Driven by a need for functional outdoor clothing, Tina Guillory forged a unique cottage industry from her 17th-century farmhouse by the Norfolk coast, which revolves around the lives of local makers. Words: Jessica Johnson. Photographs: Louise Haywood-Schiefer
Hooked among Tina Guillory’s mass of gardening aprons, canvas beach bags and plastic buckets lies a giant square of leather-edged hessian. The simplicity of the Classic Carrier, which Tina designed almost 20 years ago, belies its multitude of outdoor functions: in the garden it serves as a portable landing mat for cut flowers, and once filled with all manner of seaside essentials transforms into the perfect beach sack, gathered together by four sturdy handles.
‘It all started on the Norfolk coast,’ says Tina, who, most afternoons, can be found walking along Blakeney quayside, or exploring the area’s many pebbly beaches with her dog Kipper by her side. ‘When I moved to Norfolk I was able to pass on my own childhood experiences of holidaying here – the marshes, mud-sliding and the picnics – to my own children. There were no sailing schools back then. I was taught to sail by the fishermen when our days revolved around crewing up on boats and making new friends.’
CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH
The coast has long influenced Tina’s eye for design, and the Classic Carrier has become the prototype for a range of hard-wearing pieces that her business, Carrier Company, has become famed for. Traditional Norfolk weatherproof fishermen’s slops, crafted from durable drill cottons in trademark shades of blue and red, are based on the same smocks Tina wore as a little girl. Meanwhile, canvas, wool, jute and sailcloth – taking inspiration from the sails of dinghies in the creeks – inform a breadth of hand-finished garments; from oversized checked shirts and classic dungarees to canvas zip bags, collared capes and wool-lined wax jerkins.
‘When you live by the sea you want to stay warm and dry, with a good bag by your side,’ says Tina. ‘I’m inspired by need, really. And simplicity. I want to make things that serve a function, rather than what we might want on a whim – crucially, items that will last.’
Tina’s daughter Sienna (actress Sienna Guillory) is a willing brand ambassador for Carrier’s growing profile. While on location across the world she brings needle-sharp wit to Tweets and Tumblr posts alerting the world to brand-new Carrier stock. Sienna’s passion for re-igniting vintage classics from the family wardrobe heralded the arrival of this summer’s crisp white Grandpa Shorts (tweaked from an original pair of her Grandpa Lou’s), durable women’s dungarees (inspired by an old picture of mum, Tina) and the new addition of a Victoriana children’s pinafore, styled on a 1950s apron Tina wore as a child.
A STITCH IN TIME
The company was founded in 1995 when, as a single mother of three, Tina sought out a new, organic way to work from her stone and flint farmhouse in Wighton, located three miles from the marshes of Blakeney. She had made the move from London a decade earlier where she’d worked as a garden designer and a model. With no formal training in clothes production but with designs on creating a cottage industry, she pulled on the talents of local tailors and seamstresses to hand-stitch bags and workwear in the comfort of their own homes – at times of their choosing.
‘It’s always been about being able to live,’ says Tina. ‘The business was designed to accommodate myself and my children and it felt like a real way of working that suited everybody, and still does. If anyone’s child is sick we can work around it and we often have the odd baby around, with children and grandchildren dropping in all the time!’
Through her flower-framed kitchen window Tina is passing plates of olives, cheese, breads and salad – picked straight from her vegetable patch – to the table outside, where some of her team are gathering for lunch. The air is alive with the faint whirr of tractors and the happy cluck of chickens that peck the sprawling lawn above, yet this rural idyll is one clearly governed by time and tides. ‘We work around the beach in these parts,’ says seamstress Sandy Nevard, who is picking up an extra roll of fabric en route to a walk at Holkham beach. ‘If it’s a nice day I’ll go to the seaside and save my work until the weekend. Having the flexibility is the best thing about this job and we’re always there to help each other out.’
Along with Sandy, Carrier’s head of production Mel Fox has worked with Tina – affectionately referred to as ‘T’ by the family – from the company’s inception. This month the team has been bolstered by the help of Barbar, who deals with dispatch and IT, and Becky Beard, who cycles from the nearby village of Wells to help Mel with the cutting, sweeping and stock duties that come with manning Carrier’s burgeoning range.
Every fortnight Tina drops in to the homes of the makers, topping them up with the latest patterns, threads, fabrics and buttons. All handmade items are then delivered back to Wighton to be pressed, hung and stored in ‘the Shed’. A few years ago the Shed was a pocket-sized outbuilding with a couple of shelves and a worktop. Today the smart new brick barn, decked floor to ceiling in shelved handmade wares, serves as office hub, spacious stock room and a working village shop front for passing trade, albeit one that’s tucked down a tiny pebbled driveway surrounded by fields.
A PIECE OF NORFOLK
Dungarees, fishermen’s smocks and the all-weather overcoats are having a moment. Chiming in with an email request from Australia, requesting canvas garden bags and a batch of women’s work jackets, there’s an unexpected customer drop-in to the barn. In a matter of minutes, Mel has sized up three bright children’s smocks for sisters Madeleine, Cecily and Eleanor Clark, who are on holiday from London. Unsurprisingly, Mum and Dad have their own versions of the classic, and make a trip to Wighton most holidays to get kitted out in essential Norfolk workwear.
‘People either get it or they don’t,’ says Mel. ‘The whole range is for like-minded people like us who just want to grab something – whether it’s an apron, a coat or a beach bucket – and go outside and potter. Many customers from overseas love anything that’s made in England, but we are one step better than that – we are made in Norfolk, England!
For more information, visit carriercompany.co.uk
Tina and Sienna’s 5 favourite things to do on the North Norfolk coast:
1. The walk out from Blakeney harbour towards Blakeney Point for the changing landscapes from saltmarsh to dunes and shingle.
2. Wiveton Hall Café for local food with pick-your-own berries and one of the most beautiful walled kitchen gardens in Britain. The garden is sort of a secret and only open very occasionally.
3. Warham Camp –we love exploring this Iron Age fort, hidden off the tiny lane linking Warham and Wighton. In the springtime the entire meadow is carpeted with wildflowers and the air is full of butterflies.
4. Walsingham Farm Shop for its great home-grown vegetables, freshly baked bread and local cheese, such as Mrs Temple’s Cheese from the cows behind our workshop. It is also next door to a superb homemade chocolate shop.
5. M&M Rutland butchers in Melton Constable – not only for the most tender locally reared cuts of meat, but the most polite service.