TINA GUILLORY - FOUNDER OF CARRIER COMPANY
"The very best way to forget troubles and woes, to banish the blues, is to get into the garden and put your fingers in the soil."
In 1986 gardener Tina Guillory sold her maisonette in Fulham to start a new life in the Norfolk countryside. She bought a beautiful 17th century brick and flint farmhouse, a stone’s throw from the sandy beaches of the north Norfolk coast, and from her dining room table started planning the Carrier Company, a clothing label that would be inspired by the British workwear and outdoor clothing she grew up with but could no longer find. Tina launched Carrier Company in 1995, her timeless, functional designs made by local artisans and influenced by the textures she came across on her frequent walks along the Norfolk coast as well as her requirements for gardening and the needs of her friends and family. I spoke to Tina about the story behind Carrier Company, her passion for gardening and the outdoors, how she feels lucky to lead the lifestyle she does, and her inspirations.
What inspired you to found Carrier Company?
Seeing some jute in a roll, thinking it was beautiful and wondering what I could make. I remembered a garden carrier my great-grandmother used and thought jute would be a perfect material to make one in.
Did you have to learn a lot of new skills when you set up the business?
Yes, but as the build-up was gradual, I learnt as I went along. I sourced most of my materials by asking questions and trying to find materials that wouldn’t normally be used for the use I would put them to, it was perseverance really. I thought making clothes would be a good way to earn a living so I made things to sell and the business just grew organically I suppose. Although I was making a living I did not make a profit for about fifteen years!
How would you describe the Carrier Company philosophy?
Well made, good looking, made to last clothes. My great-grandmother was from the make do and mend generation that carefully kept every piece of string, no matter how short, and neatly folded brown paper, kept “just in case.”
How does the North Norfolk landscape inspire your designs?
North Norfolk is a very special area, the colours and textures of the landscape are inspirational. For example, our Norfolk Sky Blue Drill is dyed for us and exclusive to us.
I particularly love the wide open spaces of the Norfolk coastline, tides ebbing and flowing, the land and sea scape always changing, and as long as you know where to go you can always escape the crowds! We do have a boat and if the tides and the winds are right we really enjoy being on the water seeing the familiar landscape from a different perspective.
I go for walks every day, there is such variety - marsh land, farmland, shingle beach, sand beach, dunes, cliffs. It is all here, if you know where to go!
Have you always been passionate about sustainability and the environment?
I think it is something we should by now all be aware of. I like to see old canvas and jute end their lives rotting on the compost heap. I feel like we are becoming more aware of our environment and therefore more aware of clothes that are made of fabrics which endure. Our clothes don’t date, they remain.
Did you always dream of living in the countryside? Was it a hard transition from London?
My daughter was 11 and changing schools and I had a new baby so it seemed a now or in another seven years’ time moment. It was time for a change and Norfolk was familiar to me as I had spent my childhood summer holidays there. I thought I could make a living either as a gardener which is what I had been doing in London or if the weather was bad I could make things to sell. It wasn’t too far away for my London friends to visit.
Where does your interest in gardening stem from and what is it about gardening that you find so enjoyable?
I came to gardening naturally, my great grandmother was a passionate but relaxed gardener, it was just normal to me to be part of the rhythm of sowing and reaping of garden life.
I love tending my back garden, however the front does sometimes get neglected. I dip in and out, my gardening habits are somewhat haphazard, it is just a part of my daily life. I often pause to look at the garden as I go past from my office in the house to the Carrier Company barn.
Do you agree that gardening has many health and wellbeing benefits?
The very best way to forget troubles and woes, to banish the blues, is to get into the garden and put your fingers in the soil.
Community and family seems to be important to the Carrier Company ethos. Did you always intend for the local community to become heavily involved in the company?
It was just a natural progression; as the company got busier we needed more help. It seemed obvious and natural to involve the local community and find out workers who benefit from the make what you can and as many as you can ethos.
Most of our clothing is made by local people working at home to their own pace, fitting in with their family commitments, working to live rather than living to work. We are in close contact with each other, we try to keep the workforce as local as possible.
Who are the Carrier Company garments for?
