Monthly Parenting Magazine

Interview: Rachel Walker, founder of Little Beacon

Interview: Rachel Walker, founder of Little Beacon

Little Beacon

Absolutely Mama talks running a sustainable brand, printmaking, and raising a family in Yorkshire with Rachel Walker, founder of Little Beacon…

A A B E A Ce Cec

How did you come to start Little Beacon and what’s the story behind the brand?

Little Beacon started properly about 4 years ago but the idea grew gradually when I was waiting for my first baby to arrive. I struggled to find the simple, neutral textiles for kids that I would love in my home, so I took matters into my own hands and began my first print run with little wooden blocks borrowed from a friend’s kindling stash. It all starts with the print, the colours, and the fabric. The first attempts were far from perfect but it became a very meditative process, with no plan. So I just taught myself really, feeling my way through, lots of intuition, trial and error! 

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I’m in love with natural fabrics and natural colours, almost everything I do is inspired by the shapes and colours we find in nature, particularly when the light hits at special times of the day. Lots of my work is trying to capture those colours, trying to convey a feeling within a pretty strict, minimal set of parameters I’ve set myself. I really enjoy working within my own visual language, as tricky as it can be!

What’s your design process and how are your products made?

The designs usually start with the blocks. Each block is unique, it’s a shape I’ve either carved myself, or someone has helped me cut! I’ll develop a print slowly, with each shape being individually pressed by hand to eventually build up the completed print. When I started out, every product was handprinted by me, but as the business has grown I’ve had to look at more sustainable ways to expand our production. 

Excitingly, we’ve just partnered with a new family-run, organic factory in Portugal, and sustainability is a huge focus for them. When we visited in May their factory was running about 90% off solar power. On average across the year it’s about 70% solar-powered. 

Their workflow is staggering. They handle every element, from spinning the yarn, weaving the cotton to my specifications, digitally printing the fabric (which is much more environmentally friendly as it uses such little water) and cutting to measure with systems to minimise waste fabric as much as possible. So we’re in the process of digitising my hand-printed designs to ensure everything retains the same aesthetic. It will always start with a handprinted pattern, not inside the computer.

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How important is sustainability to the brand?

It’s vital. It’s been one of the main drivers of the business and a consideration from day one. I only use organic cotton or oeko-tex certified linen, and have worked incredibly hard to minimise waste. It’s such a big project for us.

Something I’m really proud of is that in the last production of our muslins we had 5000 metres of muslin strips that were an offcut from the main blanket. Usually these would be destined for landfill but I asked for them to be sent over, and we worked really hard to use them all. We’ve made face cloths, breast pads, patchwork rompers, eye masks, sun hats, so many different uses! We’re down to the last 500 metres now, it’s been an amazing challenge. 

But cutting those still creates little scraps, which are unusable for sewing, so I sent the scraps to Lauren Smith at Lauren Ink who made paper from them! It’s such beautiful paper and I wanted to do something special with them, so I started The Good Paper Project. I’ve reached out to a handful of artists to create one-off pieces on the paper, which will be released in a series of charity raffles over the year to raise funds for PANDA. 

Are there any exciting things coming up that we should watch out for this season?

Absolutely! I’m really excited to reveal all the works for The Good Paper Project, and then the new partnership with our factory in Portugal has meant we can produce a range of organic babywear essentials for the first time! I’m so pleased with them, it’s a very thrilling new chapter for Little Beacon!

How do you juggle the business with being a busy mama of two?

It’s a juggle for sure! The kids are most often around, being very curious! All my studios have either been at home or very near to home, so they’re very clued up on the process, they could probably start their own rival business!

But in the last year I’ve been incredibly lucky and now have a beautiful little team of freelance mamas that support me. We work super collaboratively together in the limited hours we have to tackle the work. I have Kelly who is now managing and creating content, Kirsty who has been doing so many great photoshoots for us, including the cover for this issue, and Kathryn our in-house seamstress and pattern designer, who was amazing in tackling the waste challenge, coming up with so many patterns to use the strips creatively. I’ve learnt so much with her!

Photographer: Kirsty Hastie; Models: Kelly and Etta Turner
Little Beacon
Photographer: Kirsty Hastie; Models: Kelly and Etta Turner

What’s Yorkshire like for families and do you have any favourite places to go with your little ones?

I’m originally from Australia and have lived in Yorkshire for about 7 years now, and whilst I do miss the Aussie sunshine, Yorkshire never fails to impress me with it’s natural beauty. We live on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and the moors, with a beautiful river cutting through town. We spend so much time outdoors, waking, exploring and swimming. When the weather turns we’re lucky to be nearby to Leeds too which is a great city for culture, and lots of great places to eat, the kids love trying new food so they make for perfect dining companions, most of the time!

Among our favourite places for days out are a good stomp around the dales and a pint at The Craven Arms – such a good pub – exploring the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr, or heading a little further to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park or Hepworth Art Gallery. We’re spoilt for choice!

And finally, what’s a perfect family day?

We’re currently on holiday with friends from Australia in France, and it has completely reaffirmed that our perfect family day is exploring new places together, going on an adventure, finding something delicious to eat, even if it’s a good baguette and hunk of Comte on the side of a road somewhere! Tiring ourselves out making new memories, and snuggling down at the end of the day to watch a film with the kids after dinner. Something surreal and dreamy fro Studio Ghibli to send everyone off to sleep with heads full of wild ideas.

Thank you to Rachel Walker, founder of @little_beacon