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Introducing Toast

 We are excited to welcome Toast to gravitypope, as one of their first retailers in Canada!

TOAST began with loungewear and nightwear, designed in a farmhouse in Wales. The collections reflected a sense of ease and a slower, more thoughtful way of life. Today, TOAST creates and curates simple, functional, beautiful clothing, homeware in modern, easy silhouettes and quality fabrics to ensure they last. They celebrate the work of artisans and often collaborate with artisans from around the world to create original fabrics and handmade pieces.

TOAST has shops throughout the UK and can be found in concept stores across the US and Europe. With studios in both London and Swansea, TOAST continues to design and develop all collections in-house and is proud to be one of the few fashion brands with its own full pattern room – lined with calico toiles and full of pins, papers, chalks and spools of thread, it is a true place of making.

We touched base with TOAST's Head of Design, Laura Shippey, for an exclusive interview to coincide with the launch. 

Hello Laura, it’s a pleasure to chat with you! Can you start off by giving a brief introduction on your role and Toast and your history in design? 

I am Head of Design at TOAST, a British clothing and lifestyle brand that creates simple, functional clothing and homeware.  I joined TOAST in 2015 after 16 years working in design. I was drawn to the brand’s slower way of life and support of craftmanship. As the Head of Design, my role is to create the seasonal concepts, colour palettes and fabric stories.  I work with an incredibly talented team of designers to create timeless womenswear pieces in modern, easy silhouettes and quality fabrics to ensure they last. It is a wonderfully creative environment and highly collaborative.

Toast’s garments and imagery has a very distinct tone and style, can you tell us about some of the design fundamentals for the brand?

TOAST collections have a relaxed ease to them. Nothing is overly precious or complicated. Styles are designed with comfort in mind with functional details like deep pockets. However, it is our use of colour and textiles that stands us apart. We choose rich and interesting, off-beat combinations of colours that are often grounded with earth tones and indigos. We design all our fabrics in house and have many enduring relationships with mills, weavers and knitters in Europe and India. We use predominantly natural fibers and collaborate to produce fabrics that are characterful and tactile. 

There are themes of patchwork, natural fibers, and traditional craft techniques in the designs, can you explain some of the ideas and concepts behind applying these themes?

I am often drawn to artists and makers that explore natural materials and forms, particularly when something exceptional is created from simple and honest origins. Our latest collection was inspired by the concept of elemental compositions which celebrates the mixing of intentional forms with the irregularities caused by using natural materials. I often reference the work of American sculptor JB Blunk whose ceramics have a wonderful looseness to them, and you can see his fingerprints in the clay. His wooden sculptures are large, rounded forms made from trees that have fallen in the expansive forest around his home in Northern California. It was the resourcefulness of using these materials immediately available to him with little refinement which I found most inspiring. This has been explored in the collection by using craft techniques where you can see the visible marks of the hand that has made it, like the hand crochet we have used on a knitted tank and cardigan. The stitches are chunky and the colour combinations unexpected. We also work with hand weavers in India who weave the most beautiful fine cottons. We developed these fabrics in unusual lemon colours and a bright peach which complement the earthy tones in our cotton/ linen fabrics that crunch and crumple in a pleasing way.

What are some of your biggest design inspirations? Are there any other labels, films, places, or other art forms that encourage your creative process?

I enjoy collecting photographic books and visiting art exhibitions to understand more about an artist’s experiences as I am interested in their attitude to life. One of my latest treasures is a book about Valentine Schlegel called "Je Dors, Je travaille". Schlegel was a French sculptor and ceramicist working in the 50s and 60s. She became most famous for her wonderful organic plaster formed fireplaces commissioned by wealthy Parisians. Everything she made was humble but in some way life enhancing. She moulded beds, cupboards and shelves directly onto the walls of her house in Sète in the South of France with straps of cut leather for ingenious drawer handles. It is the combination of clean organic lines and practicality that made these spaces she created both warm and wonderfully sociable. She was an excellent sailor and would invite friends to eat fish she had caught and grilled on the modernist barbecue she had built in her garden. I find that so inspiring!

What are some of the ways Toast is practicing social consciousness and sustainability in both their garment fabrication and in work with the community?

At TOAST we are keenly aware of our impact. For over twenty years, we have highlighted the importance of timeless design and quality, long-lasting garments. Our circular principles continue to guide our approach to design, materials and manufacture. Where possible, we will use natural fibres that are biodegradable. When selecting fabrics and yarns we consider all aspects from origin, durability, look, feel and texture, and choose the right materials for the right garment. We collaborate with our mills and dyers to explore more sustainable methods of making.  We are working to produce leaner, more focused collections to reduce our levels of stock surplus and recycle materials in future collections to create unique designs. We also regularly hold talks, repair workshops and tutorials to educate and inspire our community to make more informed choices and engage in sustainable methods.

What are some of your proudest moments working with Toast? Any stand-out collections, items or projects?

It is rewarding to collaborate with textile artists and artisans each season. Last winter we partnered with a pioneer of the visible mending movement, Tom of Holland. Tom is a skilled stitcher and we invited him to use his hand stitched repair techniques to embellish a selection of TOAST shirts that had been damaged. We took items that otherwise would not have been worn and through Tom's creativity and skill created an exhibition of 15 shirts, each unique and experimental. 15 people now own unique works of art to wear! More recently we worked with tie dye artisans in Ivory Coast using a traditional jacquard cotton from Mali. The artisans in Abidjan folded and knotted the cloth, dyed it in a cornflower blue and then dipped it in a rich brown. The precision of the tying and inevitable irregularities makes a stunning fabric. I am excited to see these pieces being worn.

How do you like to spend your free time? Are there any personal projects or exciting plans you are working towards currently?

I am currently working on my plant fibre weaving skills. I developed an interest last year following a willow weaving workshop with a fantastic maker, Annemarie O'Sullivan. I loved the physicality of bending and weaving the willow to make a plant support for my garden for sweetpeas. This summer, I am learning to weave hazel and rush. It's fascinating to learn these traditional techniques which have been around for thousands of years and experiment with creating modern forms. Plus, I love the smell! 

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