Frieda Gormley – House of Hackney

Frieda Gormley is the co-founder of interiors, fashion and lifestyle brand, House of Hackney (HOH). I am a big fan of the way the brand, based in Shoreditch, presents modern takes on traditional English designs. This, along with their ‘Made in England’ ethos, often reminds me of the work of one of my favourite artists, William Morris. I was fortunate enough to get to ask Frieda about Morris’ influence on her work, her fashion background, and her love of print.
I am an admirer of William Morris, and one of the things that drew me to your work was the parallels with Morris & Co. Is Morris someone you have taken inspiration from?
Yes, we grew up with William Morris and perhaps more so than an aesthetic, we’re very influenced by how Morris formed his company his approach to design. Morris was very much about design for the people, so it wasn’t exclusive to the elite. He was very inspired by the natural world, as are we. He was quite a revolutionary in his day and very much rebelled against the status quo and the traditional design, which at the time was quite French. He did his own thing with a very fresh approach.
When we set up HOH it was always going to be about beautiful well made products but we wanted to create products which weren’t overpriced either. For us quality is really important and we spend a lot of time ensuring we are working with the best manufacturers in each field. But, we’ve also thought long and hard about the end price. For us, it’s important our margins are actually lower because we want people to be able to save up a little bit and afford something beautiful, which is really going to last. I think Morris was very much about that as well.

Image via House of Hackney

You were saying that Morris work was in reaction to the fashion at the time. HOH’s work is also in contrast to this Celine-led, minimal, neutral design which seems to be dominating now…
Absolutely. Prior to HOH our background is fashion. I was a buyer at Topshop and Javvy, my husband and co-owner, also worked in fashion design. We lived in a very minimalist house and that was definitely the vibe at the time – we probably wore black for a decade as well! But, after 20 years of minimalism, it just felt from an interiors point of view, very jaded, quite sterile. We launched in 2011 during a time of economic uncertainty, and it had a really great initial reaction because I think people recognised the colours and the print. We’re not into revivalism – the brand should feel modern – but it definitely struck a chord with people too.
Yes, there is something comfortingly familiar about your designs, a sort of nostalgia, you haven’t seen it before, but maybe something like it in the past…
You can see the success of Gucci, which isn’t a million miles away from HOH, using a lot of wallpaper in their shows and we’re seeing things like anaglypta coming through in lots of fashion styling. I think when we were moodboarding the brand and coming up with what HOH was going to be about it was all fashion imagery on our board. We very much approach the brand like a fashion brand and operate that way too.

Image via House of Hackney

How difficult was it to move into fashion because you weren’t producing clothes from the outset were you?
Fashion is our background so it’s kind of what we knew. It was a natural step, although it wasn’t in the original plan. We had grown up, careers-wise in the fashion industry, but initially, we identified and focussed on this glaring gap in the interiors world.
The clothes side of things started with from day one of launch actually! For our launch, which took place in a townhouse in Dalston for a week, we had all the girls who worked in the house, dressed in HOH prints. Everyone was like “I want to buy that dress”! Now we hadn’t actually made that dress – it was only for the show, but it showed us that people thought that the prints are beautiful in their own right. Then Opening Ceremony called us and said, ‘we love what you guys are doing would you do a collection for us?’ That sold really well, so we decided to create the fashion side of the brand, which is about prints but on quite a clean shape, and it’s proved really commercially successful.
We’ve always been inspired by the world of fashion. The world of fashion is light years ahead of the world of interiors so our finger is always on the fashion pulse and we’re always feeling the current trends on the street. We had always used models in our interiors campaign photography to maintain that fashion link. So, it was quite a natural progression really.

Image via House of Hackney

Another thing about Morris that I noticed was similar to your brand, was your emphasis on ‘Made in England’ and trying to source materials in the UK, why was that important to you?
It was really important. We’re very much about protecting UK manufacturing. Before we launched the brand, we spent about a year travelling around the UK, meeting lots of different factories and manufacturers in each field. It was actually really encouraging to see that there was a thriving industry there – yes it has decreased a lot, but the ones who stuck around and kept production in the UK have discovered there’s a real demand for it. At the end of the day it’s about protecting the industry, creating jobs and the trend for everything to be made in China is shifting the other way now which is great to see.
What do you think are the main benefits of sourcing within the UK?
Lots of things. Quality. Workmanship. Shorter lead times, you’re not getting shipping, taxes, etc. Most importantly, a really beautiful end product which is second to none.
Do you think perhaps the fact that more people are prepared to pay a bit more for something that lasts longer over a cheaper one helps?
I think it’s about educating the customer. For example our fine bone china mugs are made in Stoke on Trent, which the home of fine bone china. Let’s say the Cath Kidston ones are made in China and are £6. Ours are £20, but the customer needs to know that the man/lady in the factory in Stoke on Trent lives in the UK and probably has a family in the UK, so you’re paying for their livelihood. Obviously the cost of living is different between the UK and China but I think it’s about educating the customer and we as a brand are going to start putting out those sorts of manifestos.

Image via House of Hackney

The brand is based in Hackney, do you agree that this is an exciting place for the future of British Fashion? We at LCF are moving east to Stratford, and I think East London is going to be the focus of a lot of investment. Do you see Hackney/East London as the future of British Fashion?
Absolutely. I just hope that all the interesting students don’t get outpriced by it, because that’s always a bit of a concern. We’ve seen the regeneration of Shoreditch and Hackney now and it does need to maintain its young creative inhabitants to keep that creative energy going, so I hope it manages to protect that. It’s where it starts, it has been like that for the last 20 years; it starts on the streets here.
What advice would you give to young designers, print or fashion?
There’s a really good exhibition on each year called Young Designers which is quite print based, go to that and get a feel for what is current.
In terms of while you’re still at university, don’t underestimate the value of internships. We’ve employed a lot of people through internships. Make sure you write a really good cover letter and pick a brand carefully that matches your aesthetic. When you apply make sure you explain how you can bring something new to their brand.
Finally, what is it you love about print?
I absolutely love print! Really the power it has to completely transform a room, bring the outside indoors and conjure up a magical environment. We can’t get enough of print!
Inspired? Find out about our BA Fashion Textiles:Print course here and more about the House of Hackney story here.