A Famille affair
Laura Cartledge finds out how cigarette cards sparked a family fashion brand.
Style icons aren’t always who you expect. But if you think of hip flasks, moustaches and wingback armchairs that are now in vogue our grandfathers were trendy before the rest of us realised.
For one Brighton mother and son it was turning to this third generation which inspired them to launch a
business called Travail en Famille.
“I can remember the exact day we decided to do it,” admits Alek Stoodley, who is no stranger to fashion having modelled in shows at Men’s Fashion Week among others.
“I had started printing jumpers and t-shirts while I was at university as a hobby. I’ve always been into design.
“While my mum used to be a fashion buyer for Liberty and had always wanted to set her own thing up but never did.”
Alek believes the business would always have started, but it just happened to be discovering his grandfather’s old cigarette card collection which ‘was the spark that set it all off’.
“There was always all this stuff in our heads so it could have been anything,” he smiles, explaining how the first designs were a set of silk scarves based on strong women throughout history.
“We researched the stories behind each piece,” he reveals. “It’s important to both of us. I studied history at university and my mum studied English.
“It is nice to retell them,” adds Alek. “The idea is to take the old philosophies and show they are still relevant today.”
So how do the pair work together?
“It is very collaborative,” he replies. “We collaborate on everything but I probably take the lead on the print and she takes the lead on the shape as she understands pattern cutting and how pieces go together.
“It’s nice we know each other so well, when doing something like this you need to be able to be really honest,” Alek continues.
“At the start – it took a year to get the first collection – for a lot of reasons it wasn’t quite right and we could sit down and say ‘this is rubbish’.
“I usually say ‘I don’t like it’ and my mum is more subtle about it.”
Alek also credits his and mum Susan’s similar tastes for helping give the brand direction.
The first range ‘Terres Inconnues’ was a collection about travel influenced by the family’s time in Brussels thanks to Alek’s dad working with the UN – which is also behind the French elements.
“Because we hadn’t done anything like it before the collection was about seeing if we could do it at all really,” he admits.
“For the second one we have been able to stretch our legs.”
The latest collection, ‘Notre Jardin’, celebrates everything great about gardens and certainly radiates a sense of the duo having fun with the designs.
Take the English wild mellow creation for example which boasts a cigarette card style patch on the front about bees.
Then there’s the bag with a patch on it of a man sowing seeds.
Despite only launching in 2014, Travail en Famille is keen to grow, albeit slowly, so has added shirts and coats to the range which has a uniting thread of being ‘classic and wearable’.
Which begs the question, why silk?
“Silk is a great fabric to print on,” Alek answers. “Doing the scarves saw us fall in love with the fabric a bit.
“Now it has become a bit of a mission to make things out of silk that people can wear more.”
But at the same time the limited runs and dedication to using the best printers, the best fabrics and the best craftsmen – all in Britain – means it suits all involved to keep the business small and quality levels high.
“We aren’t aiming to become a huge brand, we tend to compromise as little as possible. If we can keep it small and manageable that is what we would like to do,” agrees Alek.
“As time goes by I feel like we are really building it. We are tied to the rise and fall of Made in Britain but we hope to rise with it.
“We aren’t trying to be one of those heritage businesses that just sell itself on the fact it is made in Britain. It is part of what we do but it is not all of it.”
For more information about Travail en Famille, visit www.t-e-f.co.uk
July 2, 2015 Fashion and Beauty