Nowadays, it's not uncommon for business owners to find themselves far removed from their workers. Increased competitiveness and geographical scope of supply chains has seen the rights of workers within each link of the chain often go overlooked and brand reputation hangs in the balance.
A Rum Fellow, based at The Chocolate Factory and founded by husband and wife Dylan O'Shea and Caroline Lindsell in 2014, is a London-based design studio keeping things simple. They work directly with the weaving cooperatives that create the handcrafted material to be used in high-end designs and maintain a strong relationship with not only their workers, but the communities they live in.
The well-travelled couple searches the world to bring fresh, hand-woven designs to the UK interior-design market. The business is founded on three core principles: design, quality and integrity. In pursuit of integrity, the business celebrates highly skilled artisans and their traditional crafts.
Whether it's rug weavers in India or Mayan artisan cooperatives in Guatemala, A Rum Fellow is dedicated to supporting craftspeople and keeping their niche textile trade alive.
"We really try and make it a two-way beneficial process between us and the skilled artisans we work with," says O'Shea. "There's often a market for tourist items - cheap and knock-out - but we're interested in the traditional embroidered weaving which can take a month to make a small meter panel. It's an artist trade; it's not just about making fabric."
Today, A Rum Fellow textiles are being used by leading names in the design industry, such as Farrow & Ball, but its supply chain remains simple. The company works directly with weaving cooperatives in order to maintain a strong connection with the craftspeople. "You need to have it that straightforward, otherwise you lose your control and you can lose the sense of how things are being done," says O'Shea.
The development studies graduate found that businesses with a Fairtrade model tended to have "the most tangible effect without compromises because they work directly with people." Indeed, A Rum Fellow listens to its workers, particularly when it comes to pay. "They set the prices and we honour that," says O'Shea. But further to this, an extra percentage is paid on top of the weaver's price and goes towards improving the local area.
"When there's an exchange which is done properly, fairly and in a supportive way, you can really help communities help themselves," he says. In Guatamala, for instance, Dylan and Caroline have witnessed younger and younger weavers adopting the traditional Mayan blockade technique since they began work in the area in 2014.
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