• Interview with founder of Loom Towels Mikala James | Studio Griffiths

    In conversation with Loom Towels founder Mikala James, on how she established eminent looped textiles through an ancient Turkish craft.

    When casting your eye over an Australian bathroom, powder room or ensuite featured on est, chances are you’ll find a Loom Towel. An alignment between Australia’s most notable designers and Loom Towels has naturally evolved since the brand’s inception eight years ago, out of founder Mikala James’ appreciation for bespoke, quality craftsmanship. 

    Mikala’s artistic vision has merged traditional Turkish looping techniques, with sustainability, natural, organic certified materials and quality textile design. The limited edition towels and throws are made using treasured old-style shuttle looms passed down from generation to generation and apply traditional methods such as hand-tied fringing and tassels. The contemporary textiles sustain generations of weaving culture in Southern Turkey, while offering a chance to cherish an artisanal craft in the Australian home.  

    We caught up with Mikala to learn how she came to founding Loom Towels and supporting an age-old craft, where she sources inspiration and the launch of her first store in Armadale, Melbourne

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    Mikala James

    How did the Loom Towels journey begin?

    Mikala James: I can’t decide if it was fate or an instinctive choice that inspired me to create Loom Towels. I was travelling through life, slowly understanding who I was and what I aspired to achieve. By chance I discovered the age-old craft of looped textiles in Turkey. It has since taken me on a journey of self-expression over the past 8 years. 

    My objective was to work with an ancient craft to create contemporary textiles. I wanted to create something that spoke to a way of life that believed in and embodied tradition, culture, quality, sustainability, natural organic materials, timeless design and collaboration.

    How does Loom Towels support traditional craftsmanship?

    Mikala James: Ottoman weavers invented the looping technique in the 17th century, however in the last 35-40 years nearly all of Turkey’s traditional weaving villages have disappeared as mechanical looms became industrialised. All of my textiles are made on treasured old-style shuttle looms of various sizes, passed down from generation to generation.

    Traditional methods are applied to the entire process, which helps to sustain generations of weaving culture. Tassels and fringes are meticulously hand-tied and knotted and old-style wooden shuttle-looms enable a completely unique structure of towel than one made on a mechanical loom.

    “My objective was to work with an ancient craft to create contemporary textiles. I wanted to create something that spoke to a way of life that believed in and embodied tradition, culture, quality, sustainability, natural organic materials, timeless design and collaboration.”

    – Mikala James

    How do you work with the team of weavers in Southern Turkey? 

    Mikala James: The process is as rewarding as the end product. From the growing and dying of the organic cotton, to the twisting of the single threads, the imagination of pattern and colour, the calculation of threading the wooden looms, the days of working the shuttle looms and the hand-tying of fringes and tassels. It’s a process that enables the product to have a level of uniqueness that is uncommon today and that connects customers with the natural world. It’s the delicate balance of contemporary design brought to life with ancient looms and traditional techniques.

    The manufacturing process begins with my chosen threads being twisted to create thickness, then to avoid coating the threads in wax or other chemicals newspaper is placed in-between the threads while creating the roll of fabric. This prevents the air humidity affecting the threads. The weavers then set up and thread looms for the next 4-10 days before beginning looming my designs. The women of the workshop will cut and sew the edges, tie the fringes and tassels, and check and iron the towels. The towels are then packed and shipped over to my Melbourne studio.

    The logistics have always been complex; there are many moving parts and everything rarely syncs perfectly. Being on different sides of the world is challenging, facing time differences, foreign exchange, travel, and communication barriers. 

    What are Loom towels made from?

    Mikala James: The cotton is Gaziantep grown G.O.T.S (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified cotton, which certifies that our cotton threads are organically grown, processed and dyed and includes ecological and social criteria. The environmental benefits of using organic cotton are less energy and water is used, soil fertility is maintained and crops aren’t treated with pesticides, insecticides or herbicides harmful for farmers, us as consumers, and entire ecosystems. Organically processed cotton is also more absorbent and has its own natural bacteria fighting ability.

