roaring fires, plush bedding and the ability to have a warm bath. The website Tours by Locals is great because you can find real local guides all over the world who live and work in the area you want to see.
What is your vision as you take Age of Reason Studios forward?
For the first time in a long time, I’m really excited about the future for for Age of Reason. I’ve been so focused on building the label in recent years that I haven’t stopped to enjoy what it has become! We're very committed to improving sustainability and transparency, and our social media community really feed and inspire that. We also love updating our website with new materials we’re trying out like the Orkney wool we use for filling our silk cushions. We recently helped to set up The Pin House a small fashion production studio in Yorkshire. It took an enormous amount of work and commitment from both studios so I’m excited to see what the future holds. I also want to try out more sustainable printing methods and organic fabrics. And I hope to do more un-retouched photographic work with unusual models and fans like Pam Lucas, the 68 year old woman who features in my most recent campaign.
Why is treading lightly (in terms of environmental and social impact) so important when it comes to fashion?
Where do I start! I could write a book! But there are people like Safia Minney already doing an incredible job of writing books about sustainable fashion. (Slave to Fashion and Slow Fashion are both worth a read.)
At Age of Reason we focus on human social sustainability as well as environmental and economic sustainability. What that really means is that we pay people properly and commit to relationships long term. I want to view this challenging landscape as an opportunity to do something amazing. Sustainable fashion doesn’t have to be beige. It can be vibrant, exciting and indulgent.
The simple answer to why it’s important to tread lightly is we’re running out of resources fast .
We have more clothes than ever before, and we keep buying more because it’s thrilling. Most of the workers who create high street fashion live in poverty because prices are too low. And the demand is so high, that pretty soon farmers will have to start choosing whether to use their land to grow cotton or food. We stand with Vivienne Westwood and her mantra 'Buy Less, Choose Well, Make it Last'.
If you could give your younger self one piece of business advice, what would that be?
I wouldn’t. Because my younger self needed to discover the world for herself.
I believe advice is the most over-rated thing in life and business. You don’t need advice, you just need to learn from experience all the time. I apply the same thing to my daughters; I want them to learn by doing.
What would you say is the best part of your job?
That’s easy. The best part of my job is when someone is thrilled with a piece of clothing or accessory I’ve designed. That’s what it’s about. I create beautiful pieces so they can go out into the world and be worn and used - hopefully for years to come. Every piece becomes part of someone else’s story. Nothing beats that, ever.