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Designer is balancing twin passions for farming and fashion
Fashion designer Lucy Sheringham, who has set up a business making silk scarves, will now divide her time between farming at her family farm in Necton, and designing. Picture: Matthew Usher.
Chris Hill, Agricultural, Food And Farming EditorFriday, January 16, 2015
It’s a common theme for farming families... how to continue the agricultural tradition when the younger generation decides to pursue a different career. But one Norfolk farmer-turned-fashion designer has proved it does not need to be a choice – you can do both.
Lucy’s home farm is design inspiration
Lucy Sheringham’s unique designs are derived from photographs of frozen water taken around her home farm.
She re-draws the patterns, and layers them over each other on a computer, altering the colours to create the abstract blue and purple designs which feature in her first spring/summer collection.
There are nine digitally-printed designs and each is named after a field on Corbetts Lodge Farm: Old Pasture, Bob’s Folly, Upper Meadow, Clover, Ladylands, Garden Piece, Priory, Western Wells and High View.
Her autumn/winter collection will have a country sports theme, with tweed greens and pheasant-feather motifs.
“I get lots of ideas from the farm and I am always photographing around harvest time,” she said. “That is what I explain to people at the trade show. They are a bit surprised, but really interested and they ask a lot of questions. They never expect that I got that idea while working in a field, but I think that makes me more unique and makes me stand out.
“The idea that I would go out and sit on a tractor… they were pretty surprised at that too but most were really interested as well and were keen to find out how it all happens.
“Initially they thought of that twee image of a farmer with a bit of straw hanging out of the corner of their mouth. But then I explained the size of the operation and how big and expensive the machinery is that I’m using here. We just bought a £240,000 combine and people are horrified at how much they cost.”
Miss Sheringham’s future ambitions could include branching out into clothing design.
“I would like for the business to get bigger, but I have learned that you have to start with one product and once the orders start to rack up you can start to grow,” she said. “It has got the capacity to grow, as has the farm.”
At first glance, farming and fashion design would seem an unlikely pairing of career choices.
But those diverse threads have been sewn together seamlessly by one Norfolk farmer who proves that creative ambition should not stand in the way of family tradition, for those who want to maintain their agricultural heritage.
Lucy Sheringham swapped a life among the fashion elite of London to set up her own business making silk scarves back at the family farm in Necton, near Swaffham.
The diversification allows her to manage the new enterprise while continuing her vital role in the day-to-day running of the 700-acre arable farm which her family has been running for 30 years.
Miss Sheringham said she is equally at home mingling with London fashionistas or getting her boots dirty out in the fields – something which has come as a surprise for her industry contacts and boutique customers.
But the enterprising 26-year-old says there is a mutual link between the two halves of her working life, and that each can benefit the other.
The farm is both her shared passion and the inspiration for her work, with her designs rooted in rural scenes. It gives her products a unique selling point which could help her stand out in a crowded market place.
And even though she may occasionally have to leave her tractor to process a customer order, her ability to continue working on the land could offer a route to succession when her father James nears retirement, helping to safeguard the future of the family business.
“It is a strange combination, but I don’t see why people can’t do both,” she said. “You just have to work very hard. Not everyone is interested in agriculture, but I think it is important to carry on our family farm.
“I know that I am very fortunate to be able to have a studio on the farm, but it works both ways. I learned from my dad about driving tractors but I can help him on the computer side and the office side.
“The two things seem to be mixing quite well. If dad needs me to do something I can just pop out of the studio to grab a bag of fertiliser or something.”
But would there be a conflict of priorities if, for example, a big order arrived while she was in the middle of combining the farm’s wheat crop?
“If that was the case, the harvest would come first,” said Lucy. “I could get some help in – lots of people want an internship in the fashion industry, and then there’s always my mother (Lynn). But harvest would always come first. It has to.
“I started in July, which is almost the worst time to do it. I was taking orders on my phone while we were working. You would see my tractor parked on the driveway while I’m running into the office to sort it out.”
As well as their 700-acre Corbetts Lodge Farm – which grows wheat, oilseed rape, winter barley, sugar beet and spring beans – the family also carry out contract work on another 900 acres of neighbouring land, and oversees a farm business tenancy on a further 330 acres.
Miss Sheringham’s father James, 55, said: “It is always harvest time that’s the bottleneck. Apart from that, we can work around it.
“Cultivation and drilling is not constant, so most of the year Lucy can work around the farming. We couldn’t manage without her.”
Mr Sheringham’s other daughter Kate, 23, is working for a publishing company in London.
He said there was never any guarantee that any farmer’s children would choose to carry on the family business – in fact the Sheringhams carry out agricultural operations for one such family where the next generation has decided not to pursue a career on the land.
“Out of two daughters, it is nice to have one who is keen on working on the farm – although they both enjoy it,” he said. “It might help with succession.
“There are more women coming into farming, and there is no reason why they cannot. It is more about machinery and being technologically savvy. Farming is changing all the time, so it is nice to have the new generation coming in and looking through fresh eyes.”
Miss Sheringham finished her textiles degree at Loughborough University in 2013 and then worked for a year in London, learning the ropes from a broad spectrum of high-end fashion companies, including designer Jonathan Saunders, milliner Philip Treacy, and jewellery firm Tatty Devine.
She said: “I knew that this was what I wanted to do, but I also missed the farm. I was always coming back at the weekends to help out, and I know they need me. So I decided to set up on my own, and do the farming at the same time.
“I have got the farming side from my father and the fashion and textiles side from my mother. She has helped me to set it all up and she has a good eye for design.”
This week, the designer took some samples to the Top Drawer trade show in Olympia, where visitors to her stand included Oliver Proudlock and some of his fellow stars from TV show Made in Chelsea, who tried on the scarves and helped drawing attention to the business.
“They are the sort of people who I think would buy them, so they were the perfect people to endorse those products,” she said.