The Call of the Tweed
For those seeking something special in tweed, Araminta Campbell creates truly bespoke designs and well as hand-weaving a unique range of British alpaca made accessories
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Gavin Craigie
Tweed – like its distant cousin tartan – can be a world unto itself. The sheer variety of weaves, patterns, and weights is incredible, and this is even before you move into the discreet world of one-off estate or bespoke tweeds. For designer Araminta Campbell, the fabric presents a world of endless possibilities. “It can be a conversation piece,” she enthuses. “It’s not about simply buying an item, it’s about having a story – a connection.”
Growing up on her family’s Aberdeenshire estate, Araminta grew up outdoors, sporty and country pursuit loving. She also loved art and fashion too, and early on recalls wanting to make those her ultimate career. “In my sixth form, some textile teachers visited and spoke at my school,” she recalls. “They opened my eyes as to what was possible.” Inspired, Araminta went on to study a Fine Arts degree in Embroidery and Design at Manchester Metropolitan University. During her first post-graduation internship however, she begun to realise that working for larger fashion brands did not give her the scope and freedom to experiment like she craved. So, whilst pondering her own designs, she taught herself to weave.
Araminta is inspired by the Scottish seasons and countryside she grew up in, using natural plant dyes to bring colour to her materials. After a short period focusing on textile painting and wall hangings, a friend asked her to design an estate tweed. Through potent word-of-mouth her business has flowed from there. “I am a tweed specialist,” she emphatically states. “I am not a tailor, though clearly I work closely with a number. My focus is to get the tweed exactly like my client wants.” To achieve this, Araminta almost works backwards through the design process. “I have no fixed price or manner of going about a project,” she explains, elaborating further, “I work from the customer’s end goal; what the colours and yarns will actually look like when put together, how long the tweed is to last and how will it be used.” Once these questions have been answered, Araminta can then work out the correct method of production. She works with a number of small Scottish mills, each of whom has a subtly different area of expertise be that in tweed weight, fibres or colour, who produce her designs. Not only is the tweed for garments; she has also developed it for interior use, with the ensuring design consistent across differing weights and woven fabrics, whether it will be for an armchair covering or a lighter shooting jacket.
Given her specialisation, it is no surprise that 90 per cent of Araminta’s trade is by word of mouth. She is sometimes sought out when clients have not been able to see their tweed designs realised elsewhere. She has a close relationship with a London tailor for clients visiting the city and is nurturing relationships with a small number of concierges at Edinburgh’s top hotels too. In times she hopes to become the destination brand for bespoke tweed design and hand-weaving, a beacon for true Scottish craft. “People always want to know the story,” she comments. A number of her tweed designs are stocked by Britain’s most northerly bespoke tailor, Campbell’s of Beauly (who also tailor for a number of her clients as well) as well as newer firms such as Wyvern tailoring who look to use 100 per cent British alpaca cloth in suits.
One of the current challenges she faces is the lack of a comprehensive and authorised register of tweed – unlike the tartan register established by the 2008 Scottish Parliament Act.
Given she is able to weave interior designs, she is working with a number of private clients in the US, and with the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar, where Araminta is designing and producing all the tweed for the establishment’s planned early 2018 opening. She is in tentative discussion with a football club and has had queries regarding her designs for bespoke car interiors. Despite these future opportunities, she currently reckons her business model retains an 80 per cent focus on clothing; with both British and international clients, she sees a clear trend in international customers wanting lighter weight and less rigid fabrics
Though her focus is on unique projects, Araminta has introduced two small ranges of accessories – Signature and Minta. The Signature range is hand woven in her small Edinburgh workshop; each time she sets the 100 per cent in-dyed British alpaca yarn up on her looms it is different. “I want people to see where the design comes from” she remarks, “they are my canvas, every one unique and inspired by the Scottish landscape.” Some of these one-off creations can take up to five days to create, given that Araminta currently employs only one full-time weaver outside of herself – but she has plans to take on a second and would love to offer a weaving apprenticeship down the line, to help keep the art alive. On her current scale, she is able to produce up to 60 pieces a year; the addition of further weavers would be a significant business boon. “If I can grow to three, I can look at making nearly 200 items a year,” she calculates. “That’s a substantial leap.”
Her Minta range, made from white and grey British alpaca is mill woven; this collection of cushions and throws is, in her words, “beautifully soft”. It is available online, as well as being stocked by a small number of Scottish retailers and also New York and Chicago.
Looking back, Araminta believes the biggest hurdles she has had to overcome so far has not so much been learning to weave as much as sticking to her guns over what she has wanted her business and ethos to be. She comments that a number of influential people in the Scottish textile industry advised her to go down the easier wholesale route, though she strongly resisted. “Scottish textiles must be innovative,” she enthuses, remarking that one of the reasons the industry has wobbled in recent years is that lack of variety and fresh ideas. A passionate advocate of young Scottish brands, in summer 2017, Araminta was awarded a Young Scottish Edge grant – including an accountancy and business support package – to help her build her brand whilst at the end of the year, she made it through to the final 22 (out of 240 entries) for Creative Edge – for Scotland’s best entrepreneurial talent, “given my artisan focus I was certainly not a typical entrant, unsurprisingly perhaps, most were in the tech sphere.”
Certainly in an age of mundane brands, it is a breath of fresh air to chat with this determined and vivacious entrepreneur. Fiercely loyal to both her Scottish heritage and the highest standards of traditional craftsmanship, Araminta is driving her discreet and rather luxurious brand forward as well as keeping Scottish weaving alive. Long may she thrive.