Text by Oliver Robinson / Photography: Julian Love
To quote motorcycle mechanic-turned-philosopher Matthew Crawford, author of The Case for Working with Your Hands, “The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.”
These are the words that come to mind when first perusing the pages of Julian Love’s photography project, Handmade London. Crawford’s words are being realised by an increasing number of Londoners. These people are bright and well educated, but rather than apply their skills to life in an office, they chose to make, build and create, anything from coffee to jewellery.
Love explains that the idea first came to him when he was living in Victoria Park, East London, and working in nearby Dalston. “It’s hard to wander around these parts of the city without stumbling across someone trying something new and interesting, whether it’s food, drink, products or fashion,” says Love. “I was interested in seeing how and where these people worked.”
As a professional photographer, Love was more used to working with models and stylists, but soon found shooting real people in real environments a refreshing creative outlet. “It was fascinating to meet so many interesting people and learn a bit about their craft,” he says. “I now have a much greater appreciation for the skill, time and effort that goes into making things by hand. The photographs were also a departure for me technically, with much more complex, considered compositions and lighting than in my regular work, a process I really enjoyed.”
Handmade London is an ongoing project and Love continues to photograph potters, glass-blowers, tailors and welders – people who make things themselves to sell at honest prices, who are proud to put their face and name to their handiwork.
“I think these days there’s a bit of a backlash against the rampant consumerism of the last decade,” says the Love. “People are beginning to care about how and where the things they buy are made.”
Jessica de Lotz / jewellery designer
Walking into jewellery designer Jessica de Lotz’s workshop in Clerkenwell is like stepping into the inner workings of her mind. Work surfaces, walls, and shelves all teem with trinkets, clippings, memorabilia and inspirational idols – all intensely personal.
Personality – both hers and that of her customers – is an integral feature of de Lotz’s work. She’s not inspired by lines or shapes, she’s inspired by the personal stories behind images or objects. Some of her bestselling pieces are the initialled wax seals, which are used to embed personal monograms on necklaces and cufflinks.
The “personal appeal” is taken to another level by de Lotz’s newest venture, Jeweller for Life. As she sees it, if the Queen has a personal jeweller, why can’t the rest of us? “We create modern-day crests,” explains de Lotz. “It’s called Jeweller for Life because I keep all the seals so customers can come back to me and use their wax seal for other jewellery.”
Narrative is another hugely important aspect of de Lotz’s designs. “I graduated from St Martins in 2008,” she recalls. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but in my first year I found I loved doing jewellery, and very quickly began to do narratives and tributes through my jewellery, which is what I do now.”
It’s little surprise that de Lotz’s creations are worn by some of the most quirky characters in show business, including Helena Bonham Carter and Paloma Faith.
“I’m playful, I like dressing up, I like colour, and narrative is important to me,” she says. “I couldn’t design without it,”
Ian Burgess / coffee roaster
The man behind Climpson & Sons roastery and café is actually called Ian Burgess. “Climpson & Sons was the name of the butcher’s that was where the café is now,” explains Nicole Ferris, marketing manager for Climpson. “We kept the name because it sounds cool.”
After returning from a stint in Australia in 2001, Burgess realised just how bad the British coffee scene was. But rather than bitch about Starbucks like the rest of us, he decided to open a café (Climpson & Sons on Hackney’s Broadway Market), and later started roasting and blending his own coffee.
Climpson & Sons has since grown into a recognised brand, which has built a reputation for sourcing coffee beans ethically and is now gently knocking on the door of cafés, restaurants and hotels in Edinburgh, Dublin, Montpellier, Berlin, Hong Kong, and beyond.
Climpson & Sons’ success has much to do with Londoners’ heightened awareness of good coffee as well as their demand for ethically sourced produce. “Everyone’s a lot more conscious about where they’re buying coffee from. It’s similar to the wine industry in that respect,” says Ferris. “We roast our own coffee and serve it in our own café, so we can get instantaneous and first-hand feedback as to how it tastes. Location helps too – East London is going off right now.”
Such is the passion for crafting artisan products, it’s led to the creation of The Arch, a restaurant housed in a railway arch that showcases the talents of young chefs.
Christian Dillon / furniture designer
Wild-haired, affable Australian Christian Dillon is one half of East London Furniture, a company he set up with Reuben Le Prevost in 2011. The duo have recently moved from their workshop in Hackney to a bigger location in the Bermondsey Project. Not only does their new digs afford more space, but it also offers a hideaway from an increasingly curious general public.
