When Susan Gaston of White Dove & Wonder inadvertently bought 1000 shoe lasts, it led her on an inventive path that only served to reinforce her commitment to preserving our industrial heritage.
So tell us the story behind White Dove & Wonder...
I was the third generation of my family to work in the shoe trade and, having been at home with my children for 20 years, I was looking for a new career path. I came across some baby shoe lasts at Ardingly Antiques Fair – seeing them got me thinking about my own personal heritage and so I contacted an old friend in the trade, asking to buy some shoe lasts. The next day he delivered 1000 pairs (slightly more than I was expecting). Faced with this shoe last mountain and my husband’s questions about what I intended to do with them, I decided that to reclaim and remake them into objet d’arts and furniture would be a great way of preserving an important symbol of our industrial heritage. The business has taken off beyond our wildest dreams and been embraced by many likeminded people who see these lasts not just as pieces as wood but as things of great beauty.
How do you come up with your ideas? It sounds like you're always experimenting and trying new things...
My husband Jimmy (who is the creative director) was a photographer so is innately creative. Usually one of us will have an idea in mind and he will then experiment in the workshop until he has worked out the practicalities of constructing the piece. We then fine tune the design together. We are currently working on a standard lamp.
What's your most popular item?
Our most popular item varies from season to season. But the triple last coat peg and the loo roll holder are enduring favourites.
...and the bespoke project that has been most fulfilling?
We thoroughly enjoyed creating bespoke point of sale display merchandise for Timberland’s 40th anniversary last year – to see our pieces in stores throughout Europe was a real buzz! Timberland are such an iconic brand, we felt hugely privileged.
Why do you think it's essential that we support out heritage industries?
It’s not only essential but imperative that we support our heritage industries – without people learning traditional crafts, and I say craft in the highest sense of the word, these heritage industries will die out. This is not only extremely sad, but on a commercial level, losing our traditional crafts will lead to a loss of trade and industry. Without our heritage industry, what have we got to export?
What do you think we can do as individuals and as a community to support British crafts?
Simple – buy British, support British entrepreneurs and promote British craftsmen. Certainly new publications such as Ernest Journal are our lifeblood as you raise awareness and stimulate interest in forgotten pockets of creativity. Thank you!
Any exciting plans afoot for White Dove & Wonder in 2014?
We’re really excited about 2014 and have got off to a flying start, having already built a stand for ?ohW shoes at Men’s Collections, MFW, which was so exciting. We are also developing a completely different project – making furniture from aircraft salvage with some really interesting commissions already under our belt. And we are planning to build a new workshop in our garden, making us more productive and helping to reduce our carbon footprint.
Anything else you'd like to tell us about?
I’d simply emphasise how important it is to support our British designers and manufacturers and to look to the past for inspiration. We will be showing at Best of Britannia in October and please follow us on twitter @whitedovewonder