An Interview With... Ian Campbell Cole

July 26, 2016

An Interview With... Ian Campbell Cole

We took up the opportunity to have a catch up with Ian Campbell Cole to find out where Campbell Cole all began, the inspiration behind their refined, clean and contemporary products and the importance of everything getting made locally.

How did Campbell Cole get started?

I was working as a product designer for a large sportswear brand and although I enjoyed the role and gained a huge amount of valuable experience I was a little fed up of designing with profit margins at the forefront of the process. There was something nagging away inside me that made me want to do something for myself. I wanted to create product that was made with integrity using the best materials that I would feel proud to put my name to.

What were the first items that you ever made and how has your collection grown since?

The Simple Card Holder was the first product that made it onto our website and still remains one of our bestselling styles today. It is a lovely product made from two pieces of veg-tanned leather hand sewn together with a cross stitch, which is visible if you lift up the pocket, then machine stitched down each side. The leather is edge coated for a neat finish. I don’t like much bulk in my pockets so this is the perfect slim card holder.  The card holder sat alongside a pair of nylon tote bags.

An Interview With... Ian Campbell Cole | Realm & Empire

From there we started to develop the Annex Collection of full leather bags and over the last 12 months have focused on developing our Simple Collection of small leather goods.

You both design and manufacture your goods in the UK, which is extremely admirable, how important is it for you to make locally?

It was fundamental in the early days, as Campbell Cole didn’t really start with any sort of business plan.  I was working on a personal project to develop a conceptual hard-framed backpack that I had made by hand some years earlier. Due to huge tooling costs, I wasn’t able to complete the backpack, but during the process, I had visited lots of British manufacturers and started to get a feel for what was being made in the UK. I saw the opportunity to create a range of bags and small leather goods that was more contemporary than the ‘traditional’ product available and it started from there. So I guess finding people locally who could make, was the starting point to the whole business. Now, it’s great because we can pop in when we need to and be closely involved in the whole making process.

An Interview With... Ian Campbell Cole | Realm & Empire

We’ve heard that you tend to steer away from trends and tradition when designing, so what is it that inspires you and Campbell Cole collections?

Art, architecture, product design – the new colours and styles that are due to arrive over the next few weeks were inspired by paintings from the Purism movement, founded by Edouard Jeanneret (better known as the architect Le Corbusier) and Amédée Ozenfant.  Our collection tends to grow with ideas for product that we would like to use and own ourselves.

Do you work together on each piece? Do you tend to have the same vision for the final product or do you bring different ideas and expertise to the table?

Felicity and I design together. At times, one of us will really want to develop something and that tends to lead that particular product. Ultimately, we share an appreciation for a clean, simple aesthetic and have a very similar taste in terms of product and design.

Do you have any favourite pieces from your range?

My personal favourites are the Simple Key Wrap, Simple Coin Pouch with lanyard and the Annex Backpack. I use all three products daily.

An Interview With... Ian Campbell Cole | Realm & Empire
An Interview With... Ian Campbell Cole | Realm & Empire

Last Christmas you hosted The Nottingham Market which saw a collective of great independent brands come together to trade under one roof. What was the concept for the market?

Pretty much exactly that – it was about bringing together good people doing good things.  There has been a real lack of places to buy decent menswear in Nottingham over the past few years and I’d been thinking about putting on an event for a while. Last summer I found the perfect venue, a beautiful old Victorian building with large windows and a wooden floor hidden away in the Lace Market. It needed quite a lot of work and the run up to Christmas felt like the right time anyway so it gave us a bit of time to organise it. We decided that it shouldn’t just be menswear, so opened it up to include womenswear, interiors, magazines, food and drink. We were very selective about who we asked to take part, as the look and feel of the whole event, as well as the quality of product, was very important to us. We wanted independent creative designers and small businesses to be there but not craft – there are craft markets already in the region so it needed to be different.  It was great, the feedback was amazing and we had a good time.

Are you planning to host the same again this year? Any plans for a summer edition? It was supposed to be every two years but I’m steadily getting my arm twisted to do it again this year – I’ll keep you posted. I don’t think we’ll do one in the summer just yet.  Christmas has a great atmosphere and people are in the mood for shopping.

We can’t not mention style. When it comes to your everyday go-to pieces, do you approach personal style in the same way as your collections, opting for cleaner, more understated silhouettes with an attention on quality and detailing? Yes definitely. We both tend to wear simple styles in a very limited colour palette - mainly, grey, white, black, navy and denim. I pretty much live in plain crew neck t-shirts and we both prefer to spend a little more but buy less. It’s all about quality over quantity.

An Interview With... Ian Campbell Cole | Realm & Empire

What about outside of the working day, when it comes to downtime, how does the Campbell Cole duo like to relax?

We’ve just come back from a long weekend sailing with family to the Scilly Isles. We don’t get much time off so it was great to step away from it all and do something totally different and get some fresh air. Personally, I like to get out on my bike as often I can as well.

Finally, what can we look forward to from Campbell Cole in the future?

There are a few new products waiting in the wings that we are excited about but you’ll have to wait and see.

We look forward to it, thanks for joining us Ian!


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