Last Tuesday, I started at the Chelsea Flowers Show, hit a few of my favourite spots on the Pimlico Road and then popped on the train from Vicotria. I was going down south to Brockley where I was excited to meet Hector Coombs, Co-Founder of Shame Studios. As you will know, a lot of my life is spent on Instagram. It's a terrible way to spend your thirties. But credit where credit is due; it is an extraordinarily useful tool for new/small businesses to get noticed. And boy did I notice Shame Studios. I trawled through their collections, getting more and more excited by each piece I saw. As anyone who knows me knows, I love interiors, but very few will know that I started my career in rugs working for Luke Irwin on the Pimlico Road. It's an odd thing to say, but once you get bitten by the rug bug (not a literal bug), it's hard to shake off. Hence I needed to see Hector's collection for myself, and it is why I knew that we would have a lot to talk about.
Previous to starting Shame Studios, Hector had spent ten years working at Christopher Farr. Feeling a need to begin designing for himself, he took some time out to work on a homeware collection. Travelling to Turkey amongst other places, he was on the lookout for manufacturers and makers. But that pesky rug bug is not easily shaken off, so he was constantly brought back to rugs. Deciding that this is where it should start, he made the foundations for Shame Studios. He now works on them from his Brockley home with his business partner Nathalia Gregores. Together they are working on more designs for their collection, as well as collaborating on some fantastic projects with some big names in the industry (sadly I am not at liberty to say more). Still, I can tell you it will be an inspiring year for the rug bugs out there.
Why did you name it Shame?
Shame Studios as a name is like a little magic spell. It’s a name the has so much meaning for me.
Shame is a powerful concept. It’s a name that challenges us as a business. I often think that people can have a propensity to spend too much time being ashamed of things they shouldn’t be, and it can be easy to ignore things that maybe we should be a little bit ashamed of.
We’re asking ourselves and the people we work with to be true to themselves and feel empowered. Maybe you would love to have a pink and purple rug that is embellished with expressions of love for your guinea pigs and references to the Harry Potter universe, but you’re worried it might be a little bit embarrassing. We want people to be themselves and be brave in expressing that. The world is a more beautiful place when more people feel empowered to be themselves.
It’s also a challenge to make sure the business is always at the forefront of ethical production. We never shy away from asking the difficult questions of ourselves and our producers so that when I and the people I work with look back on our careers, we can feel that we made a positive impact.
Our name reminds me, when I’m coming up with a design that I feel might be a bit out there or that might be a bit of a risk, something that is maybe a bit personal, a bit silly or a bit serious, to be strong and to be honest in my work. Then if we visit a supplier and the quality of the product is beautiful but the working conditions aren’t as good as they should be, that can’t be ignored, that needs to be addressed, either by working with them and our partner Label Step to improve the situation and bring it up to the standards we expect and to keep building on that and raising those standards or by taking our business elsewhere.
What was the catalyst to starting Shame?
Shame Studios really started by accident. I had been working in the rug industry for about ten years at Christopher Farr and had decided to take a bit of a break to work out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I found that wherever I travelled I would always end up spending time in the middle of nowhere at the weaving centres of that country. Developing lots of samples of designs and qualities that I found interesting. Before long it became obvious that if I wanted to keep developing these ideas and being a part of these communities I would have to find some clients that shared my vision!
What makes rugs so special to you?
There’s a connection that happens in the production of a carpet, between so many different people, from different countries, religions, and cultures. They all come together to produce a beautiful object. I think that’s quite special.
A beautiful carpet is a little transcendental miracle. When it arrives, and you unbale it, you get a distinctive smell to the country it was produced in. Turkish rugs smell different to Moroccan rugs smell different to Indian rugs, and in that instant, you’re transported back to the country the carpet has come from. Then you unroll it and you get the first impression of the object that you have been waiting months to see, all this time since you designed it when people have been warping looms, dyeing yarn, tying knots, washing and cutting the carpet whilst you’ve been anxiously following its progress and imagining the end result. It’s a really magical moment. Then you take it to it’s new home and you see the joy it brings the client and have the privilige of seeing it interact with all the other objects in the room, how it changes in the new light and how the colours it’s surrounded by change the way you see the colours in the rug. I find it quite moving!
It makes me feel connected to a history of craft that is still using techniques that predate recorded history and the invention of writing, techniques of interlocking warp and weft that are probably almost as old as humanities ability to manipulate fire, there’s something deeply grounding and life affirming about that unbroken chain of skill. Then to see an object that I find beautiful, that I have been a part of creating, and that will outlast me in this world is a humbling and empowering experience.
How would you describe the Shame collections, three words?
I always think it is very difficult to describe oneself or your own creative endeavours but I know that we hope that the carpets we create could be described as:
Joyful, distinctive and fresh.