    We also work with the best quality linen on the market; it’s amazing properties make it even longer lasting and more absorbent than our cotton. However when weaving linen, in comparison to cotton, towels take 50 per cent more time to make; the weaver needs to slow down to account for the thicker linen threads and their unevenness (little hairs along the fibre).

    Where do you source inspiration to design all of the collections?

    Mikala James: I would like people to experience different textures, patterns and colours in each collection, to capture their imagination and embrace their senses. There is an emotional connection present – my products have an important narrative that connects my clients with age-old craftsmanship, they add a rarity to the interior universe in which they inhabit. 

    The decision to design limited-edition collections was to ensure production was in accordance with tradition and that each collection told a personal story. When designing a collection, I first look to the environment for inspiration as well as art and works I admire, I then instil my beliefs, intuition and skill to choose final colours and patterns. 

    My recent collection ‘Paradise’ is an extravagant display of colour designed to reflect the elaborate and unique appearance of Birds of Paradise. I tried to capture the richness of colour of these mysterious birds; their clash of bright hues against the deep rainforest foliage. There are 20 different coloured threads within the Paradise collection, each chosen to celebrate colour, nature and joy.

    Another special collection ‘Opal’ was designed to mimic an opal’s unique play-of-colour. I wanted to create a design that flashes different colours when it is viewed from different angles or when the light source changes. There are 21 different colours within the Opal collection and it will appear to be more pink, blue, grey or green depending on how and where it is viewed. I designed the Opal collection to imbue a soft colour palette with pale tones similar to those found inside an abalone shell, which has a similar iridescent surface to that of an opal.

    What’s it like seeing a collection for the first time? 

    Mikala James: Unpacking and opening a collection for the first time is a delight; it is powerfully rewarding to see and touch the first finished product. The hundreds of hours of work that are needed to design and produce one collection is both gratifying and heart-warming. 

    Today when I look back on the journey and the steps I’ve taken I get a glimpse of the future and find inspiration for the next collection.

     How often do you visit Turkey?

    Mikala James: I usually visit Turkey once a year. I did have a 3-year gap of not visiting due to the unfortunate hostility that was happening there. I was very close to a suicide bomber attack one visit, which was followed by multiple attacks that year at the main airport and other areas I frequented. I was there last August and will go again this September, which I am really looking forward to – I love Turkey.

    Could you please tell us about your new showroom?

    Mikala James: Our first store is in the Kings Arcade, Armadale. Selecting Armadale as our inaugural-store location placed us inside the beautiful historic Kings Arcade where spaces rarely become available. I was drawn to the history, character and the preserved details that are original to the 136-year-old Arcade including tiles and beautiful stained glass.

    I commissioned Danielle Peck from Architecture Associates to design the store. We met seven years ago working in retail just down the road on High street so it’s serendipitous to be collaborating on a retail space together all of these years later.

    The shell of the space was treated as a found object; imperfections were exposed not disguised, with features dating back to its initial use as a Butcher shop.

    I staged a pop-up store last year in Collingwood, which was an extremely rewarding and successful experience – brick-and-mortar offers instant gratification, engages all the senses and offers clients expert advice. I’m so excited to welcome clients into a permanent boutique.

    How does your showroom reflect your brand and ethos?

    Mikala James: There is a true alignment between the store and Loom Towels, the way contemporary design is used in combination with tradition. 

    Our aim was to create an environment that embodied the past, present and future. We commissioned handcrafted pieces by Melbourne craftspeople – the most unique being a “butcher’s block” embedded in the counter top; a gesture to the original tenant. 

    A large, robust counter grounds the space and a recycled laundry trough sits on modern joinery in the corner of the store. Towels are draped over stainless steel rails – an area designed to encourage clients to touch and engage with the tactile textiles. Colours were kept predominantly neutral and subtle, including greys and greens, with a surprising pop of bright aqua.

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