In many ways the RUSKIN story begins as my own story began in the Lake District of northern England. Growing up there, I viewed the Lake District as a giant playground, where I could play freely, explore, adventure and take risks. I grew up in a small hamlet of eight dwellings and roamed the village in a small pack of friends, building dens and climbing trees. Life back then seemed to run at a much slower pace.
With its dramatic mountain landscapes and small world charm, the Lake District has inspired and influenced poets and writers the world over. The rugged terrain is peppered with farm houses and barns which sit comfortably amongst drystone walls, clear streams and lakes that serve as natural breaks in the mountainsides. If you look closely enough you'll notice the ubiquitous sheep nibbling their way across the hillside.
As a child I read books by Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl and soon after J R R Tolkien. Later I came of age with the nascent sounds of Brit Pop culture listening to Oasis, Pulp and Blur and all the fervor that surrounded that time.
At secondary school many of the students came from valley farms. They were hardy individuals somehow more self-assured and grounded than the rest of us at that age; if nothing else, they were certainly connected to the land in a far greater way than the rest of us. For my own part, the Lake district left its own indelible impression on me, for its sheer natural beauty and simplicity.
Despite being one of the most breathtakingly scenic places in England, I should caution against over-romanticising life in the Lakes. The reality of cold winters and rugged rural life for contemporary hill farmers is a stark one. While it may not disappear altogether, this way of life is becoming harder and harder to sustain. Farmers exist precariously facing global market forces, selling their wool and meat products while at the same time diversifying their business with other ventures. Some members of the next generation are choosing to escape to urban areas to pursue different employment opportunities altogether.
In the winter of 2014, I spent time with a friend who has lived, breathed and worked the landscape there for her entire life. We held a conversation about the rare breed Herdwick sheep, and the incredibly low prices that their fleeces realise. We talked of the seasons of a farmer's life and culture and of the threats to the unique upland landscape. I shared with my friend the idea of trying to create a usable yarn from the wool of the native Herdwick sheep that could be made into a tweed, with design, performance and visual aesthetics in mind.
Herdwick sheep are considered the most hardy of British hill sheep and the natural protective properties inherent in the wool make it both durable and pliable and give it a waterproof coating. Despite this, Herdwick wool is an extremely difficult fibre to manage due to the complex manufacturing processes involved and the long lead times. I was however, bolstered by the conversation with my friend and so determined to try and find a mill that would consider spinning the Herdwick wool into a yarn of the highest quality. After many phone calls, I found a specialist worsted mill that agreed to the challenge. The process for them was not without complications and frustrations which were mirrored at the next stage of weaving the yarn into a worsted tweed. After many months, however, the first RUSKIN Tweed was spun, woven and then finished in Yorkshire - a true mark of quality.
Having produced the RUSKIN Tweed, we still had a huge mountain to climb to bring our designs to fruition. Bringing RUSKIN bags to their finished form requires a great number of highly skilled stages of production by experienced craftsmen. Once our tweed was complete we shipped it out to Italy to be crafted into RUSKIN bags. For each bag, the materials are cut, laminated and constructed using traditional methods. Many components require hand stitching and precision work which give a RUSKIN a truly individual finish.
The journey to produce the first RUSKIN collection was inspired by my upbringing in the Lake District; a quiet corner of England that I am very grateful to call home. RUSKIN bags are designed as quietly luxurious, timeless pieces that are both natural and sustainable.
I hope you will enjoy the RUSKIN collection for its distinctive natural beauty and simplicity.
I am delighted to credit all photography to Lydia Harper.