THE BLACKHORSE LANE ATELIER JOINS THE TRIBE
Launched in April 2016, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers is an entirely unique manufacturer of superior quality goods, starting with Denim. The ethos of the Ateliers is to connect makers to consumers and nature to industry, starting with growing Japanese Indigo in our own Allotment.
Based within a tastefully renovated 1920s factory building in Walthamstow, the brand combines the production of authentic artisan jeans with the establishment of a modern methodology for community living – Think Global, Act Local.
Anyone who appreciates fine denim will comprehend the true essence lies in its good quality, its honesty and the purity of the cloth. There is no better way to invest in something so wholesome and unpretentious.
Toby and Han founded Blackhorse Ateliers, manufacturing denim jeans in the heart of east London. Their story is one of drive, determination, and a little fate.
It’s taken a long time to get to where we are now. Toby and myself, we’ve both experienced what we don’t want. And that’s shaped where we are now. It’s changed our consciousness and our decisions.
I’ve spent years in the fashion industry, ever since I came over to London from Turkey when I was 17. I worked in my uncle’s factory, and then started my own. Over time, I felt the pressure to make garments cheaper and cheaper, moving manufacturing abroad to cut costs and spending years away from my family. I didn’t feel like I was bringing good into the world.
And I’ve had a taste of my own fashion label, using my own name. I didn’t like it. I wasn’t comfortable with people being so inside me like that, it was too self-indulgent. I’ve worked for other designers and learned so much along the way. But I don’t really like being controlled, I don’t like being told what to do. If you tell me to walk on the path, I can’t help but go on the grass.
After 12 years working for another designer, I took a big break from fashion. From everything, actually. For five years I didn’t do anything, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew this wasn’t it. And that one day I’d feel it.
When my buyers asked me to move production to Vietnam, because it was even cheaper, I finally said no. I’d had enough. I sold everything, and spent a year travelling around Europe with my family, getting to know my daughters in a way I hadn’t been able to before. I stepped away from fashion and started my own restaurant. It was good, it was successful. But I didn’t like handing over the creative control. My chefs were brilliant, but I missed being involved creatively.
I had a factory in East London from when I used to manufacture here. I decided I wanted to bring textiles back to London. I just needed someone creative to work with. That’s when I got Toby’s email address.
I grew up in Wales, but my mum’s from New Zealand. I was back there, staying in a cabin on the beach when Han got in touch. I’d just come in from a swim when I got a message from a man in London I’d never met before. We agreed to meet up when I got back to London, and found a place on Old Street.
“We are challenging the commonly held, modern day attitude of short term gains”
We talked about what we didn’t like in the fashion industry, and we shared our dreams. The more we talked, the more our dreams overlapped. And this project, Blackhorse Ateliers, it just appeared from our conversation.
Everything felt right. I’m an intuitive person, and I just felt like this opportunity was the one I’d been waiting for. Han wanted to push against the elements of the fashion world that I was already rejecting. The capitalism. The exploitation of the workers. The distance between the makers and the consumers. The disconnect between nature and the industry.
My mum taught me to knit when I was 8 years old. My grandfather sent over a bale of wool from Wales, and she spun into yarn, and together we made a tea cosy. And from that momentI had an absolute respect and awe of creating things. Out of nothing, where there was nothing, I’d created something. And it blew my mind.
I wanted to give people in the rest of the world that connection, to see how their clothes were made. And Han wanted the same things.
Toby and I, we trust each other completely. Food is a big part of my culture, it’s a part of my history and where I’m from. I wanted a kitchen in our factory, where we could create a real community alongside clothes. Toby didn’t get it; he couldn’t see it. But he trusted me. I built the kitchen, I laid out the long table, we made it happen – and then, then Toby got it.
Blackhorse Ateliers is our dream. We’re bringing textiles back to East London, manufacturing jeans in the city. We grow the dye ourselves, in London’s oldest allotment. It’s an open factory, so buyers can come in and see their jeans being made. Watch them being dyed, cut, and stitched. Our employees and machinists own 20% of our company. So whatever profit we make, they take their share.
And with Han’s kitchen, we’ve created a community too.
I never knew exactly what this project would be. I just knew I wanted a space where I could be happy, close to my family, and doing something good.
Knowing things is important, but ignorance can be a good thing. Sometimes, if you know everything, the reality is too scary. It holds you back. But with this project, I was excited by all the unknowns. The unknown is more meaningful to me, than knowing exactly where I’ll end up. Knowing what I didn’t want was enough.
The day I finally close my eyes, I want to know I’ve been part of a process, part of a team of people who did something really good. Something other people valued. In my time on this earth, I just want to know I did something good.
With Blackhorse Ateliers, I feel that. I feel fulfilled.