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Photographs by Emma Foreman
Freedom is the freedom to choose, to fall in love, to wear what you want, how you want to. It's the Freedom To Exist. That's what inspired a group of design-lovers to create their own watch brand - because they wanted to create timepieces free from fast fashion and passing trend. We spoke to the Creative Director, Kirsty Whyte to get a glimpse inside the world of Freedom To Exist.
What led to the creation of Freedom To Exist?
I graduated from Decorative Arts at Nottingham Trent University & then studied glass design at Kalmar University Sweden; which I think fueled my love for minimal design. I then worked for 5 years at Habitat, in various roles from the shop floor to the Head office, before starting up my own design studio in 2009. Initially interning for Tom Dixon and Raw Edges then, exhibiting at design fairs (Maison et Objet, Milan, 100% design etc) and freelancing & designing for brands such as Modus, Normann Copenhagen and made.com. I ended up working full time for made.com for 2 years and moved to China based in their Shanghai office, working directly with the manufacturers.
I then moved back to London and joined Heal’s as the Product and Design manager, where as well as buying and developing designs (including the Heal’s Discovers initiative) I’ve also designed several ranges including Pinner, Blythe, Novak, Tower and Abacus. We started working on Freedom To Exist back in January 2015 and launched the 30 Edition in November 2015. I am a Co-Founder & Creative Director; I love having full creative control and working on your own vision from product, to photography to website.
Paul Tanner, our co-founder and I, are always bouncing ideas off each other and chatting about design and project we would like to work on (the list is ever increasing). Freedom To Exist is the perfect combinations of all our passions; design, watches and our opportunity to create a minimal brand we would buy and wear.
I could never find a watch that fitted my small wrists, but was free from over-branding and diamantes. I love mixing vintage clothes with modern pieces and wanted to combine the same look and feel into our watch.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
I’ve always been interested in style; finding something that works for you is what I find important.
What have been the highest and lowest points on your journey so far?
The high point has definitely been having the first fte prototype in my hand, we just couldn't believe they looked and felt even better in real life - a proud moment!
Rather than a low point, the most stressful point so far has been trying to hit our Kickstarter project to launch the 40 Edition watch, being a few thousand pounds away with just a few days to go. We chased every lead, contact and friends and family to get us over that goal...we made the target with 150 backers, who we will always be grateful to for their support.
What was the inspiration behind your latest collection?
A large part of the motivation to start fte, was being unable to find a watch that I liked that would also fit me. The design was based upon key elements the team loved about vintage timepieces, and extra care was taken on the sizing on the strap to ensure that it would comfortably fit those with a petite, average or large wrist.
The team have a love of minimalist products, and the collective decision to make the product non-branded (apart from the reverse of the watch where only the customer knows it’s there) was based upon the need to escape the noise of modern day life, which is something we noticed was being more and more invasive.
Some more about the design details:
We wanted to keep the watch profile thin and elegant; so created a lozenge shape for a more classic (vintage) feel.
To prevent the watch case looking too ‘bling’ we have a brushed case and polished bevel (top angled edge).
The domed glass was a key feature we all wanted to include, giving that extra tactile element and feeling of quality,
You might not notice this at first; but how the hands align with the face markings was key to the overall aesthetic. The Hour hand aligns with 12, 3, 6 and 9 and the minute hand with the 1,2,4,5,7,8,10 & 11 and the second hand with the minutes.
We didn’t want the crown (button for amending the time) to distract from the composition from the watch; so it has a subtle concave profile with no ribs (knurling).
The design should speak for itself so the dot at 12 is all you need to know this is an fte design.
We chose genuine leather; and selected it by its colour and feel, thinking about how is would complement all skin tones.
We chose a Swiss movement over cheaper alternatives due to the Swiss mechanisms reputation for producing superior components for watches.
We carefully chose each face, some like the brown, grey and nude are tonal. We felt the black just looked great as it was and the tan has a slight pearlescence sheen to it to complement its rose gold markings.
Do you ever struggle to stay inspired?
Not really, the great thing about running your own brand is that you’re always spotting things that trigger new ideas, be it for a new design, photoshoot or marketing campaign!
