The Genteel
November 21, 2017
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The Stowe market bag: a marriage of craftsmanship and understated design. Photograph courtesy of The Stowe.

Deconstructing and recreating clothing from an early age, The Stowe's owner-designer, Molly Spittal, has had a lifelong taste for design. As a child, Spittal enjoyed the idea of "working backwards," unraveling a finished product to learn how it was constructed. After graduating from Vancouver's Blanche Macdonald Centre, she began freelancing with heavier materials, like canvas and denim; an avenue through which she found her true calling.

The Stowe's creations are vested in a combination of traditional and modern aesthetics. Sturdy hardware, hand-riveting, vintage leather and thick canvas instil a strong sense of artisanal construction in each piece. Spittal's design vision strongly reflects current bohemian-chic streetwear trends, coveted in brands such as Acne and Rag & Bone.

The Stowe, accessories, bags, design, fashion
Women's Drawstring Backpack.
Photograph courtesy of The Stowe.

Attention is paid to quality and construction, with details being subtle instead of going the boutique brand route of making everything glitter or glint. The Stowe has an air of Savile Row that is seldom seen this far from the streets of London.

With a vast range of pieces - from reusable cotton shopping bags to leather clutches - it's clear that The Stowe favours variety instead of relying on a single signature piece. 

Spittal sat down with The Genteel to give a more expansive look into the workings of the label.

David Walmsley: How did The Stowe start out? What was the catalyst?

Molly Spittal: There isn't anything specific that was the catalyst for what I do. I suppose it was simply my strong desire to work with my hands every day. I started developing The Stowe out of necessity, as I couldn't find a few pieces that I really wanted - so I made them for myself.

After a positive reaction to what I was doing, it naturally built-up into cohesive collections and distributing to boutiques across Canada. I think I'm still in shock about how my little business has grown in the past year. It has totally surpassed anything I could have dreamed of when I started. It's been a hell of a lot of work, and I've taken many risks but I'm a very happy and fulfilled because of it.

DW: The aesthetic of The Stowe seems to combine traditional mid-century style with the modern in a way that works incredibly well with street-chic urbanites. Did this style come from seeing what was happening around you or has it been an insular process of designing?

MS: My designs come very naturally to me. Ideas for my products strike me in various ways, like living day-to-day and really identifying what would make my life easier through what I carry on me.

Of course, my vision is affected by trends in my category, but I'm finding more and more that trends are leaning towards what I consider important, like real artisan craftsmanship. True American and European heritage brands have kind of taken over the world of streetwear as of late. Most of these companies have based their philosophies on the same set of morals as I have. I like to see people buying less and buying better. That might be a trend in itself, but I hope it's one that doesn't fade away.

My designs come very naturally to me. Ideas for my products strike me in various ways, like living day- to-day and really identifying what would make my life easier...

DW: Working with quality leather goods, how do you balance the time it takes to prepare and create with costs and pricing?

MS: Wrapping my head around pricing was quite a challenge at first. As a designer debuting a product, I feel you have to keep your head on straight and remember that you have a skill that can be translated into goods. It was difficult to imagine anyone exchanging money for what I make, even though I loved and adored using every piece in my collection. I have never sacrificed quality of materials for anything - even a more "accessible" price point. Customers understand what they're buying when it's handcrafted by one individual and they will spend a little extra on it.

DW: The musical connection The Stowe seems to have is a very unique one. Where did the idea of making guitar straps come from?

MS: I was actually asked to donate a piece of work for a fundraiser. There were several bands performing and attending so I figured I would donate something that might be put to good use. It ended up in the hands of Jordan Ardanaz of Phoenix Thunderbird, who raves about it to this day. I thought, "why not keep it going"? It's apparently quite difficult to find a good-looking guitar strap. 

DW: In transitioning from Vancouver to Montreal, how has your design and sales process changed?

MS: This city is incredibly inspiring. I started designing new products almost immediately upon arriving and it's truly the best work I've ever done. I haven't been able to put my finger on it quite yet, but there is something about Montreal that just seems to point me in the right direction. The reactions to my newest pieces have been overwhelmingly positive. It's slightly more risky than my debut collection and I'm excited to see that my customers are ready for it.

DW: How do you decide on your colour schemes, especially for canvas pieces?

The Stowe, accessories, belts, menswear, design, fashion
Men's Standard Belt.
Photograph courtesy of The Stowe.

MS: I try to keep it pretty simple. I'm more inspired by quality and texture of materials than the colours themselves. Everything just falls into place, if you know what you like. The palette for my spring 2012 collection was inspired by classic Americana: a lot of traditional ticking and lovely combinations of neutrals. For fall, I usually go a little more edgy, with mostly black and contrasting textures of leather. I'm playing around with pony hair right now, which is really exciting to me. New frontiers, man.

DW: Creating one-of-a-kind, cut-to-order pieces can be a very arduous task. As companies grow, it is harder and harder to maintain this style of construction. Is this an artisanal aspect of The Stowe that is here to stay, similar to the Savile Row style groups?

MS: It is most definitely here to stay. It's very important to me that my hands are present in the production of every piece I distribute. I'm keeping my collections small and exclusive so that this is a realistic expectation to have. I am dedicated to the craft of what I do and I believe that is translated in my products.

Of course, I would like to see my little company grow and expand, but I know where I need the help of others and that's more on the business side of things. A small team of four or five like-minded individuals working by my side in my workshop is a goal I hope to achieve in the next year or so. I feel like it would be a pretty inspiring place to be.

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