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Designer Q&A

How do you describe to people what you do and your design style?

I tell them that I am a custom belt and buckle designer...then when they look at me quizzically I explain the whole Elliot Rhodes concept. My design style is one based around presenting a palette of different colours, textures and concepts that can be played with, mixed and matched to create a style that is individual to each consumer. I do not want to tell people what to wear, I want them to help them discover their own individuality and to express this through their belt.

I see no limitation as to where we can take belt and buckle design – each day brings the opportunity to experiment and redefine traditional ideas.

What sort of comments do you get about your designs?

We’re often described as a candy shop for grownups. When people discover our brand they are usually fascinated by the fact that we make belts - and only belts. They do love the quality and the choice and the fact that the designs they’re wearing are pretty unique. I think above all customers see that although we may be pushing the envelope we are not doing so in a forceful manner, but rather in a suggestive way...gradually taking them on a journey. Everybody has a limit and it is vital never to make someone uncomfortable with what they are wearing.

What is your background?

I have been involved in fashion and design since graduating from university even though I actually studied Economics - but as it happens the most useful skills from my studies have always been my languages...nothing is more important than being able to communicate with suppliers in their own language, it really helps create a stronger relationship. But fashion is pretty broad and I started at the bottom learning how garments are created, made, sourced and sold...invaluable skills that I have used every day since creating Elliot Rhodes. I always knew I would move towards the luxury sector as in the end I just love making things that I feel proud of.

Why did you start doing what you do?

I was a frustrated shopper... the more I was looking for belts the less I could find them. Black, brown, sometimes tan... that’s it! Belts have always been treated as an afterthought and used as a brand vehicle...nobody has ever paid them due care and attention. I believed there could be more to it, that this was a product that could be reinvented and glamorised, and that consumers with the right guidance could start to learn how important a belt could be in creating their own individual style. I am also very anti brand – not that I do not like brands – but I like brands that produce great products rather than just sell a logo. I think society has been moving away from this for some time now which is where specialists come to the fore.

Which designers do you rate highly and why?

I would look no further than Giorgio Armani – this is a man who continually creates timeless collections that cross generational barriers, allowing people to be fashionable but comfortably and unostentatiously so. Philippe Starck also simply because he has been able to bring beautiful design to formerly dull utilitarian products.

Tell us about your design process from concept, production and to the shelves...

I find inspiration in all sorts of odd places – sometimes it is visual, sometimes tactile, and sometimes verbal. Simply looking at the world around us whether that be nature, architecture, people, art and taking a grain of an idea and then trying to understand how this might be interpreted through leather or metalwork. Nothing is more important to me than colour and knowing when a new colour is relevant is just a gut feeling. I have to take these ideas then source raw materials that can help interpret them...or sometimes it works backwards and you find a wonderful material that you just have to find a way to use! Once these two bits of the puzzle are figured out it is down to the practical and technical – getting items produced to the correct design and quality standard. Standing in a factory fiddling with samples, watching someone stitch or polish...I work constantly with my makers to try new techniques. But in the end products have to arrive on time and hopefully on budget too. The best part of our business is that we work on small quantities. Individuality works with exclusivity and we want our customers to know that the belt they bought is special and not one of thousands. We work only with small factories where the craftsmen still create belts and buckles using traditional techniques and make and finish them by hand.

How do you think your brand has developed?

Pretty well thankfully. For the past ten years, we’ve converted people to belts and we’ve elevated the status of the belt from being an afterthought to being a key to dressing with taste, elegance, style and individuality. I think we’ve proved that there is a demand for a specialist brand such as ours but most importantly we have shown that through passion, education and specialisation you can inspire people to look at a product in a whole different light. The fact that many of our customers ‘collect’ our belts and buckles bears testament to their potential importance. Above all I am proud to be doing something different and to have taken some very important steps in getting Elliot Rhodes to be considered the pre-eminent brand in its sector.

What are your main achievements and what do you aim to achieve now? Past, present and future

Well, creating Elliot Rhodes, establishing the brand and changing perceptions are things I am very proud of. Everybody told me in the beginning I was crazy and no one ever believed a belt brand would survive – even a year! We’ve proved them wrong and now it is all about seeing how far we can take things...both in terms of retail expansion (I reckon there is room for about 50 stores around the world) and also in terms of design. If one day we can be recognized as being a market innovator and the leader in our field then I will be happy.

Why do you think British design stands out?

We are lucky to have a long heritage of design to draw from and to live in a permissive society that allows people to experiment with their ideas. British design tends to harness the past and reinvent it for the present very effectively, it is not scared to shock and even though at its extremes it is far from commercial once carefully interpreted good British design allows consumers to express their sense of individuality and quirkiness.

I do not want to tell people what to wear, I want to help them discover their own individuality and to express this through their belt.
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