Empowering Brands: Interview with Rachel Ward, Founder of Luks
Part of our series of empowering blogs, "empowering brands" looks at like-minded entrepreneurs of independent brands we partner with or who simply inspire us. This is where you get an honest glimpse into the lives of women who juggle the challenges of running a business with day to day life, families and more. They're inspiring, driven by their dreams and super creative.
This week I had the pleasure of talking to Rachel Ward, Founder of Luks - the amazing brand behind our new collection of Peshtemals. We're over-the-moon to get this brand on board as they share so many of our values. Plus we both have a serious case of textile wanderlust!
Describe Luks Linen in 10 words
Ethically made, traditionally woven linens for bath, body and home.
What inspired you to set up Luks Linen?
It was a bit of a sun bed epiphany really. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Turkey over the years but it was a family holiday in Kalkan 4 years ago when the penny finally dropped. Down at the beach I noticed all of the locals using these beautiful hammam towels, not just for swimming and lounging, but also as sarongs and wraps to nip to the bar for lunch. I had been working in creative agencies for a long time at that point, was looking for a change and to do something that I could do for me and naively (at that point) thought I could start a business selling them in the UK.
When I discovered the history of the peshtemal and the craftsmanship involved I was completely sold and came back from the holiday with a suitcase of samples and a napkin of a plan!
Where did your love of textiles and handcrafted peshtemals and come from?
Predominantly the women in my family - I’ve been around textiles and makers all my life. My Gran was very handy when it came to knitting and taught me at a very young age, I remember being amazed at how you could ‘grow’ a scarf and the gentle click clack of needles still reminds me of her to this day. She could literally knit with her eyes closed, and whilst I didn’t appreciate all of those aran sweaters as a child - I’d kill for one now, in fact I still have one of her own jumpers which I wear that was made in 1976! And as for my Mum - well, she is a whizz with a sewing machine and by necessity made a lot of our clothes growing up. She also worked in a textile factory and brought work home with her, so I’ve been known to stitch a doily or two in my time. Mum taught me how to sew by hand which led me from buttons to cross stitch to appliqué. Marry that with my Cancerian need for nesting and a diploma in Interior Design in hindsight I think I was always going to end up working with fabric in some way, shape or form.
Those values instilled in me as a child now manifest themselves in Lüks and our peshtemals are a reflection of my create, make do and mend upbringing. Although now we would call it sustainable, eco-friendly and ethical living!
Why ethical and where do you see ethical fashion going?
Besides the welfare, health and wellbeing of makers which is absolutely vital, ethical production more often than not comes with a compelling story and an opportunity to make a difference to someone else’s life without a huge effort from the consumer. It doesn’t require a grandiose gesture or even the need to be wildly philanthropic (although both are absolutely valid). I think when you are invested in someones story you are more likely to treasure, care for and keep the products you buy from them, which in turn has a myriad of benefits - never underestimate the power in your purse!
Ethical fashion - that’s a big and complex question and not one that can be answered by brands alone. Whilst we can demand better practices and greater transparency of our high street through initiatives such as ‘Better Cotton’, and there are many brands making huge strides in the right direction, some of them really need to up their game. I don’t buy into reactionary PR ready media responses that are absolutely linked to profit margins. Production processes being ‘difficult’ to manage is not an answer it’s an excuse - be better than that!
But it doesn’t all lie at the feet of brands…as consumers our own psychology plays a big part in fast fashion and that’s a little bit more difficult to unpick. The buzz of bagging a bargain, the overwhelming compulsion that overrides our rational thinking still drives demand for a £3 t-shirt. And let’s not forget that not everyone can afford ethical/sustainable/organic - we are still at a point where these words often carry a hefty price tag as the processes involved in producing them are ‘niche’ rather than volume driven. We need to get to that tipping point when ethical is standard rather than a choice.
What's a typical working day for you?
I never used to be a lark, I was always much more of an owl and can still on occasion be found working into the small hours as I find that’s when I’m more creative. But increasingly, I’m up early as there’s much to do (and that’s what happens as you get older so I’m told)!
I check emails and upload the daily Instagram musings in bed with a cup of tea before seeing to our increasingly growing menagerie of animals. I also tend to talk to our ateliers first thing to check on orders and talk about new product lines before I lose them to the looms. I’m at my desk by around 9.30 and use the mornings for the more physical side of the business such as product shoots, stock management and order fulfilment. After lunch I return to the laptop to catch up on admin and then the rest of the day is for anything from planning and design to PR and marketing.
I do try to close the door by 6.30pm but often cheat that self imposed rule by taking the laptop into the living room. If I’ve had an unproductive day I have to have a word with myself and acknowledge what has been achieved, even if it wasn’t on the list!
Women have made such a positive impact throughout history and today, who do you admire and who would you say empowered you personally the most?
Blimey that’s a tough question to answer without reeling off a list…if I had to narrow it down - Tracey Emin for her absolute honesty and f**k you attitude. Saffia Minney - Founder of the People Tree - she’s a firecracker and uncompromising champion of ethical fashion and, right now all the young women and men in America demanding gun reform - they make me believe that change is possible.
As for who empowered me most personally - again tough call because it can be different in different moments. If I had to pick one it would be my best friend Salli - she’s my cheerleader, she hasn’t doubted my capability for a second, she’s celebrated my victories and she’s picked me up off the floor a few times too when I didn’t think I could do it.
What's your personal style?
No fuss - I like simple, well cut, well tailored clothes that can be worn over several seasons and changed up with a little injection of colour. I can’t buy shoes for toffee but have a weak spot for jackets!
Are you a city girl or a do you prefer a more rural scene?
My heart is in the countryside - I was raised in Devon 3 miles from the Cornish border and am always most at home by the water but I love the energy of a city and spent several years living in London and Brighton.
Travel was an inspiration to you - what are your 3 top travel destinations?
Ooh this one’s easy…
Hoi An in Vietnam - a stunning and magical world heritage site that is a heady blend of Vietnamese, Chinese, French and Japanese architecture and influence. You will find amazing tailors and shoemakers there plying their trade. I would recommend trying out the cookery courses in one of the many restaurants too which involves a mornings cycle ride to the local market to sample and buy your ingredients for the days course (although I’d avoid the fish herb unless you like the taste of decay)!
Islamlar - Turkey - a few kilometres from the stunning mediterranean coast of Kalkan Islamlar is a quiet, sleepy village up in the mountains where the air is cool. Famous for their trout farms they also trade in fresh local produce such as raw honey, fresh eggs and Pul Biber (Turkish chilli). Their breakfasts are endless and their hospitality is beautiful. If you ever find yourself there go to Üzum a chalet style restaurant tucked away in the mountains with the most amazing view down the valley to the sea. Wear flip flops as they also have a lovely dipping pool to cool off in before you eat alfresco.
San Francisco - I’ve been several times and love their can do attitude and approach to sustainable, ethical living. Not always good for the waistline, the bakery Tartine is a must and also Tacolicious in the Mission, or if you want the ultimate sushi experience then check out Eiji in the Castro (they make tofu at your table) - you won’t be disappointed!
Where do you go to quench your wanderlust?
To the sea - always to the sea