Margate fashion label Crowther Plant gets back to British with sea-washed styles //
On an overcast evening in Margate, a fashion shoot took place employing just the natural elements of the Kent coastline as props.
Using the steps down to the sandy beach and the crumbling chalk cliffs as a backdrop, Crowther Plant displayed the newest garments in its leisurewear collection.
Rough-and-ready, this graffiti-clad area underneath the town’s old Lido building, where the Thanet town meets the beautiful shore, is almost perfectly representative of the fashion label.
“That is what Margate has brought to it,” explains co-creator Emrys Plant. “There is a lovely coastline, but you turn and look at the town and there is still an edge to it. There is a bit of fun and humour in the town, and that influences the clothes.”
Alongside the other half of the brand, Cat Crowther, Plant informs us that it is not always easy to pigeonhole the styles they design, but it is safe to say there is definitely some Thanet sway behind them.
“It is definitely sports influenced,” he says. “But there are so many leisurewear terms thrown about that you don’t always know what they mean.
“It sits in the relaxed silhouette, and the sort of thing you’d wear after the gym and out and about. It’s comfortable, and the way it is cut and the effort we have put into it design-wise makes it a special feeling garment.
“It is something that fits well so you can wear it anywhere.”
Whatever the style it is classed as, the ethos behind the Crowther Plant label is as standout as the Dreamland sign that dominates the local skyline.
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Having studied together in Nottingham a decade ago, Plant and Crowther have each spent time in the fashion industry.
Crowther went off to Paris to work for a number of high-profile brands while Plant created and sold his own fashion label, which is where we pick-up the story.
“One of the reasons I sold my label was that we were selling to 40 independents and had a concession with Topshop, and I couldn’t convince them to switch the clothes over to organic cotton,” says Plant.
“I’ve always designed for jersey wear, t-shirts and sweat shirts, and I couldn’t convince these brands to pay just that little bit extra for an organic product, and that is the main reason why I got out.”
Having reconnected with the like-minded Crowther, the duo decided that they wanted to start their own label that concentrated on creating sustainable clothing.
“It wasn’t that we desperately wanted to make pretty things, we wanted to make a product that had a philosophy from the start,” explains Plant.
“The customer is now more aware of organic. In the supermarket you can buy organic juice or vegetables and the Fairtrade movement means that there is an awareness of the integrity of those products.
“It is about turning that into fashion and clothing. We feel that is a normal, natural thing to do and decided it was time to work together and bring it to market.”
As well as using organic cotton, Crowther Plant also use a natural dying technique, which has quickly become one of their USPs.
“In the normal dyeing process, the dye is quite harmful and very chemical based,” explains Plant. “Indigo dye is probably the only natural dye that you can produce with, with any level of consistency.”
The process of extracting indigo is time consuming and does mean that clothes dyed this way come at a high cost, but that is no problem, says Plant.
“It’s grown in plant form and it fits with our sustainability and our natural process.
“It is very labour intensive and you don’t really get it in the UK to a high production level, but it has been a really popular product.
“There is actually a real caché around it – people are used to having indigo-dyed jeans.
“It’s not something new to the marketplace, but it comes with a premium on the price. But that doesn’t seem to make a difference.”
The second element of the Crowther Plant ethos is to make proper, British clothes – that doesn’t mean they all have a Union flag or a bulldog sewn into the neck line.
“A number of the factories in the UK needed work, so we also said right from the off that we would use sustainably-resourced materials and make it all here in the UK,” says Plant. “We want to help safeguard UK manufacturing and try to encourage them to keep the skills-base here.
“A lot of the places we use have people who are getting older, with their skills not being replaced by younger people.”
As you can see from the clothing, nautical themes run throughout, but the use of the sea goes much deeper than you might think.
“We have a sea-washed product,” says Plant. “It came from Cat going for a swim in one of our t-shirts and the idea emerged that we could do that with our products.
“The product, of course, goes away to be laundered, but we can send a bit of British sea to customers with it.
“We don’t do it on everything. But we have it in our ‘all at sea’ sweatshirt. It softens it up and adds a bit of the British seaside. It’s something we did for fun that people like.
“We are always looking for those little things to make the product better and tell the story better. That sticks with people.”
While 75% of Crowther Plant products are sold to the UK, there are stockists in the Far East lapping-up the British-made product.
“It has really appealed to the Japanese market and our export market,” says Plant.
“Initially, we’ve got in locally. For example, Ruskin, in Whitstable and Margate, supported our products from the start, and as we’ve gone on we’ve picked up stores in London and Edinburgh.
“As soon as the lightbulb moment happens they just get into the idea. And it sells really well in store.”
Crowther Plant has been selling for just more than a year, with direct sales starting to increase from their website, too. This is not surprising, given their exposure at the London and Paris Fashion weeks during the winter months.
“The British Fashion Council supported us to go to London and then to Paris to showcase it,” explains Plant. “The support and recognition that we are a menswear brand producing sustainably meant that we were included in a show of 12 designers from the UK to represent what British menswear fashion is about. That was brilliant. The support is there, we just need to get it out to the public.”
Getting back to basics and to doing the right things, properly… it smacks of Margate again doesn’t it?
“The world doesn’t need another t-shirt,” says Plant. “There are billions of them out there.
“What it does need is a choice. You can buy organic carrots in the supermarket so you should be able to walk into any clothes store and choose something that has been produced ethically, too.
“We will continue to do this, and hopefully more people will follow. You never know, down the line, every one might do it. And we will have helped with that.”