Behind The Scenes:
Leading up to the release of Tender’s SS19 collection, Always in Colour had the pleasure of spending the day with William Kroll, the founder of Tender, an intriguing, multifaceted British brand based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. We were invited to meet with him at his home to discuss his design techniques, influences and lifestyle before exploring the market town’s local community and surroundings, all of which help support his unique creative process.
William works from a small studio space at the top of his garden, where he develops beautifully crafted pieces using an extensive knowledge of craftsmanship, natural dye methods, and historical techniques. With a focus on using highly considered production techniques, the idea of connectivity between a product and customer is introduced initially through the brands name: “The products should be a part of your life. It’s in the idea of the name, partly it’s a Victorian steam engine – Tender is the coal truck – but more interestingly and important than that, is that we should tend to and look after things”. William’s hands on approach to design focuses on ongoing experimentation, as opposed to following a traditional approach based solely around the final look. He expresses the importance in appreciating and understanding how something has come to be - both for the designer and consumer - and how this knowledge results in a more personalised and valuable outcome.
“They should be a part of your life, which is in the idea of the name, partly it’s a Victorian steam engine – Tender is the coal truck – but sort of more interestingly and more important than that, is that you should tend to things and you look after things.”
Each collection is an expression of William’s curiosity and latest findings, whether this be through textile development and manipulation or a more traditional method. This not only creates the brands’ engaging aesthetic, it authenticates the intriguing characteristics within each item. “If you only know about standard stitch lengths, regardless of the design, the result will be something that is often very standard. Each combination will result in a different look once worn and washed, so even after purchasing, your selection becomes more personal and exciting than when first bought.” By favouring producing samples over technical drawings, it’s apparent how each process can’t be illustrated, only tried and tested to find the right mix. This results in high quality pieces that welcome unexpected, imperfect results, which is part of the charm.
Since launching the brand nine years ago, William has curated a library of specialist, British based manufacturers for his production (including a Leicester based couple that now solely produce only Tender clothing) which offers freedom across varying numbers and limited runs. He explains how each item – whether it be a shirt, ceramics, salves, or brass castings – are a way of bringing a particular aesthetic he is fond of to selective construction methods. “I don’t particularly distinguish between a bar of soap or a shirt in terms of production and presentation - I like to try to understand the specialist field within whichever product I’m looking at, and work within it to make it relevant to the other things I do.” As a result of working to small scale production and within his chosen working environment, William is also the first to wear-test prototype selected items within each collection; which we witnessed first hand on the day and were introduced to a new variation on a standard striped pullover, knitted using natural ecru lambswool with navy indigo dyed cotton, taken from denim weaving.
This idea naturally ignites conversation between himself and his customers, resulting in a deeper understanding of hand made British production and clothing history. We learn of one particular story regarding a shirt purchased from a previous season; “A customer cut one of the pockets off at the waist and moved it as he wanted a chest pocket. Because of the shape of it, the pocket ended up being narrower than it would have been if he’d made it from scratch. But it looked really nice, sort of a long thin pocket so that then became, with his permission, the Vaughn pocket - named after him”. Following this, the Vaughn pocket was released as part of the next collection, something William considers to be incredibly special to witness as a designer.
With a ‘buy less but buy better’ attitude now trickling into mainstream culture, it can be difficult to distinguish between true craftsmanship and unauthentic luxury for the sake of a label. The idea of an expensive item being precious and not used to its full potential is not something Tender promotes, but instead they have a strong desire for customers to make each purchase a part of their life, as if the items are living artefacts; “there’s an odd psychological sort of thing, where if something’s really expensive you expect to only keep it for special occasions, I think having something that is really special and you keep it in a cupboard and you never use it is very upside down. Certainly the idea of Tender items is that they are already really special, but they’ll deliberately become more special in time”. This vision can also be viewed through individual styling choices that increase the longevity and value of a design; a shirt becoming a lightweight jacket during summer or an additional layer under a coat during winter.
Supporting this, the brands archival web store presents past and present collections alongside one another, ensuring the worth of an older item is never lessened; “by showing that something doesn’t lose value by being old or having been deadstock, it’s actually showing investment and belief in the product. This also goes back to the design - if an idea was good six years ago it should be a good idea now”. William told us another story of how a customer had been in touch regarding a repair on a belt he had purchased from one of the very first Tender collections. Due to the leather being of such high quality, this was easily fixed and the unique deterioration displayed how much he had been enjoying and wearing the product proving that when quality materials are used, the product naturally radiates longevity, purpose and personality.
“Certainly the idea of Tender items is that they are already really special but they’ll deliberately become more special in time”
Whilst walking through the fields surrounding Stroud town centre, we chatted with William about his relationship with the local community and his location within the UK. “It’s in the country but it's quite outward looking, there’s a lot of people who are doing really interesting things here and it's just quite cool, there’s good coffee and good music.” He tells us of how he’s become a member of Stroud’s Fringe Choir which includes a host of locals and talented musicians who sing songs collectively written within the town itself. Clearly an active part in the community alongside his very full-time job, William’s enthusiasm for knowledge expands far beyond his studio where his conscious lifestyle naturally resonates with the Tender ethos. His weekly routine consists of fetching organically grown vegetables from the surrounding fields as part of the Stroud Community Agriculture Ltd collective, browsing Sound Records and buying dried goods from the Loose Plastic Free Shop to create ‘big complicated breakfasts’ for himself and his family. A sense of a lot of humble and hidden talent is apparent within the area, and the atmosphere gives space for ideas to grow and develop.
Now on the edge of launching into spring, we hear of how William has been enjoying wearing a new denim shape - the Type 126 - whilst brighter mornings and longer evenings feel like the perfect time to introduce Prussian blue dyes, seersucker textures and hybrid designs such as the Raglan Wallaby Shirt which, much like the Von pocket, encourage ongoing playfulness, curiosity and experimentation within everyday clothing.
We are really thrilled to have caught up with William ahead of SS19 arrivals and look forward to introducing them to you very soon.
View the Tender Co. collection here.
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