A woman of fibre

Ethical can be chic. And it needn't be expensive. Pictures: Alice Whitby/Outsider
Ethical can be chic. And it needn't be expensive. Pictures: Alice Whitby/Outsider
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Designer and boutique owner Susan Gaunt tells Stephanie Smith how fashion always begins with beautiful cloth.

Susan Gaunt believes she was born to create cloth. “Fabric is my passion,” she says. She is from a family of four generations of weavers who made fabric at Sunnybank Mills in Farsley, Leeds, founded in 1829 and bought by her great-grandfather Bill Gaunt in the early 1900s.

Ethical can be chic. And it needn't be expensive. Pictures: Alice Whitby/Outsider

Ethical can be chic. And it needn't be expensive. Pictures: Alice Whitby/Outsider

“My love of textiles just came through,” says Susan. “I designed fabrics that flew all over the world. This was my training.”

After training at the Scottish College of Textiles, she studied for an M Phil in Textile Design, so she really knows her cloth. She now has her own fabric design consultancy and was key in creating the Tour de Fleece cloth designed to celebrate the Grand Départ while showcasing the creative and manufacturing talents of the Yorkshire cloth industry. It was turned into a jacket for Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity, who sported it most memorably when he headed the cavalcade on the opening day of the Tour. Made in a beautiful, vibrant blue, it travelled just 40 miles from sheep in the making to finished garment.

Jackets in the same cloth can be ordered at the Susan Gaunt Boutique, her shop in Montpellier Mews, a picturesque little corner of Harrogate town centre. It’s a treasure trove for those who love enticingly beautiful, well-made designs, clothing, accessories, ceramics, homewares, objets and pieces, made ethically and priced reasonably.

“Part of opening this shop was to do something positive, instead of everything being made in China,” Susan says, adding: “Once people find you, they come back.”

Ethical can be chic. And it needn't be expensive. Pictures: Alice Whitby/Outsider

Ethical can be chic. And it needn't be expensive. Pictures: Alice Whitby/Outsider

All the stock, including the clothing and accessories, is selected by Susan. The provenance of the fabric and the clothing is an integral aspect and the emphasis is on natural fibres including worsted wool, cotton, silk, bamboo and mohair. Labels include Braintree; Outsider; knitwear by Northallerton-based Needle; jewellery by Fiona Hutchinson, soft cured hide and suede bags by Dutch company Donchoo; and printed scarves by Moira Walton, including ones of Harrogate and the Yorkshire moors, which are best-sellers.

“Ethical can be chic. It’s not all tie-dye and it needn’t be expensive,” says Susan, 46, who lives in Nidderdale with her husband, Nigel, and three children, Minnie, 13, 11-year-old Anouk and Monty, 10. “Clothes start with the fabric for me and come from the more classic side of fashion, for example, navy, black and neutrals form the staple of my wardrobe, and items that can be dressed up or down and are feminine.

“I am tending to dress less formally and will mix a little shift dress with a jacket or oversized cardigan and a pair of Converse in the summer. And more often than not my Moira Walton scarf, as it tends to go with every outfit I put together and they are warm and lightweight and give any outfit natural elegance.”

The Susan Gaunt designers featured on these pages include Stella + Alf, who create collections of classic wardrobe staples that transcend age and are developed and manufactured in Lincolnshire; Outsider, a London-based, sustainable, luxurious, organic, ethically made womenswear collection of versatile day-to-evening pieces; and Maiami, a knitwear label based in Berlin featuring hand-knitted sweaters, cardigans and accessories in yarn and colours selected by Susan.

“I see the growing trend in the ethical side of the fashion industry, which has grown year on year recently, and with the manufacture of clothing coming back to the UK, which is wonderful to see,” she says.

“The UK has such a fantastic reputation worldwide in the textile design and fashion so it is wonderful to see the resurgence of ‘Made in the UK’, which in turn means that skills and jobs are retained in this industry, which is so important economically. The future is looking bright.”