Where is your go-to meeting spot?
When we have a lot of “to do’s” to get through, we book a big round table at the Heal’s Cafe on Tottenham Court Road over the weekend, good Wi-Fi & plenty of smoothies! No need to get distracted with coffee breaks!
How would you describe your customer base?
We didn't want to compartmentalize our customer; style is ageless. Now we’ve started to get more of an understanding of who is buying from us, the data is showing its 25-35 with a strong interest in design. A lot of our early customers have been based in London, but we are seeing growth now in Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester. Also further afield is growing with regular purchases in France & USA (New York generating 90% of these sales).
A lot of our customers for the 40 Edition have been friends, colleagues and family of our Kickstarter backers, who saw the watch in the flesh, loved it, and then bought one for themselves.
Is there anyone you would love to see wearing your designs?
Seeing someone wearing & loving our watch always give me a bit of a buzz! This is magnified if it’s someone from the design or fashion industry as it's a validation of our principles.
The list could go on forever so top 5:
What are the morals you run your brand by?
With everything we do including design we follow our core 3 principles:
Honest - We don’t dress things up or hide behind pretty words and design jargon. We let our design speak for itself.
Considered - A piece is only finished when it’s been tried, tested, tweaked, changed and we’ve fallen in love with it. If it doesn’t have design details we’re proud of, then we’re not done. Affordable - Our prices are fair, for design lovers of every walk of life.
Do you have a mentor?
I’m really lucky that in my career I had the chance to work for directly and closely with some truly inspirational female bosses like Co-Founder and Creative Director of made.com Chloe Macintosh and Jacquie Gray Creative Director of CoolGrayCreative (Previous roles CD BHS, CD Dorothy Perkins, VM Director Jaeger).
But at present I do not have a specific mentor, but I have many experience piers I can always call on.
Collectively the founders have worked in successful start-up companies and large multinationals, and that experience has definitely helped with fte. I read once that your personality is the average of your five closest friends, and perhaps in business you become the amalgamation of the people you've worked with in the past. Often when making an important decision we can think back to our former colleagues and imagine what they would do or remember what they did in a similar situation.
What apps keep you sane?
If you could only wear one piece from your collection, what would it be and why?
Oh that's the toughest question of all; one of the best thing about running your own watch brand is I can pick and choose. I am one for coordination so do like to match black leather with black shoes or a silver case with silver jewellery. But if I could only really choose one; it would be the fte3001 Gold case, black leather strap; I wear it the most as it complements the majority of my outfits…although in the summer I was swaying towards the fte3004 Silver & nougat; great with my brief tan!
What’s the biggest style mistake you’ve ever made?
Too many to count as a teenager; when your testing you fashion boundaries & what makes your individual style.
Is there another designer whose work you particularly admire?
Tomoko Azumi. A furniture and lighting designer whose work consistently wows me.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Don't attribute to malice what you can attribute to busyness or incompetence”
Our co-founder Paul Tanner listens to a lot of start-up and entrepreneurial podcasts (a lot), and this quote from Tim Ferriss is one that has helped us greatly. With it being our company and our money invested in it, it’s very difficult to accept sometimes that not everyone is as passionate and driven by growing the brand as you are. Often emails to customers, retailers or press people can take days or weeks to get a reply from, and thinking about that quote helps us remember that people are very busy and people have a lot of emails to deal with, and that busyness is often the reason that we can get a delay rather than someone not being interested or motivated to reply. During our Kickstarter campaign a lot of friends and family backed us on the last day, which was great as we hit our target, but stressful as it was so last minute. From our side we wanted the support on day one, from their side they always intended to help, but due to how busy they are, they did it on the last day.
What drew you to Wolf & Badger?
I’ve been to the Mayfair store quite a few times already, as I love the concept and curation of the brands that have been selected. Making it through the selection process was a great “pat on the back’.
Where do you see the brand in 5 years?
In people's Top 10 list when they're looking for gifts for a loved one or a treat for themselves.
We are quickly growing our customer base in the UK, and would be keen in 5 years to be more well known in Europe, America and Japan and also expanding our product ranges to provide more watch options and accessories that complement them.
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