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Minimalist Ambition

White shirts, for women, handmade in England. The mantra of In-grid is simple, but effective. In fact, everything the brand’s founders, power couple Adam Barclay and Katie Timothy, put their creative stamp on is characterised by unyielding precision.

Standing side by side in both life and business, the partners in crime are devoting themselves to equilibrium through minimalistic try and fail tactics. On this Monday afternoon I meet Adam, and while trapped inside London’s Barbican by heavy September rain, we chat about craftsmanship, George Monbiot, and attention to detail.  

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What do clothes mean to you personally?
Clothes completely underpin my approach to creativity. They were my first meeting with design. When you’re a teenager you don’t really know what graphic design is or what a fashion photographer does, you’re not privy to those worlds, but you always know clothes are designed. My mum was very into clothes, and from a young age, I was aware of nice magazines and coffee table books. I’ve had a care for craftsmanship indoctrinated into me by my parents, so I literally mirror that thinking about how a garment is made within my own work. I really geek out about quality and taking the time to make something better, that lasts longer.

But you’re not wearing a white shirt now?
No, we only do women’s – so I can wear what I want. (laughs) Katie wears our pieces sometimes. It’s funny, you go through that thing where you love a piece, but when you live and breathe it, you think “I don’t want to wear it”. It’s like the biggest designers don’t wear their own gear, and an actor won’t watch themselves. But we’re getting married in four weeks, and Katie and the bridesmaids are all wearing In-grid for that.

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Congrats! What are the most challenging parts of combining love and work? If you’re getting married, it can’t be that bad.
In a way being in business together is what made us think we should do it; when you’re working together you have to deal with real life stuff, you don’t live in some fairy tale of a relationship. You put yourself under immense amounts of pressure, but if you come out in the end of that and be better and stronger, that’s when you realize you’re a good couple. And it works the other way as well, our work gets better because we trust each other more. It’s a nice process really, but you have to be prepared to put yourself through it.

Did you know what you were getting yourself into when you started out the business?
I think so. My parents had worked together for forty years, so I just assumed everyone works with their partners. The reality is most people I talk to are like “I couldn’t do that”. But I thought that’s what you do. And I was lucky enough to meet someone who happened to come from a tailoring background, with skill sets that, combined with the ones I have from my art direction background, can be put together to make something.

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With designs that are so “on point”, how do you know when a piece is right?
You just hit the nail on the head. A lot of designers start with the broadest possible idea or narrative and work their way into the piece. Katie works the opposite way around. She turns it on its head and has the confidence to do so. She’ll go “what detail do I love?”. We think of some stunning detail, which usually is the crooks of the piece, what will hold it together, and then we work backward from that. We reverse engineer everything. Let’s say a garment has a certain type of seam and is held together by an overlapping pocket. How best will that detail sing? How will it fold best? She goes from minimal thinking and outwards. That’s why you hit the nail on the head saying on point: because we start on the point.

Minimalistic white shirts – how can you stay relevant and innovative with such a narrow approach?
We have delineated an x amount of parameters: white shirts, for women, made in England. But we haven’t delineated where the materials come from, or how they will be used. We haven’t said what they are, or what a white shirt can be. It’s amazing how you can push it, how you can reinvent a white shirt to be an over-jacket, or a dress. We’re trying to figure out the DNA that makes a shirt a shirt, and at what point is it not a shirt anymore.

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What about the color? They’re not just white anymore?
There is a retail reality, and we have to compete with others. Some of our stockists request a bit of color, but rather than just doing a blue shirt and completely conceding all our rules we decided that instead, 51 % of our shirt will always be white. We’ll do pinstripes or we’ll do a half and half concept – there’s always ways of being more interesting. It’s just about that extra level of thinking.

In what ways do other art forms influence your creative process?
For me, reading is a huge thing. I read a lot about ecology and about landscape, like Robert Macfarlane, John Muir, and Nan Shepherd. Because we try to run a sustainable business, we read a lot about the direct implications of what you do in the industry; a good example is Feral, by George Monbiot, where he talks about rewilding the landscape. The initial reaction when you talk about art forms is something otherworldly and abstract, and I love the art world, but sometimes reading about real life things and how that affects your world is the greatest, because you have the opportunity to address a concept that’s happening there and then. It can take you into a different realm of thinking and change the perception of what you make.

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You’ve said that “the shirts are not adjusted for women, but intended for women”. Together with your focus on sustainability, this speaks of a greater political awareness. What role does politics play in your business?
We have our opinions, but as a business, we purposefully don’t comment on it. We try to stay neutral, try to be Switzerland. We always feel like we want to know more before we put a stake in the ground. One way to put it is that we believe every business should be doing this should be aware of these issues. We often say we don’t talk about it because it should be a fact. A lot of brands now abuse activism for marketing purposes, without actually committing. We do it instead of talk about it. All of our shirts are designed so that no matter what age, size, shape, any woman should be able to find a shirt for her. It’s about inclusion: if you’re going to create a neutral garment like a white shirt, an everyday essential, you can’t get rid of 60% the market. It’s very British as well: do it quietly, but do it properly.

Has your vision changed since you started working with In-grid?
I think the scope of what the brand can be has evolved. We have a setup now where In-grid is an umbrella brand, and under that, we have In-grid White Shirts, In-grid Bridal, In-grid Commissions, and In-grid Spaces. Because we are multi-talented people with faceted skills, we didn’t want it to live as just one thing. White Shirts is our window to the world. Space is a studio we’ve built in Sheffield that we hire out to shoots and meetings and such. It encapsulates the In-grid essence within architecture. Commissions are our creative agency, through which we shoot campaigns and all sorts of fashion films for other brands. But it’s interesting how you can keep adding those layers without diluting your offering. We’re still talking about one concept. About attention to detail.

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You just launched bridal gowns – what’s next for In-grid?
Right now we’re buying a house, getting married and running our business at the same time. We didn’t aim to do that, so now we’re like “oh, next year is going to be quiet!” But I guess the next step for the brand would be that we’re getting a retail space in Sheffield, by the studio. It’s going to be a concept store with a beautiful installation. And the only way we’re going to succeed in talking about the issues we think are important is to keep working for financial stability, to be a real business.