Early on Tuesday last week, I flew out from Gatwick with my three fellow #Liberty Open Call winners to Gorla Minore, near Milan, to visit Olonia Stamperia, the factory where Liberty prints many of its fabrics. Things were about to get real. We were going to see our Open Call designs transformed into Liberty fabric!
We arrived just in time for an Espresso and Liberty biscuits with two of the designers that we’d met during our initial visit to Liberty London and some of the Italian design team.
They gave us a bit of background about the factory – it’s been there since 1969, and as well as printing Liberty designs on their famous Tana Lawn – a cotton fabric that behaves like silk – it produces materials for other high end companies, including Versace. The factory is committed to sustainability – it doesn’t use toxic dyes or heavy metals in the print process.
The factory tour that followed was fascinating. We saw how Liberty uses traditional screen printing and digital technology to make designs come to life and watched the whole process from colour mixing, though to printing. Once the fabrics have been printed, they are conditioned and washed, before being stored in giant rolls, ready for dispatch. Because of commercial sensitivities, unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photographs, although we are promised some from Liberty, which I’ll add here if I get them.
After a delicious lunch – a pizza washed down with a nice Sardinian beer – we got down to business with our own designs.
Liberty have made two designs from the image that I entered into the competition – one with chimneys and one without. They will be produced as separate Liberty fabrics for their 2019 summer collection. They are going to be called ‘Duncan Grant’ and ‘Small Town’. For our visit, the Liberty designers had prepared a series of ‘strike offs’ for each winning design. A strike off is a print sample that is made to check design and colours before bulk printing is done.
For each of my designs, the team had produced about ten different ‘colourways’ on Tana Lawn and silk, with two versions of each colourway in contrasting intensities. We discussed our own and each others’ designs with the team – which ones we preferred, which ones we weren’t so keen on. But the final choices about which colourways will make it to production and onto the shelves, is down to the Liberty buyers, who know their customers and the wider market, as well as what will be ‘on trend’ for 2020. They will produce fabric in at least one colourway from each of our designs – so at least two for me – more if they really like them and think they will sell. I haven’t heard yet which have been chosen but a camouflage treatment and a bright orange print seemed very popular on the day. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Left home at 3.30 a.m. back home at 10pm. A long but exciting day. I wonder where this journey will take me next. Watch this space!