The best creative work is a product of worldwide influences filtered through personal experience.
A mix of the old and the new, hand made and cutting edge. World influenced and local.
That is one of the reasons why the UK, a melting pot of world culture, is arguably pound for pound the most creative country. At our very best, we embrace culture from across the world and create something new with it.
One of the best at this is William Kroll, who runs Tender Co, otherwise known as the most emailed about brand I’ve ever retailed.
Tender is much more than simply a clothing company, making ceramics, furniture, clocks, glassware etc etc, in fact anything Will has an interest in.
Alongside this, Will also runs a number of other clothing projects, sold here in the UK and in Japan.
Prodigious, talented and well, Will is one of the nicest people you could hope to meet.
So earlier this week, I hopped in my car and made the hour or so journey from my house to Will’s, partly to catch up, chat about life, discuss the industry and weirdly take some photos for Purposeful Activity.
Towards the end of our afternoon together, I mentioned that it’s nearly 10 years since Tender launched, something to be cherished in any industry but particularly one which is ever changing like the clothing game.
The funny thing is, I think you can tell if a ‘brand’ is going to last, sometimes there are circumstances beyond anyone’s control which skew that, on the whole though it’s fairly clear from first interaction.
I knew the first time Will emailed me, prior to his first season, that Tender was around for the long haul. Something which has been confirmed in each meeting since.
There is an artful intelligence coursing through Tender’s clothing, it’s been there from day one. That mixed with business sense, a willingness to communicate plus exceptionally good customer service, is a winning combination.
Lots of new brands contact me each season, and many of them would benefit from analysing what Will does. I don’t mean his design ethos, there can only be one Tender, but how he engages with the industry and his customers. How the story and world of Tender grows with each season, without losing integrity and what made it special to start with.
So what does make Tender special? It’s just workwear? It is, and then it’s not. People speak of a link to antique workwear and machinery and I see that, just look at those buttons. At same time, that’s far too easy a description and one which does the product a disservice.
Tender to me, is a collection of well thought out items, beautiful solutions to problems in cloth, glass and leather.
A perfect example of this is a blue brushed cotton ‘Type 915’ coat I’ve had since 2012. A coat which has been admired and tried on by more fashion industry heavy hitters than I care to embarrass. A piece of simple, elegant design, in a beautiful cloth, far removed from the usual design expectations of boxy workwear, but like the best workwear it happens to be utterly indestructible.
That’s Tender. The same strand which runs through everything. A desire to simplify and elevate any item they produce. But these aren’t simple products. This isn’t of the moment cliché minimalism. These are items where the bells and whistles are removed, allowing the shape and make to triumph.
From beautiful hand blown tumblers, simple but heavyweight jeans, washed cotton shirts and knitwear, through to hand thrown and painted red clay espresso cups. Each item is texture and colour rich. Each item exists to be a showcase of the best.
As a brand or art project, Tender is a product of the world as much as the UK, made here in Great Britain and particularly respectful of this nation’s ancient crafts.
Never revisionist though, this season includes a jumper which will over time flip, what is dark will become light and vice versa. It’s a play on colour, on texture, on what can be done with fabric and how anything we own ought to improve with use.
It’s very much an image of the future. Outward looking but understanding of the beauty of home.
Which in many respects is the whole point. When I first met Will he was a single man living in West London, now a father in Stroud. Those fundamental life changes can be viewed as a progression, one which is mirrored in his design work. There is a confidence which comes from contentment mixed with a desire to provide for your kin and further your artistic reach.
Visiting the houses of the creative is always interesting, as it offers a proper insight into their creativity. Is the work from the heart or just a carefully choreographed illusion? Because the objects with which we surround ourselves at home, the things we keep close, they cannot lie.
Is your work an extension of you? In Will’s case, entirely.
Those cleverly thought out details? that’s Will. The use of intriguing fabrics? that’s Will too. It’s all borne out of a desire to solve problems and a life filled with natural curiosity.
There is always a depth, to our conversations, but this isn’t mere artistic posturing, nor theorising with hot air. More an understanding of what surrounds us but a willingness to see more, to keep on learning. To in some ways seek perfection.
First we had coffee, beans from Colona & Smalls, ground and then made using apparatus I don’t want to talk about as, well I don’t need any more coffee kit, but, I want it.
Then, we broke bread, bread Will had recently baked, bread I would happily have bought in some of London’s trendier bakeries, bread which Will talked with passion and knowledge about almost as if it were a new Tender product.
Kombucha was taken, it is Stroud and well don’t knock it, all the while talking about books, coffee roasted carrots, vegetable gardens, Cotswold cafés, price of a pint (£6 somewhere last week…), local characters, local chancers, costume jewellery which isn’t paste, knife sharpening, that weird hook knife thing they use to open wheels of Parmesan.
Then we rooted round his studio talking some more, discussing packaging, lack of packaging, perfume packaging, perfume, the future of retail – not as bad as we all think, new season buttons and fabrics. All the good stuff.
More coffee. That Colonna & Smalls, the one that’s not the espresso but used as such. It’s good, the berries were ripe and some.
Photos and then home. Cross country as Bath Road was shut. Invigorated, possibly the caffeine, but also the conversation, the clothes, life.
Below we have Will’s answers to our set people questions, along with his choice of 4 British things he loves.
As ever, much thought was given to the selection, one ‘thing’ dry stone walls, struck a chord as I grew up in Wales surrounded by them, as you might guess by the photos. Wiltshire and London aren’t a hotbed of dry stone wall building so I’ve substituted with a photo of an ‘orse looking over a dry-ish stone wall and a painting by Elizabeth Thomas of “West Wales Walls”, 1/3 of a triptych which lives on my walls at home.
Why do you do what you do?
The opportunity to understand how things are made, and to dip into lots of different disciplines.
What do you collect?
Food, books and walks.
Paula Wolfert’s Armenian cauliflower with raisins and pine nuts.
Keeping a business small.
Exploring products away from known brands- in a larger context I think people are (or perhaps just should be) more open to trying something that doesn’t have a big name on it, being able to judge something on its own merits. I think the same goes for seasonality in clothing. You probably won’t wear a heavy coat much in summer, but a cotton shirt doesn’t need to only be relevant for half the year just because the fashion industry tells you it’s Spring/Summer. From a personal perspective this means making sure that the things I produce can be enjoyed in different climates and at different times, and selling in a way which places less emphasis on constant reinvention.
Four items which sum up the UK….
Dry stone walls