To kick off a series of posts that shine a light on some of our most hardworking and ambitious people and customers, we spoke to designer Holly Maclean at her home studio in West London. Holly creates ethical homewares and accessories by hand in partnership with selected craftspeople and makers across the world. As she takes her business to an exciting new phase, she’s keeping a steely eye on the ethics by sourcing fairly and without cruelty. Holly shares a few thoughts about her passion for colour, quality and why luxury doesn’t have to be more than we deserve.
Meeting Holly at her London home and studio
To visit the home she shares with husband Andrew and toddler Lillie is to effectively visit the brand showroom. Stepping into the front lounge of the immaculate West London flat, we get our first glimpse of the Holly Maclean look. Cushions with a simple indigo dye pattern flip to reveal a surprisingly colourful side. Bright details like beading and tassels ping from dark, soft fabrics.
Unusual yet pleasing combinations abound – navy and neon, mustard and hot pink. It’s a quiet riot of colour and a design approach that hints at an unusual mind. HML is luxury with a spark – tradition with a twinkle in its eye. And there are more surprises to come.
“Blooming brilliant … but hectic, if I’m honest. In retrospect, launching a major global brand push whilst also teaching and raising a toddler may have been a touch on the ambitious side. But there’s no time to waste and it’s all very exciting, of course.”
What lead you to set up your brand, Holly Maclean London?
“In several different ways, the time was right. My years as a print designer and textiles teacher, plus ten years working in fashion, had given me all the skills I needed to launch something myself. I’d been thinking a lot about doing a project that combined luxury and ethics. When my daughter was born and we’d settled into some sort of rhythm, it seemed like the time to begin.” She smiles at the idea of settling into parenthood and suggests one never quite does. “It’s an ongoing project”.
What’s the passion behind the project?
“My beliefs, really. That fashion and luxury can and should be good. The textile industry has a lot to answer for and throwaway culture is to blame for both a massive and toxic waste of the earth and an epidemic of inhumane treatment. I believe a return to craft and a deep appreciation of quality can be part of the answer. Holly Maclean London is a badge of not just luxury but of goodness.”
You’ve been a fashion buyer for John Lewis and designed for Liberty. What is luxury?
For me luxury is like joy. Something a little rare that sits out from the every day and brings happiness to everyone it comes to. It’s in smart, surprising design, beautiful materials and craftsmanship that does more than stick bits together. I aim to use softness, form and colour to spread a little joy.
Luxury brands tend to be exclusive. Do you think that’s why we don’t think of them as ethical?
I think we do. It’s been a long time since ethical buying was the preserve of your patchouli-splashed pottery teacher. There’s a global groundswell for big hearted, high-minded products that are made with craft and care and I want to see it become a movement. When something’s put together properly and with love, it’s always going to be kept for longer. We should design for more than a lifetime. I like to think of John Ruskin’s words from his 1849 book on architecture “When we build, let us think that we build forever.”
But scaling up is always going to mean having to compromise something, isn’t it?
Yes but should it? When brands grow with profit as the only objective, people suffer. If you move slowly and carefully you can grow your business ethically and do so without any compromise on the intrinsics of your brand and the quality of product. Like anything good, it just takes time and thought.
The blue and white dye on your cushions is made with the Japanese dye process Shibori, right?
Well spotted. My husband likes to tease me by saying it’s just tie dye, but I just ignore him – It’s an ancient art that has a wonderful aesthetic: oriental and minimal. The indigo dye streaks on plain white to create a duotone, classic feel like Delft or Ming ceramics. I like to use it to create a simple base and offset it with colour and detailing.
Talk to us about the business side. How do you market HML now and what lies ahead for the brand’s promotion?
Etsy gave me my start. It’s a great site with a real community feel. I still sell some selected pieces there but with my own website and e-commerce gateway from Paymentsense now in full swing, it’s more about Holly Maclean London going forward. I’ve always done very well on social sites because my product is visually appealing and stands out – it ‘grams’ well, as they say. Social media is always going to be massive part of my strategy and that’s likely to cross over with some exciting influencer stuff soon. That’s all I can say for now.
What would you do for your business if there was a few extra hours in the day?
How about nothing? I’d knock off, hand my husband the baby and take a much-needed nap. That or take a long river walk to reset and find inspiration. Maybe try to squeeze in a gallery. You can browse Holly’s latest collection and the Etsy shop that started it all here. To find out more about accepting payments online, visit our Payment Gateway page.