There are few unions as serendipitous – or harmonious – as that between Duncan Neil, a textile designer who has created fabric for both Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren Home, and William Clark & Sons, Ireland’s oldest linen mill.
It all started when Neil, who was working in printed fabric design in the once thriving textiles hub of Lancashire, began feeling despondent about the county’s empty factories and dwindling craft. He decided he wanted to help maintain and grow the UK textile industry by launching a brand that combined 21st-century printing techniques with designs inspired by the natural world.
Fate intervened and Neil was introduced to Paul Callan, the then managing director of William Clark, who was looking to expand the company’s already successful linen business through digital printing. “There was a lot of synergy between what we both wanted to do, and luckily Paul understood my vision and was happy to absorb my brand concept into William Clark,” Neil says.
The result is Earthed, a contemporary fabric range that launched last year with a collection called Upperlands, named after the village where the William Clark mill is situated. This series of seven bold and expertly executed designs pays homage to the Clady River that once powered the mill’s beetling engines (a process that pounds the linen flat and gives it a characterful sheen, making it popular with Savile Row tailors). Take Torrent (£69.60 per metre), a playful, swirling print in turquoise, greens and blues that depicts the powerful rush of water from above; or Flax Fields (£69.60 per metre), a fusion of painting and photography that honours the humble flax plant, without which Ireland’s linen industry would not exist.
“Digital printing lends itself to all-over colour, texture and movement, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on to date,” Neil tells me. “We really want to use design and colour to help people create bold, uplifting spaces.” Indeed, Earthed’s two most recent collections – Sub Surface, inspired by minerals (particularly the facets and angled points of the quartz family), and Helix, which takes its focus from the various spiral forms found in nature – continue in the vein of vibrant, unique designs that really make you “feel something”.
Although still in its infancy, producing approximately 150 metres of fabric a week, Earthed has recently launched a capsule collection of cushions (from £60) through online interiors mecca Houzz and is already broadening the spectrum of what it can create. “We’re about to install a 20 metre long handprinting table that will open up fabric possibilities, such as metallics and devoré, which you can’t use with a digital printer.”
While William Clark’s main business remains commission finishing and beetling, Neil would love to see weaving return to the mill. “All our linen is made in Northern Ireland but it would be amazing if we could do everything in-house. After all, our main selling point is our unwavering appreciation of textile production.”