Laura Cartledge meets the interiors company that sources stories.
Some trends don’t pay attention to the calendar.
For instance in fashion, the style of jeans may change but denim is always in.
When it comes to interior design there’s a growing movement surpassing the seasons.
It can be woven into your winter throws or illuminated by the candles you light on a barmy summer night.
What we are talking about is eco and ethical.
“Even in the last year that has become more prominent,” admits Anna Smith when talking about the two values.
During her 15 years in the industry, the Cranleigh-based designer has watched its rise from something which was ‘only starting to be of interest and concern’ to ‘a real hot area’.
“And the good thing is that is what we started with at the beginning,” she smiles, talking of her brand ALSO Home.
“I think it is a huge animal of a job,” she confesses. “If a company sources ethically the chances are they do everything ethically down to the packaging.”
It is a real, and broad ranging commitment, fuelled and inspired by Anna’s trips across the globe.
“I’ve been working in the industry since 2000,” she explains. “First as a designer then a design director, and it is that which got me thinking I wanted to start my own collection which I did online in 2008.
“It has grown from there,” reveals Anna. “A love of travelling, which came with the job, meant I saw different handicrafts which made me want to be more eclectic – that has become a real focus.”
Under ALSO, a name taken from Anna’s initials and ‘originals’, she’s spent the last seven years celebrating and sharing just that.
So how does the process work?
“It’s definitely a partnership,” she replies. “I love taking traditional techniques and then giving them a modern twist.
“Vietnam is my absolute passion, it is my favourite place to work and travel,” adds Anna. “That could be a full time job, I could just travel, there are endless possibilities.”
It’s not been an easy journey however, with the business launch coinciding with the recession.
“I had a choice – either keep going or don’t. That first year was incredibly tough,” she recalls. “I remember being a month away from thinking ‘I can’t do this anymore’.
“It was heart in mouth a lot of the time, because of the nature of business.”
The experience led Anna to learn that the best approach was to hold on to things ‘lightly’ and try ‘not to lose sleep over it’ which she conceded isn’t always possible.
Sticking with it has paid off and now the brand is getting set for its latest adventure.
“Autumn is the first big collection in a little while, it is really exciting. It is the first time we have done a lot with colour,” reveals Anna.
“It is a collection of texture and interest, those little extra details, like the piping on a cushion.”
With a whole world of inspiration to draw on, Anna says designs often start ‘from a gut feeling’, and the newest range owes itself to her ‘seeing two pieces of material from a supplier’.
“I think after that it just comes together,” she confesses. “One of the best selling baskets is the shape of one I saw on a holiday in Spain.
“It can be a small, little, thing that sparks all sorts.”
Working in a small team allows ALSO Home to ‘do what we like’, something Anna believes is at the heart of being able to ‘offer something more unique’.
The hope is autumn will mark the start of something which ‘will keep building’ and Anna would love to see it branch out further.
“One of the things I would love to do is work with less fortunate women and give them the skills so that becomes a lifeline of the business, so we are helping and supporting them,” she agrees.
“There is a lot in the news about where the big companies source from, but there is a lot of good and a lot of small companies fighting for it.”
And Anna means a fight, listing a key problem in the ethical battle as society’s ‘cheap expectations’.
So how does she think people can recognise the difference?
“The price point is a key indicator and I think you can tell in the story and quality of the products,” replies Anna.
“If they care about where it is coming from they will tell the story.”