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Margate: The New Creative Frontier

Margate: The New Creative Frontier

It started about ten years ago. Chasing the sunshine and sand made famous by T.S Eliot in The Waste Land, not to mention the cheap rents that come with a forgotten seaside town where the major fixture is a derelict themepark, some of England’s most savvy creatives began flocking to the Kentish coast.

The New York Times thinks it was local girl and artworld anti-hero Tracey Emin who put Margate on the map, thanks to her campaign to open the Turner Contemporary art gallery in her hometown.  The gallery opened in 2001 and little by little, semi-disenchanted creative Londoners followed. So much so, in fact, that Margate is now known as “Shoreditch-on-Sea.”

“We could feel something exciting was about to happen in this rundown seaside town,” says Emrys Plant, poet, performance artist, and founder of organic clothing label CROWTHER/PLANT.  “It has a faded beauty that tells stories about its past whilst encouraging a bright future.”

 

 

Emrys and his artist wife Heidi made the move six years ago, and founded what has become one of the town’s most successful artist collectives: Resort Studios.

“We wanted to get ourselves a big studio to work from, so we joined four others in renting a disused floor of an old warehouse in a crappy part of town,” says Emrys.

The building had neither electrics nor plumbing, and needed new stairs. Unfazed, the group built their own studios, opening up parts of the building that hadn’t been used for years, and set up a creative co-op to manage the space. A crew of designers, illustrators, architects, photographers and writers soon set up camp.

“We grew from six people to 50 creative practitioners in just a couple of years,” says Emrys. “I was a director of Resort Studios until very recently and am really proud of what we achieved in bringing a cross section of creative practices to Margate.”

These days Emry’s main game is his organic streetwear label CROWTHER/PLANT, which he founded with friend Cat Crowther.  The pair met while studying design at Nottingham Trent University.

Crowther Plant Indigo Oversized Shirt

Crowther Plant All At Sea Sweat Pants

“I was studying knitwear design, with a year in industry where I first went to work at Kenzo in Paris,” says Cat. “We first met when Emrys came into the university studio to be our fitting model!”

A career in Paris followed for Cat, first with Kenzo as knitwear designer, and then as senior designer at Eric Bompard Cashmere, while Emrys launched his own streetwear label: Pseudohero. “It was a kind of anti-hero stance, a celebration of everyday man,” says Emrys. “‘Don’t make gods of men’ was the tag line.”

After six years of experimentation and success with his label  - one of his collections involved dragging his tshirts around a carpark to cover them with holes and oil, and he had a concession with TOPMAN plus 50 stockists - Emrys sold the company.

“I wanted to change production to use organic cotton but our biggest stockists refused to accept a tiny price increase, so that did it for me.”

Aftrer successfully talking Cat into making the move from Paris to Margate, the pair turned their hands to their next project: a fiercely organic, sustainable, environmentally-friendly and locally made menswear label. 

“Philosophically CROWTHER/PLANT is a blueprint for good practice in environmental and social sustainability, bringing design thinking to the sustainable party,” says Emrys.

“The inspiration for our active silhouette comes from the poetry of where we live and work by the sea, from its chalk reefs and calm waters to its burning sunset skies. Our product reflects a natural, spirited feel.”

CROWTHER/PLANT produces exclusively in England using organic cotton milled in the UK and knitted by small manufacturers with whom the pair work very closely, plus natural avocado and indigo dyes.  Such an intense focus on ethical production has come with countless challenges. 

“Just getting to the production stage was such hard work,” says Emrys. “The natural dying nearly tipped us over the edge. Cat spent months perfecting our indigo dye recipes, trying to make sure we used minimum chemicals in the mix and substituting them for natural alternatives. We got to a point where we ran out of people to whom we could ask questions, as there was no one in the UK who was producing natural indigo dyed garments on the scale we wanted to. So we pushed on and figured it out for ourselves.”

CROWTHER/PLANT is just one of many artistic projects that have put their roots down on the Kentish coast. Galleries, retro stores and artisanal pizza joints line high street Margate, and with the reinvigoration in 2013 of Dreamland, UK’s oldest amusement park, the town is now home to festivals and weekly sold-out summer sessions.

Places like the Lifeboat Ale and Cider House, Crate, a studio and work space in an old printing plant, Hantverk & Found, which serves local wines and seafood and also doubles as an exhibition space, and Haeckels, a skincare label with a secret recipe that draws on local seaweed, are the lifeblood of the town – and all of their creative outputs have a heavy focus on their surrounds.

“Ultimately we have loved the coastal living, golden sand beaches and chalky cliffs, being able to swim in the sea and walk or cycle everywhere,” says Emrys. ”It has provided a natural platform for CROWTHER/PLANT to exist, not just an inspiration but a clear identity for us.”

“Margate has grown to be home to some amazing people. I think that really the heart of a place is about those connections. It’s about the people to make living here a joy.”

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 Shop organic cotton clothing frmo CROWTHER/PLANT now.