A denim business that has revived manufacturing in a small Welsh town; a craft brewery run by seven brothers; a traditional printer founded in the 1800s: With Love’s stories reveal how traditional crafts and techniques have been given a modern revisiting by a group of extraordinary makers. Art director Chris Roberts is responsible for the stories, and describes the project as ‘our search to find people who produce things with a passion and a purpose, who truly care about what they do and what they make.’
On their travels, Roberts and photographer Rob Evans asked everyone they met the same simple question… ‘why do you do what you do?’ Their answers are illustrated through a set of stunning photographs and personal stories. The answers, says Roberts, were mainly driven by the same passionate compulsion. ‘When we asked the question most people paused before answering,’ he says. ‘Then they all gave a similar answer; they do it because it’s important to them, they don’t quite know why but they’re compelled to keep doing it. It’s an intrinsic part of the way they live. There isn’t a line where work stops and life begins. It’s just what they do.’
Few answers surprised them, says Roberts, and many were united by common passions, beliefs and experience: ‘Some definitely stuck with us though – James Otter said “Stick to what you enjoy and you’ll end up doing something you love.”’
The two met on a project when Roberts worked at a Manchester-based branding agency before he left to start his own business, and knew he wanted to work with Evans on some new projects.‘Originally we settled on the idea of visiting independent fashion houses in the UK. But after our first visit to Hiut Denim for their open day – where we met cloth makers, potters, belt producers and many more – we decided not to limit ourselves to just fashion,’ he says. ‘Our new mantra became “people who produce things with a passion and a purpose”. The initial idea was to visit five people and make a small booklet, but nearly 40 visits, a website, a UK road trip and a short film later, we’re hopefully about to produce the book with the help of Kickstarter.’
As we speak, the Kickstarter campaign is 85% funded, with three weeks left to go. Pledges range from £5 to £1,000 – rewards including limited edition books and prints, bespoke gifts designed especially for the project and unique experiences with the With Love interviewees.
The idea of crowdfunding the book – and getting people who were genuinely interested to contribute – always appealed, says Roberts. ‘We had tried the crowdfunding before, but we failed as we didn’t realise the time you need to dedicate to it,’ he says. ‘We didn’t realise the potential of opening up another audience until we did that, which is definitely an advantage. This time around we knew the pitfalls and were fully-prepared to get stuck in for the 30 days, generate lots of interest and ride a bit of a wave of momentum. It increases the project’s visibility and focuses us on pushing it for a short amount of time in a way we probably wouldn’t do otherwise.’
As the project snowballed, the pair were drawn into a world of master craftsmen, traditional industries and innovative modern artists. Roberts says: ’We’ve been humbled by their openness and enthused by their work and attitude. Some days we’ve driven for ten hours to meet people; other days we’ve ventured out of the UK. Each and every journey is filled with the excitement and anticipation of hearing another great story; an insight into someone’s thinking, their way of life and a chunk of knowledge and advice to hold on to. We’ve met traditional furniture makers, motorcycle manufacturers hand-building by eye, wheelwrights who can trace their family trade back to the 1300s and tailors who’ve produced suits for Pavarotti. Each one of these people has let us into their world after just a phone call or an email, understanding what we are trying to achieve and happy to share what they are producing.’
Once ‘passion and purpose’ became their driver, the list soon wrote itself. ‘We started compiling a list of people we wanted to meet,’ says Roberts. ‘But every new person we interviewed gave us more people to visit – suggestions came in from far and wide and it’s always a pleasure to go and visit and spend time with the craftsmen, makers and producers. It’s the type of project that grows and grows and we’re still as passionate now meeting people as we were in the beginning.’
A theme of sustainability runs through the stories; traditional methods are adhered to; tired and defunct items are given new life; businesses are run responsibly and ethically. The values are representative of growing global interest in localism, provenance and sustainability. ‘The interactions with your local butcher or knowing who has hand-made your jeans seems to becoming more important to consumers,’ says Roberts. ‘The story attached and the provenance to goods is helping people move away from mass produced goods and live in a more sustainable way. Hopefully this movement will continue as people become more aware of the importance of sustainable living, looking after people and the environment.’
Those values represent a grass-roots attitude that flourishes as the businesses grow: ’The smaller companies tended to have an unspoken sustainable ethos – a lot of the time they were working on their own or in small teams with similar outlooks, so it didn’t really need to be said. The larger companies we visited were focused on employing people with the same ethos, so their beliefs continued as the company grew,’ he says.
We asked Roberts if projects like With Love change perceptions of business, or what businesses are? ‘I hope the project gives people an insight into business that they didn’t know much about before,’ he says. ‘There aren’t many projects which include a sign writer who’s worked for the Kings of Leon and a female blacksmith artist next to a fair trade coffee roaster and a couple glass blowing their way into numerous collections and national museums. I’d like to think that they might get a glimpse into different careers that perhaps don’t get talked about or pushed in mainstream education.’
It goes without saying that, created by an art director and photographer, With Love looks beautiful; its clean, crisp pages filled with makers producing their own works of art. So we asked Roberts why good design matters, and were surprised by an answer you rarely hear from a designer. ‘Good design *is* so important,’ he laughs, ‘but what this project has taught us is that things produced with a passion and a purpose seem to last longer, work better and resonate more strongly with the consumer.’
Paper merchants GF Smith have sponsored the project, and are contributed the paper for a special limited-edition run. The rest is down to Kickstarter, and the people who’ve been captivated by the project.
Update: With Love successfully funded its Kickstarter campaign, and published the beautiful With Love book in August 2016. If you’d like to buy a copy, you’ll find one here…