There’s something about saying the word blanket that sounds comforting. B-l-a-n-k-e-t, it just peels off the tongue rises into the air and gently comes to rest around your shoulders with a soft ’t’. ‘Onomatopoeia’ I think they call it – always wondered when I’d have a need to use that word!
But when is a blanket not a blanket? Or at least not just a blanket? Well, maybe when it’s a work of contemporary art, an heirloom in the making and a textile ambassador for social change and empowerment – phew! Thats when.
We recently partnered with Inigo Scout an innovative and passionate company making luxurious and soulful ‘art blankets’ with an underlying mission to change lives meaningfully. The company was set up by Josh Robinson and his wife Lisa after a very personal experience and I thought you might be interested to hear their story and understand why these textiles are so special. I asked Josh to talk to us about how it all began…
You decided to set Inigo Scout up as a social enterprise. Can you tell us more about why you chose this approach and about some of your aims for Inigo Scout.
Like many people I had long been looking for a big idea that could ‘change the world’! The inspiration came when our twin children, Inigo and Scout, were born. They were very premature and spent quite some time in intensive care. In the corner of their super-high-tech intensive care unit was a box of locally knitted baby blankets. The nurses and kids’ parents used these day in and day out. These little squares of soft, vibrant colour became both physically and emotionally important to the kids and their families. It was understood that parents could take ‘their blanket’ with them when their children were ready to go home. We wanted to do something to help children who do not have the level of care we enjoyed. We began thinking about blankets and how these could be used to help.
For every Inigo Scout blanket sold a contribution is made to Knit for Peace. Can you tell us a little more about how the partnership works?
The likes of TOMS and Warby Parker have been a huge inspiration. The idea that when you buy something, someone else benefits too is strikingly simple and effective. Inigo Scout brings this model to the luxury world. We set out to have a huge impact with every single purchase. So, when you buy an Inigo Scout textile, ten children in need of warmth are given blankets of their own. These ten blankets are made by people in the children’s own community, with the help and direction of Knit For Peace, a registered charity run by Dame Hilary Blume and the Charities Advisory Trust.
What can you tell us about the people and families the charity works with and the differences the charity is making to their lives?
Knit for Peace teach people to knit and give them an income, in this case with the funds that come from Inigo Scout sales. This is the ‘right’ way to give as opposed to us making and shipping the ten donated blankets ourselves. Members of the local community are given a purpose, a sense of independence, the opportunity to learn a skill and of course an income. We feel so strongly about the value of this, all of which stems from the sale of a beautiful textile. Sometimes we are criticized for the price of our textiles, but we are selling genuine limited edition art, beautifully crafted, that has a great benefit for others. It takes a moment to contemplate this, but in our opinion the ‘value for money’ then becomes very clear.
Our inaugural project is live now in the Cape Flats, a gangland shanty town on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. Inigo Scout funds this particular project and will establish more around the world as the business grows.
The blanket designs are beautiful and highly unique – can you tell us about the process you use to develop each design and bring it to life as a finished product?
We invite artists from anywhere in the world to create a piece for Inigo Scout with no set creative brief. This is all about complete freedom and the opportunity for the artists to express themselves in a new way. We do educate the artists about the weaving process and we remind them that the end product is as likely to be used as a blanket as hung on a wall. So their finished work may well be seen folded or crumpled! This makes them think differently about their work. Once we receive the finished artworks we work with the technical design team at Johnstons of Elgin who translate the work into a woven CAD drawing. This depicts every single stitch alongside samples of the wools to be used. These pass between mill and artist until the perfect colours and weave structure are reached. Then the production begins and the limited edition runs roll off the looms! There are over 100 processes involved in creating an Inigo Scout textile, many of which date back over 100 years. It is a very long, exciting and rewarding process!
Why did you decide to work with artists as opposed to going down the more traditional route of working with a textile designer?
Blankets are a ‘canvas’, a place where artists can express themselves and create something truly special. The power of art is central to the brand, not just because it brings colour but because it embodies freedom, confidence and collaboration. We talk a lot about ‘art with purpose’. And we find that artists are always excited about a new medium. Their creative minds gobble up the opportunity to see how their usual media of paint or collage can live through wool. Its great fun and leads to beautiful results.
You chose a Scottish company, Johnstons of Elgin to produce your blankets –can you tell us why you chose to work with them?
We travelled the country visiting all sorts of mills and eventually discovered Johnstons. It wasn’t simply their technical know how and reputation that we fell in love with. On a cold, rainy day we sat in their meeting room around a huge dining table and discussed our plan to have artists work woven in limited edition runs. They embraced our idea and worked hard to help us find ways to weave genuine artworks in wool. We are so proud to weave our textiles on the looms of the world’s most coveted mill!
How are little Inigo and Scout? Do you see them getting involved in the business in future?
They are very well, thank you. Like all parents, we thank our lucky stars for our kids every day, having been through quite a tough time after their birth. We have no idea if they will want to get involved in their eponymous business when they grow up! We do hope that they will grow up with some of the hallmarks of this project in side them, though! We think it is very important that they learn that their actions can have a positive impact on the lives of others! After all, that’s ultimately what Inigo Scout is all about.
So there it is, a beautiful story to start December and while it’s freezing outside and we are warm and cosy Christmas shopping from the comfort of our sofas, maybe we can think of these blankets as a more than a word or textile art but as gifts of hope and possibility as well as beautiful artefacts to keep forever.
You can see the full range over in our Art Room .