Natalie & Patricia

An idea born on the beaches of Thailand, and brought to life in a back garden shed in Hounslow, TERMITE Eyewear is a home-grown, sustainable success story. Their dynamic, durable designs have been championed by the likes of fashion blogger Susie Bubble and worn by celebrities such as Ella Air, and although they cite showing their Spring/Summer 2015 collection (‘Palm Peach’) as their biggest achievement to date, they show no sign of slowing down any time soon.

Here, Rachael Martin meets the talented duo – Natalie Finch and Patricia Williams – to find out what it takes to go from fashion student to start- up success story…

Sitting amongst accessories designers at Somerset House who have been showing collections at London Fashion Week for many seasons past, newcomers Natalie and Patricia look right at home. Set up in a corner of a light, airy room, they proudly display their wares – 28 pairs of carefully crafted, sustainable sunglasses. Although the pieces are derived from 8 different base designs, essentially each one is unique; slightly different lenses and washes, dip dye effects and copper washes here, mirrored lenses there, different finishes on the wood – the beauty of their small business is that each of their pieces is made to order for the customer – so each piece is unique. Natalie reveals that the signature wooden frames of the sunglasses (hence the name TERMITE) dictate this one-of-a-kind quality, “as we are working with wood, and every product is hand finished, no two pairs of glasses are exactly the same, every piece is unique. We responsibly source all of our wood so we can guarantee origin”. Patricia adds, “with the acetate too, we work with different colours as we can’t guarantee to produce the same colours multiple times.”

Natalie: “There is a lot of scrap acetate out there – sorting through it is like a treasure hunt.” Every aspect of these sunglasses is sustainable – even the scraps that come off the wood used to make the frames is used – in part to build the stand for LFW – which is then up-cycled as decorations in the designers homes. We work with a charity called ‘WoodChuck’ in Milton Keynes who source scrap wood from places like building sites that would otherwise end up in landfill. They collect it for free and then sell it on to people who will reuse it – like us.

They’ve grown massively since I first met them and they were a start-up. They’ve now expanded into furniture fitting and store sitting – it’s really great to see.

”Literally everything is used – nothing goes to waste” – even their packaging is recycled cardboard, and the designers still laser cut every single pair of glasses at their old university in London, Ravensbourne, “to ensure quality”, Natalie explains.

This is no mean feat when you consider the fact that the two girls both also have full time jobs. This is quite a commitment, especially when your job takes you aboard. Although they met when they moved in together at university, since graduating Natalie now works out of Stockholm, while Patricia is based in Essex. They say communication between the two these days is key to their ongoing success. When they are in the same country though, Natalie and Patricia can still make up to 50 pairs of glasses in one day, and looking back at where they began, this is one of the ways that they have really progressed

Natalie: “It took a lot of trial and error with the laser cutter to work out how everything fitted together – it took ages!”

Patricia: “If you look back at the old frames it is crazy – they are really chunky! And we hammered them together!”

Natalie: “We had three months to develop our first ever collection (for the Ravensbourne Christmas market as part of a university project). We made about 30 pairs in 3 months – there were a lot of late nights! We created them in a shed in my back garden and this became the TERMITE factory. It still is now actually – much to my mum and dad’s horror!

we had a lot of enquirers about the sunglasses after they were first sold, and the first time they were ever featured anywhere was in a Wonderland video. But we didn’t have time to keep making the sunglasses along with our final collection so there was quite a long pause.”

Patricia: “We graduated in July 2013 and didn’t have much time off before we were given the opportunity to apply for a pop-up store at London Fashion Week. We quickly did the application in a day, last minute, and didn’t think we’d get it”

Natalie: “When we did then get it – there were more late nights producing product for the store! ELLE Magazine sponsored the shop which was amazing. Then we met Susie Bubble at Graduate Fashion Week, and she’s been a massive supporter of our work ever since”.

Since registering the business in November 2013, the girls haven’t looked back, despite the challenges not only associated with starting your own business in the current economic climate, but also those that come with breaking into accessories despite studying womenswear.

Natalie: “You have to be open minded in your approach to your career, just because you study one thing doesn’t define what you necessarily have to go on to do. We’ve had to learn everything as we go, but this has been good for us because we have never been restricted in our ideas or our designs. We did contact some British manufacturers of eyewear when we started out though, because we really wanted to learn from them about how we could actually take this forward.”

Patricia: “Our lense maker is learning and developing with us too which is great. We’re always asking him to do things he’s never done before – so we’re constantly experimenting.”

When I press the girls about their future plans, they are clearly excited for the future and full of enthusiasm and anticipation about the potential for their business.

Natalie: “We’re working with Susie Bubble’s cousin Elizabeth who is based in Hong Kong, and she has just submitted her first trial order for a small concept art store out there.”

Now that TERMITE has broken into the international market, even on a small scale, the ambitious young designers – still only in their twenties – are looking to expand the label further. “Maybe in Sweden”, Natalie reveals, before Patricia suggests, “Paris?” thinking aloud. “Or Copenhagen, everyone’s been saying it’s up and coming…” Natalie adds, before the girls laugh and Patricia reasons, “maybe something in England first is where we should look to next. A small stand in Libertys would be ideal.”

 

For two young designers who have been on such an incredible journey already, it seems only fitting to end our meeting by asking them to reflect on what they have learnt over the past couple of years, and what they’ll take forward with them into the next stage of their development as a small eco-conscious business

Natalie: “For me it’s to not be afraid to take risks or fear error and fault.”

Patricia: “Yes exactly. We never thought we would be here a year ago, so it goes to show what is possible.”

Natalie: “I’d say to anyone looking to start their own small business in fashion that if you have the commitment and are not scared then you are giving yourself the opportunity to learn so much and potentially achieve something.”

Patricia: “Also, find a good partner to work with! You keep each other going. If I was doing this on my own, I don’t think it would have ever got this far.”

 

Follow Rachael Martin on Twitter: @RachaelKMartin and Instagram: rachaelkimi

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