Q&A with Vixy Rae on behalf of Walker Slater
We had the pleasure of talking with Vixy Rae, Designer and Brand Manager at Walker Slater just last week. They create fabrics and styles that are constantly improved upon to keep its relevance today, whilst striving to retain the heritage and integrity of the weaving and tailoring from where it came. Everything is designed and created to provide their customers with the best value and quality we can offer. We look forward to hearing more from Vixy and the Walker Slater team over the months ahead.
1. Please tell us a little about yourself and how your business/designs/products utilise wool?
We are a family run business, based in Edinburgh with stores in London and Edinburgh. Established for over 25 years we have taken inspiration from all aspects of the Scottish landscape and heritage for our collections. Always striving to take the traditional and give it an authentic modern feel. Although initially we were looking more at cottons and casual wear it was our customer led focus that drew us towards creating more and more from woollens, worsted and tweeds.
Currently our three piece tweed suit is proving to be a favourite item and it has now become synonymous with the company. In ladies wear our asymmetrical jackets have create a stir, and using harris tweed in this elegant cut has given it an interesting slant.
2. What makes you choose wool over other fibres? What is your favourite thing about wool?
We choose wool over most other fibres because of its versatility. In fine worsted weaves it can be cool in the summer, and then in Harris Tweed it has the roughness and body to keep cosy in the depths of the Scottish winter. I think our favourite thing about the wool is that you can achieve such a great depth of colour and texture within the tweed we use. It forms a very strong and honest fabric, but the mixing of colours can create something bright and complex, but at the same time durable and tough. Wool has many factors which make it the perfect cloth for tailoring into suits, and although we used worsteds in our collections, it has to be the tweed cloths which generate the most interest and inspiration.
3. By what means do you source your wool?
Currently we deal just with the mills who produce the fabric. We have an interest in where the fleece comes from and an understanding of the different qualities from different regions. We use a varied mix of mills from Yorkshire through to Lancashire, then the borders up into the Isles in the North. We buy different qualities from each mill, and each mill seems to specialise in a particular quality. The Scottish wool really gives the authenticity which our customers like. When we deal with Harris Tweed Hebrides we know we are getting a true Cheviot wool and so the story of the tweed has a truly Scottish tale to it.
4. What does the Campaign for Wool mean to you?
It brings to people’s attention the fact the wool is a sustainable natural fibre. As the increase in the demand for wool affects the price, we have to remember that although it is sustainable that the quality of life of the animals has to be considered too. There are very few vertically integrated companies left in the world today, so it is important that all areas involved in the production of wool, from the sheeps back to the customers back, are encouraged to collaborate and work together.
5. The retail landscape is forever changing with a growing trend for more sustainable fibres, what does 2015 hold for you as a brand?
We are certainly looking at all aspects of sustainability within the coming collections. We have in the past dabbled with Organic tweeds, using the natural colours of the sheep to achieve different patterns and weaves. But also in our knitwear we are looking at blended yarns, which will give strength and luxury at the same time. Our customer constantly demands high quality and a fair price, and so we have built a reputation on this over the past years. I means we no longer see seasonal collections as disposable but more as pieces which can be kept and added to.
6. Fabric technologies, particularly those using wool have advanced so rapidly over the last few years, has this affected your trade and work?
We are constantly surprised by new developments arising from investment into the industry. Certainly we have felt that there have been more investments in recent years to help the quality and finish of the fabrics we purchase. The mills we use tend to be quite small but due now to the increasing demand even they are able to invest and advance moving the industry as a whole forward.
7. How does using woollen cloths differ to other man-made materials?
As the price of petro chemicals has decreased recently this has had a knock on effect with wool blended fabrics. We have never really viewed the man made materials as so necessary in our collections. The use of them never reflected us as a company. We were always looking to nature and natural fibres, which gave an authentic feel. There is always the notion that natural fibres tended to “wear in” rather than “wear out” and we liked the idea that garments had a long life rather than being disposable from one season to the next. Even down to the way the pure wools reflect the light gives our garments life and colour.
8. What demand have you seen from your customers with regards to favouring wool over synthetic fibres?
Most of our customers do ask about the fabric, the fibre and the origins. It is very pleasing for our staff to tell them it is rare we use anything other than natural fibres. Although man made fibres are tollerated it seems the natural approach is far more important to our customers. Even those that don’t ask we like to be able to promote the fact we rarely blend fibres, unless it is with cashmeres or other luxury yarns.
9. Are there any plans to introduce more wool in to your collection?
I think we could not possibly add more! About 80% of what we do now is wool based. We need a balance of textures and fibres within the company. We certainly intend to maintain our usage of the fibre, but will now be looking for blends with cottons for shirtings for next winter, and for this summer we may still explore mixing linen, wool and silk to give a lightweight textured summer suiting.
10. When you have an idea for a design, what is the process and how does it come together?
It always starts with the fabric. Often I find a cloth almost tells me what it would like to become, sounds funny but there is a certain instinct which has developed over time. I start by building the garment in my mind, starting with who might wear it and for what occasion: this then flows into the details and the lining colours, along with the proportions and the styling. If it is a brand new style we sketch and have a pattern made, a sample is made and the adjustments are noted, before a counter sample in the proposed cloth is made. If all is well then we will move to a short run of production of say 12 pieces to see if the style and the sample work…. And hopefully we read our customer well and the product is a success.. Leading to larger orders and further tweeking.
On behalf of Walker Slater