It’s fair to say East London Furniture has been enjoying its share of attention over the past year – not just from the general public, but from the press too. “But,” says Dillon, “I kind of felt it was becoming a bit fake – I thought the things we were producing probably weren’t up to speed with the image we were given. So we’ve been quieter recently, focusing on our products.”
Refocused and reinvigorated, Dillon, Le Prevost and their small team continue to produce innovative quality furniture, from stools to boardroom tables, made entirely from reclaimed wood they find lying about London – an exemplary business model for times of austerity.
“One day I was walking to the hardware shop and saw some pallets on the side of the street and thought: These are closer than the hardware shop and they’re free, so I’m going to use them,” says Dillon. This light-bulb moment has shaped East London Furniture’s philosophy ever since. “The ethos was to use materials already in London,” Dillon says. “We’re not responsible for transporting materials. And, it makes sense economically – they’re free!”
Michael Ruh / glass-blower
American-born Michael Ruh’s reasons for getting into glass-blowing couldn’t be more simple: “I saw some people making glass and thought it was pretty cool.” Stood in his light-filled Tulse Hill studio in South London, surrounded by ethereal abstract sculptures of all shapes, sizes and colour, most people would agree: glass-blowing is pretty cool.
Ruh left the States for Europe when he fell in love with a German girl – now his wife and business partner – and has been working in Tulse Hill, south London, for just under a year.
“There aren’t so many glass-blowers – not just in London but in the whole country – so I suppose by that fact alone I do have a niche,” explains Ruh. “It’s difficult in London because of the costs.”
So what’s his secret to surviving the capital? “Be happy with lots of hard work and be happy with little money,” Ruh says. “I think the fact we love what we do helps us carry on.”
With this mantra in mind, Ruh has managed to marry what he loves with success – he’s just celebrated 10 years as a limited company and makes items for the likes of DKNY, Nicole Farhi, Calvin Klein and Molton Brown. His range is also sold in The Conran Shop and he recently worked with a drinks company on a bespoke bottle design that featured at the Salone del Mobile in Milan in April.
“I think the type of client who comes to us is attracted to the type of work we do, rather than location. Very often they want an idea or feeling or a special sentiment – getting that feeling in the work is what we specialise in.”
Camilla Goddard / beekeeper
When Camilla Goddard is not tending to beehives in Greenwich, London Fields, or Brockley, catching swarms for the Metropolitan Police or teaching a Norwegian envoy the art of urban beekeeping, she works from her Brockley flat, repairing beehives and attending to all the admin that comes with beekeeping.
“I was given a beehive for Christmas about 10 years ago,” reminisces Goddard. “People were talking about bees dying out, so I began collecting swarms and starting my own colonies.”
Goddard manages about 50 hives around London, but says the production of natural honey is a very small part of what she does – much of her work is educational, and she’s often called out to remove swarms from public places. “Catching swarms can be quite dangerous,” she says. “Not necessarily because of the bees, but you get a lot of people hanging around watching. And obviously you have to climb up ladders.”
The demise of bees has been well documented – now it seems everyone is behind the buzzy beasts. “It started off being quite difficult finding sites in London,” says Goddard. “Now I’m paid to keep bees; it’s gone full circle.”
Goddard can now concentrate on doing what she loves most: working with bees. “Getting it all going took a lot of time, but now I’m just enjoying it – it’s a sweet life.”
James Kennedy / bike maker
James Kennedy found his calling when his bike was stolen. “To replace it and save money, I made one myself,” he says. He ended up spending more than he saved, but crafting just one bike was enough to get him hooked.
“In my spare time, I built bikes and gave them away to friends. Then I persuaded my fiancée to start cycling to work, so we went shopping for her bike and I remember being really disappointed by what was on offer.”
After a little encouragement from his fiancée and father, and six months of research, Kennedy quit his job as a trend forecaster and went into the bike business for himself. Judging from the rainbow of bicycle frames and sparkling spokes hanging from the ceiling of his new workshop on De Beauvoir Road, Hackney, his office life is over.
“In a busy month, we make 30 to 35,” says Kennedy. “In the quieter, winter months it’s more like 15 a month.”
The frames, designed by Kennedy, are sold in four colours: cream, teal, mustard and black. Once customers have picked a colour, they choose the leather for the seat and handlebar wraps, and the handlebar design.
“We do simple customisation, which means there’s choice, but not too much,” says Kennedy. “They’re great value, but still a lot of money, so to feel like you’re a part of the creative process is very important.” Being based in East London has helped Kennedy’s cause – not only is it a bicycle-friendly area, but its skinny-jeaned inhabitants have a reputation as being the city’s trendsetters.
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