Shopkeeper Profile-Settlers Stores
We’re chatting to some of Frome’s independent businesses this year, finding out a bit more of what goes on behind the scenes and the stories behind the shops. Earlier this month we caught up with Zara from Settlers Stores, which specialises in clothes to be worn “wherever the fancy takes you”. Settlers Stores’ clothing is built to last, and champions UK based manufacturing whilst drawing on influences from Zara and Natalie’s travels.
Tell us about your backgrounds – how did you meet and what lead you to set up Settlers Stores?
We both lived in Kenya for quite a while and overlapped there briefly in the late 90’s. Nat (who is French) was variously a milliner, a rug maker and even a mosquito coil sales person before starting a clothing label and workshop in Nairobi, supplying Donna Karan and Barney’s in New York, while dressing tourists and locals in Kenya alike. Zara (who is English) worked in East and West Africa as a tv producer for German Television, before returning to the UK and eventually to Somerset, where she spent a good few years working in the fledgling cheese office above the milking parlour at Godminster in Bruton, in the early days of the cheese’s career.
Frome is an incredible blend of people and places, with a precious sense of community. The history of the town – the prominent role of weaving in the town’s economy and the longstanding culture of independent thought (and shops), make us feel right at home!
Tell us about your best seller – which item can customers not get enough of?
Our sundowner sets (four cups in leather or suede holders) and recycled plastic mats from Senegal are always a winner at this time of year, when people start spending more time outside. Our kaftans are a staple year after year that people come and update the print of and then there is always a tweed waistcoat to pop on over the top, to keep you warm once the sun goes down!
Talk us through your design and fabrication process; why is it important to you that your clothes are made in UK workshops?
We work with two traditional mills in Scotland who weave tweed for us – some is bespoke, exclusive to us, that we then match with the ever changing linings of Dutch wax batik. Much of the tailoring is done by hand and it felt important to us that these skills be honed and maintained in this country. It is depressing how many manufacturers you find who lament the passing of so many skills to Hong Kong and Asia in the 1980’s, when all our UK production base got pretty much shut down. Working with a heritage fabric like tweed, it feels important to us that it should be treated with respect and the craft of tailoring should be recognised for the green, sustainable, sensible alternative to the fast fashion frenzy that gives this business a bad name.
Your clothes are inspired by your travels and built to last – this is about as far from disposable fast fashion as it’s possible to get! Do you feel like the tide is turning with customer buying habits; are more people investing in ethically made pieces that will them longer than a season?
Yes – increasingly we have people coming into the shop who appreciate the craft involved in our pieces and want to buy something to last. Our tweed clothing is mostly based on classic styles, with a slight elegant twist – the most satisfying sight for us is a customer walking out the door in a new purchase that looks like they have had it forever.
Finally, what’s next for Settlers Stores? You have just celebrated the shop’s second birthday – what do the next two years have in store?
We have just done a small summer production of kaftans and summer dresses back in Kenya in a fair trade accredited workshop – and Nat caught up with some of her previous craftsmen so there are leather accessories and travel bags arriving soon as well. Our range of homeware is expanding with cushions, lampshades and gorgeous hand painted laundry baskets from Kenya. We want to keep injecting colour into people’s homes and their wardrobes!
Thanks Zara! Settlers Stores is found at 5 Cheap Street, and is open each market day! Check out their website for more info or to buy online. Settlers Stores are one of our Market Maker shops this year, so look out for an offer or discount from them later in the year.