Primarily for us as a family, they are what we all wear day to day, made from the materials we love into the practical clothing we want to wear. Thankfully it seems that many others feel the same way. Our customer varies hugely, from the very young as I now have grandchildren and we make child sizes to the pretty old!
While gardeners took to our clothes first, people from all walks of life seem to love wearing them now - fishermen, potters, basket weavers, loads of diverse folks. They work equally as well in the city as they are simple, functional, and stylish.
Have you always found the attire of workmen stylish?
They have stood the test of time; weathered, functional and beautiful in their simplicity.
Do you have any garments that you are particularly fond of?
Yes, the work jacket, which came about as my mother became older and found difficulty putting the slops on over her head. Now we all wear them and are rarely to be seen without one. They become very coveted as they age, everyone wants a faded aged one but you have to wear them to achieve this look!
I am interested in your lifestyle, describe a typical day at the Carrier Company?
Mel, Barbar and Rebecca arrive at the barn to start the Carrier Company day. Mel, who has been with me since the early beginnings of Carrier Company is in charge of the outworkers, ordering fabric and supplies; if you want to know anything ask Mel! She has all the records, the how, when, where and why of the Carrier Company.
Barbar checks orders from our customers, she is the mail order pack and dispatch, and handles customer queries. Barbar has the odd day off freelancing as a singer in a jazz band and a film location producer.
Rebecca who is now 18 and off to college in September has been with us since she was 14; she cuts canvas, packs, organises materials, counts stock and this year excelled herself selling at the Chelsea Flower Show! She is relaxed, great with the customers, knows the clothes and also looks great in them. I come and go from my office, select materials, decide colours, overlook design of new wares and generally interfere and interrupt on my frequent visits to the barn.
At 1pm we all stop for lunch and anyone else who is visiting or working here that day stops too. In the summer we all eat outside, food passed through the kitchen window. Sometimes there are three of us sometimes as many as 10! It is a time to relax and talk of other things. We grow what we can, the rest of the food we source locally.
During the working day outworkers drop in to deliver and work and collect materials, customers also come by to look and buy. We are open weekdays from 9.30 to 3.30, although we are often there later and at weekends.
What is it about your house you are so fond of?
It’s an eighteenth century farm house, which seems to breathe life into us all. I was warned when I moved here 30 years ago that it was haunted but I have never sensed anything from this house but a huge welcome, sometimes I am here alone with just cats and dogs and sometimes the house is filled with friends and family. I think it loves people living here and it seems ever expandable. When we moved in in 86 it had 4 bedrooms, we seem to have expanded it into a house with 8 bedrooms without enlarging the house physically. It has just breathed out to accommodate us all somehow! It must have had so many lives and changes over the years and century’s. If you knock the walls inside you can almost trace and guess at the changes. I love it and feel so very lucky to have moved here from a maisonette in Fulham, lucky to have found this wonderful house before property prices went mad, lucky to be able to make a living here in beautiful Norfolk with room for friends and family!
Describe a perfect summers day in Norfolk
Breakfast with the family outside, food and coffee passed through the window, planning the day ahead. Making a picnic and going to the creek, joining up with friends and spending the day in the open air, swimming, cockling, walking out over the sands to the open ocean with the dogs, watching the seals on the far banks and collecting samphire to cook for supper. Perhaps a sail on the evening tide watching the sun go down in the pit, sitting down all together under the grape vine for an evening drink, soaking in the day.
Has anyone really inspired you in your life?
So many! my wonderful, ever loving, ever forgiving great grandmother. The gardener Lawrence D Hills with his quirky advice and encouragement. My first school head at the PNEU school I went to who never made me feel bad about not being able to read until I was 10 ! and so many more…
Have you ever been inspired by your travels?
I am not a brave traveller, there is so much to see and absorb around about us. I lived and worked in Paris for a year, and also in Andalucia where I was furnishing new apartments. I enjoy riding holidays, away from traffic and people; I am not a crowd person and find I am content to spend much of my time here in North Norfolk.
What does the future hold for Carrier Company?
My daughter and son in law are becoming more and more involved, they are interested in taking Carrier Company forward to new markets and new people. Already half our orders are coming from overseas with loyal customers returning for more of our clothing, our hard wearing canvas bags and garden essentials. The future is very exciting for us.