“We definitely believe in making things that will last, not throwaway fashion trends,” says Alison ‘Ali’ Goodman, one half of Francli, a bespoke workwear brand based just outside of Falmouth, Cornwall. “There is a need for slower fashion and more considered design. Instead of wasting so many materials on stuff that falls apart or isn’t ‘on trend’ in a couple of years time.”
Ali and her partner in craft, Frances ‘Franki’ Baseley, are sitting in their farmhouse cattle-shed studio in the Cornish countryside. It’s here, bordered by idyllic fields on all sides, that the two designer-makers have set up shop for Francli – a small, independent brand producing bags, aprons and toolkits from upcycled and salvaged materials. The studio is a hive of activity with sewing machines buzzing and speakers blasting some of their favourite tunes by artists like Mount Kimbie and Chilly Gonzales. “I love the lifestyle down here in Cornwall, it’s so chilled out and non-judgmental,” says Ali. “The work/life balance is so much easier here, too. When work gets too intense, you can just go jump in the sea. It’s the good life, there is something really genuine about it. We both feel most at home when we’re surrounded by the countryside and the sea.”
They may be nesting in the Southwest but neither of these outdoorswomen – who chose ‘Francli’ as a hybrid of their names – are native to this coast. Hailing from Hertfordshire and Shropshire respectively, Ali and Frankie met while studying fashion-related courses at arty Falmouth University. They decamped to London briefly where they hooked up with edgy fashion houses like Agi&Sam and vintage menswear archive The Vintage Showroom, but Falmouth’s creative spirit drew them back.
“It was a big risk, leaving potential work in the city to see if we could do something on our own down in Cornwall with just £200 to set up,” says Ali. “But we went for it and now it’s all we want to do. The lifestyle we have down here is what first sparked the idea for Francli. As students, when the studio got too much, we could escape to the beach – cooking, shooting pictures and swimming. We would play around with ideas for clothes and accessories we could design for those activities. We were always carrying so much stuff, we needed big, comfortable bags that could hold everything like wetsuits, towels etc.”
Concentrating on useful workwear with timeless design, Francli products are robust and inspired by practical styles from the past. “A lot comes from how much we love traditional military and workwear clothing,” says Ali. “They’re such good examples of innovation and craft – so durable and utilitarian but never over-designed. They also only get better with time, their weathering and patina tells a story and gives them character – the way a leather tool-wrap moulds around its tools, or a mountaineering rucksack shows the wear and tear of an expedition.”
Franki chimes in: “We’re constantly inspired by various pieces of vintage workwear that have specific functions. The attention to detail… it’s clothing with purpose, you know? Form follows function – that’s a key principle in our design.”
Ali and Frankie are also passionate about making choices that benefit the natural environment. Upcycling – the process of converting old products into new ones without reducing them to pulp – has been embraced by the alternative fashion scene in recent years, but Francli doesn’t necessarily want a following based on its ethical standpoint. “Although everything we make uses the most sustainable resources and methods possible, we know that for our creations to be successful and really last a long time, they also have to be desirable,” says Ali. “Our main aspiration is to achieve the highest quality and function of handmade craftwear possible.”
The girls enjoy the challenge of making the best product they can, in the least harmful way. “Upcycling makes for an unpredictable and exciting way of working so it definitely makes us different to a lot of brands in that respect,” says Ali, who physically makes most of the products while Frankie art directs Francli to creative new heights. “But I think for upcycling to become a common method of production in industry it has to be more than just an advertising ploy.”
Collaboration is a huge part of what Francli do. Whether they’re sharing skills with neighbours like off-the-grid project 7th Rise and grassroots shapers Driftwood Surfboards, or taking part in creative fashion shows like upcycler-gathering Finders Keepers in Copenhagen, they’re firm believers in the transformative power of community. Recently the girls worked with Greenpeace to upcycle tents, wellies and other party detritus from 2013’s Glastonbury Festival into rad accessories for the Fresh Field Project. It’s a big undertaking but they’re stoked on any small meeting of like-minds. “To an extent, most of our projects are collaborative, even one-off commissions start from a conversation with the customer,” says Franki. “It’s fun when the design process is interactive – we talk about what materials, colours, features they want and what they will be using it for.”
Ali and Frankie are constantly pushing themselves and their work – they both hold down two other jobs as waitresses and gallery managers to support Francli – but they’re not interested in taking over the world. Francli is about self-development as much as self-employment. “We want to be constantly bettering our knowledge and refining our skills,” says Ali. “Our production is quite small scale so we can focus on the hand-craft and not being wasteful. We use Francli to do what we love – designing, using our hands, and living by the sea. This is what the brand was born from and our expectations are that we can continue this creative, outdoor lifestyle.”
This article originally appeared in Huck 40 – The Cat Power Issue.
The Working Artisan’s Club, is presented by Huck and O’Neill to celebrate the rad makers who shape their future with their own two hands.
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