by Camilla Ridley
The buzz around London Craft Week is highlighting how many UK craft based sectors are in serious trouble. But does craft really matter any more? You bet it does, and without it we will all suffer.
Every Ridley London dress, skirt, top and coat is individually hand cut by one of our skilled seamstresses, enabling every item to be subtly adjusted to each customer's most flattering fit
Hot on the heels of London Fashion Week, this week is London Craft Week. A festival bringing together over 250 established and emerging makers, designers, brands and galleries from around the world in a celebration of outstanding creativity. But in our dynamic globalised world of technological progress, does craft even matter? Or is it merely the preserve of economic elites looking for an extra slice of exclusivity and status with money to burn on luxury whims?
Consult the Oxford English Dictionary and you’ll see that craft is synonymous with expertise, skill, experience and superior quality. Even mastery. All words I believe are as relevant today as they’ve ever been and are the things that set the merely good apart from the truly great. It is true that many of the worlds most celebrated luxury brands rely on a human level of artisanal expertise to elevate themselves above the homogenised lorry loads of mass produced goods. And it’s also true that we associate craftsmanship with a level of tradition, of venerable skills being passed down through generations of apprentices. As well as increasingly niche industries. However I would argue that craftsmanship can equally apply to something as modern as the way a great website or app is created and coded. Above all I believe a level of craftsmanship can be directly attributed to the objects we really value and choose to hang onto. Perhaps because we invested a little bit more for something, but really we innately understand that it’s the human element of creativity and exceptional skill that makes something more individual and special. And in a world that’s moving towards a more conscious and localised type of consumption, this surely has to be a good thing.
Every Ridley item within the new autumn collection, including our beautiful printed floral silk dresses, is individually made to order from the finest sustainably sourced natural materials using a number of traditional tailoring techniques. Our new knitwear is all hand knitted here in London from the softest merino wool.
So it seems perverse when supermarket aisles are awash with craft gin, craft beer and artisan produced foods that craft is under serious threat. According to the Heritage Crafts Association 130 crafts are now on an endangered red list here in the UK, with Covid lock downs and economic issues now placing many of these in serious jeopardy. Crafts as diverse as glass-eye making, whicker furniture weaving, traditional kilt making, Bowed-felt hat-making, and pointe shoe-making all appear on the list. Ok, but does this really matter? Do these things really have a place in our modern society? I mean you can order a perfectly well made Chinese point shoe from Amazon. Well as Mary Lewis who lead the research at the HCA points out: “It is more important than ever that we are aware of the cultural assets still available so that we can have an informed debate about what we want to safeguard as a resource for the future. If we allow endangered crafts to disappear then we seriously diminish the opportunities for future generations to create their own sustainable and fulfilling livelihoods based on these skills.” In other words craft is about a two way relationship. It’s not merely about the object and us the consumer, it’s about our relationship with a wider society of highly skilled and usefully employed individuals.
It's the expert craftsmanship of our incredibly skilled seamstresses that make our Ridley London dresses, skirts, tops and coats so special. Not only can every piece be customised for your most flattering fit, but traditional tailoring techniques ensure they wear better and last longer. Customers say they can really feel a real difference when they wear one of our garments. This difference is thanks to a combination of the most amazing natural materials and extraordinary craftsmanship
This is something I totally understand. Yes, it would be far more profitable to outsource the production of our Ridley London clothing like almost every other fashion label. And we could use more widely available, cheaper materials. However, I know it would be almost impossible to replicate the quality that our team of skilled seamstresses and tailors deliver. So our dresses wouldn’t look or feel as good to wear and certainly wouldn't last as long. And there’s absolutely no way that we would be able to effectively customise our garments so they fit perfectly in each customers unique choice of print. But above all, it would mean the loss of vocation to some wonderfully talented, hardworking individuals who are the true hero behind every dress or skirt we produce. Yes it’s conceivable that in our lifetimes, similar robots to the ones currently pioneering complex surgical procedures could become common place in crafting beautiful individually made garments in a location near us. But ultimately they would need to learn from and be managed by a true craftsperson. And there lies the consumer quandary. If we all choose to turn our backs on craftsmanship in favour of world of instant gratification and a tsunami of cheaper mass produced alternatives, suddenly when we want something really special and individual, it could just be too late. And if craft vanishes, you can be sure that a diminishment of quality, choice and creativity won't be far behind. And do we really want to live in that kind of world?
London Craft Week runs all this week with all of the events and open studios listed on the London Craft Week website. Our luxurious new collection of crafted Ridley London floral print dresses, skirts, tops and coats for autumn is available to purchase on-line and in Ridley's London store. Celebrate your individuality with a unique piece that's individually crafted to flatter from your choice of any of our stunning new printed floral silks or cottons. Or call us to arrange a virtual fitting:
Ridley London, 82 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 0DQ T: 01730 823097
Watch our film to learn more about our passion for craftsmanship and our uniquely individual approach