Shwetal Patel and his colleagues launched TCA last year in a bid to give fresh design talent a way into Italy's luxury industry
When Indian-born Shwetal Patel decided to launch The Creative Archives in 2010, his idea was to create a bridge between emerging designers and Italian fashion’s high-finish and craftsmanship - two qualities that he previously became familiar with whilst developing Pauric Sweeney bags in Florence. Each season, Patel and colleagues Laura Partington and Rebecca Hilditch receive multiple proposals from new design graduates and provides them with means of production, sales and quality control in return for their unique talent.
Among those picked to design their first TCA collection were Central St. Martin’s graduate Mungo Gurney and photographer Gemma Land, resulting in a collection of luxury silk scarves that bear the intricate patterns of the newcomers’s designs. Selected items designed by Land and Gurney, as well as some new offers from the likes of Francesca Prudente, Divya Raman and Hussein Chalayan, can now be purchased on TCA’s website and London’s Browns Focus, alongside other boutiques worldwide.
Dazed Digital: How did the idea of TCA come about?
The Creative Archives: We started very organically, the first impulse was to actually do something and start a creative enterprise. When we began to think about all the failings in the system that led to poor quality, bad design and cheap labour we began to try and conceive a new kind of business model for creating incredibly high-end artisan products in limited editions. We also wanted to engage with the best of emerging talent from international arts institutions as we were interested in working first hand with some of the most exciting new creative voices. The idea for TCA evolved out of these two strands and has continued to develop as we grow and diversify into new areas.
DD: The project works as a mutual exchange between traditional craftsmen and new designers. How do you think it's been benefiting the industry in Florence so far?
The Creative Archives: By introducing new designers to small and medium sized family owned manufacturers in Italy, we inject contemporary taste and energy. The future of fine craft also relies in it being a commercially viable occupation, an attractive place for young people to work. One of the reasons for the demise of many genuine luxury manufacturers is that the knowledge is being slowly lost. There are fewer takers from the younger generation to learn and practice certain skills, such as bag-making, that require years to master. We give designers and manufacturers a chance to work with new ideas and techniques, allowing craftsmen an opportunity to experiment and innovate by working with new creative minds. We make our whole manufacturing process transparent to give suppliers publicity and exposure in the industry, and through this marketing we are hopefully in some way contributing to the artisan revolution that is taking place in and ultimately benefiting Florence.
DD: What are your selection criteria when it comes to new talent?
The Creative Archives: When we started we had to search and scour college shows and graduate portfolios for new talent, now we receive hundreds of applications throughout the year. We look for designers that are committed and professional in how they operate. Design development, sampling, sales and press are all very demanding things but necessary for any successful designer to take off in the market. We give designers the opportunity to work at a sophisticated level and they have to show the determination and subtlety to get the formula right. We also enlist the help of our friends in the fashion and art worlds, who in a sense help us curate a selection of new names every season. When we had an opportunity to work with Hussein Chalayan for Spring Summer 11 we created TCA Projects as a vehicle to take that type of collaboration further in the future.
DD: What was it about the work of Mungo Gurney that initially caught your eye?
The Creative Archives: His work was like a bolt of energy that caught your attention straight away! The techniques that he uses for his prints brought together many different mediums, demonstrating the incredibly intricate capabilities of digital print. When we met him we were convinced that we had a worthy talent to launch our initiative with. Mungo Gurney received a great response for our inaugural season and his work was very well received being instantly bought by Biffi Milan, Browns Focus, Boutique 1, thecorner.com and other top stores. We decided to work with him in season two alongside Gemma Land, as he had new ideas and really wanted to go on with the ‘experiment’. We are still in contact with Mungo and assist him where possible; he is currently working on his prototype swimwear collection that is set to make huge waves!
DD: Do you see TCA extending beyond designers from the UK?
The Creative Archives: We are set up to work with talent from any place or creative discipline. We quickly realised that we didn’t want to be restricted to working with print and textile graduates when we began to receive applications from photographers, furniture designers and fine artists! This season we are working with Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad, a product designer from the RCA, to create interior products we will be using to showcase scarves, bags and gloves. We have been working with international talents since Spring Summer 2011, and are in discussion with designers from a number of nationalities for future collaborations. We are continually working on expanding our reach by publicising the opportunity that the TCA initiative offers to more faculties around the world.
DD: What do you think are the main traits that distinguish the TCA product from what's already out there?
The Creative Archives: By creating new opportunities and encouraging both established industry veterans and emerging talents to collectively explore new areas we aim to contribute alternative view points and solutions. Through this concept a unique limited product is born and offers not only aesthetic beauty but a history and a piece of the future.
DD: How important is the commercial aspect to the work you promote?
The Creative Archives: In order for the business model to work and address the real issues facing the craft and artisan led industries we must heed attention to the commercial aspects. Artisans and craftspeople are not just interested in clever concepts and passing trends, it is part of our responsibility to make sure that the initiative works on a commercial level for all stakeholders involved.
DD: What is your main goal for the coming year?
The Creative Archives: Continuing to open more doors, ongoing research and collaborations, and expanding our product offer. There are many projects in the pipeline for 2011 and beyond, including the exploration of working with universities to promote the craftsmen and artisans of Italy and make them more visible and accessible to young designers, and bringing new generations into the trades that for the last century have been the essence of the fashion industry.