At work with LOUAL
by Stephanie Hannington-Suen·
Established in London in 2021, LOUAL offers a collection of Irish linen clothing alongside home textiles designed to merge into one versatile and vibrant world. We visited Christina, founder of LOUAL, at her Hackney central studio for a chat about her inspiring business and how she creates balance in her everyday.
Tell us a bit about yourselves, your background and what led you to start your business?
LOUAL started in 2021 when I moved to London and together with my partner, we bought our first house. We wanted to buy ethically made, trend-less home textiles that still had an elevated aesthetic. We were finding that less easy to come across with the rise of “fast homeware” and so started dressing our home in Irish Linen pieces made by myself. Both our backgrounds are in fashion, so the co-ord sets naturally made their way into the collection. They are based on our most worn and shared items, including an oversized shirt that used to belong to my late Grandad.
Linen brands often associate with home textiles for the bedroom but for us, our love for hosting made us gear towards a much more dressed up feel for the brand, centred around rooms where we enjoy having friends over, socialising and cooking. The premise of LOUAL was born - home and clothing products to have fun with, to be shared, with a commitment to sustainability and always stylish enough to host in.
Describe your business in 5 words.
Celebratory, Heritage, Thoughtful, Vibrant, Versatile
Timelessness and refined design are at the forefront of your brand, what is it about it that inspires you?
Before LOUAL, I designed at a British heritage brand where I learnt deeply about true high quality, craftsmanship and how perfecting the basics and creating garments with longevity is key. Timelessness and refined design have always been priorities in my design career. To me, this is high quality materials coming from great, trusted sources. The beautiful materials inspire me to create the pieces that I do.
Have you got any exciting plans lined up for LOUAL?
I am really enjoying the bespoke side of the LOUAL offering at the moment. We have recently had our first order for bespoke wedding outfits - at the same time we got engaged ourselves and so it feels very fitting. I find bespoke projects very rewarding - offering one-off, unique pieces gives an object a whole new sense of preciousness. In turn, these will get more use and hopefully even passed down generations. My plan is to keep growing this side of the business in both clothing and homeware. I now also have a studio space where customers can make appointments to come and chat about these kinds of special projects.
What has been your proudest moment for your business and the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The proudest moments are still when someone is introduced to the brand, lives with a product and wants to recommend LOUAL to another person. The goal was to make items based on hero pieces so when this happens, it feels that the collection is working as it was designed to.
The biggest challenge is the constant rising costs of raw materials, as most small businesses are finding. Being committed to producing in the UK will always have its challenges but at the same time pleasing to experience it, to see it still working and even potentially growing.
What’s your favourite piece from your store?
As we are in the middle of some warm days now, I have to go with the Irish Linen Wide Shorts. I always struggled with what kind of shorts to wear and had similar feedback from others and so it was crucial for me to get these right - the perfect rise and length, effortless to throw on but still dressed up. I want to feel ease and comfort yet always elegant and sophisticated, and I feel they do this.
Talk us through a typical day for you?
I cycle to my studio in Hackney from my home in Upton Park - a great way of getting exercise every day when I’m busy. I share a studio with Retold Vintage so love to see what beautiful vintage pieces Clare has sourced. Designer vintage is the very best inspiration for all my work. In the studio, I work on both LOUAL and freelance consulting. This may be sketching, pattern cutting, tech packs or toiling. For LOUAL I make the homeware pieces myself at the studio - they are made from off-cuts that I get back from my fashion manufacturing, so I occasionally get stuck into this, or sending out orders, visiting manufacturers or bespoke projects.
How do you find balance in your daily routine?
I always try to have a slow morning to ease into the day - at the moment I spend time in our garden most mornings. I enjoy gardening and it feels like it is in full bloom at the moment so it’s great to just watch that happening. For me, its about giving 100% in work hours but ensuring I am doing all the other things I enjoy during breakfast time, lunch breaks and in evenings.
How does your heritage influence your work?
I am always finding influences from my Eastern Asian culture - from the colours in Hong Kong architecture, to the freedom of movement in martial arts uniforms, to the grittiness and buzz of western Chinatowns. All of which are distinctive memories from certain periods in my life. As a young intern, I worked on Kung Fu garments in Hong Kong, which to this day inspires my work. And in my early twenties, living and working in NYC, finding myself so often wandering around either Manhattan or Queens Chinatowns. I have found that working globally has inspired my work - seeing and hearing what people want to wear across the world has been a fundamental part of my growth as a designer.
Tell us about growing up with your heritage in the UK.
I grew up in a small town in the North East of England where it was predominantly white. There was a tiny amount of diversity in school, so it definitely felt like a “thing” that my sisters and I were Chinese. My parents, however, really celebrated and included both our heritages in our growing up and we were very fortunate to visit HK and various parts of East Asia every few years. I have always deeply loved it there and was proud that I had this culture and tradition. This actually made me like the ‘’different'' side to who I was. I think, my own love for my heritage gave me a detached attitude toward what people did and said in the playground and beyond, but it was certainly there.
Looking back as an adult, there were definitely many moments that would be confronted if the same things happened now or if I overheard or saw them happening to others. There has been moments of this, particularly during and post pandemic where I have felt a certain pressure in finding the perfect thing to say in response. I have learnt that having healthy conversations about this, reading, listening, and being open to talk will always be the best way.
In your house, which room do you find most solace in.
The garden. I find that I do gravitate towards outdoor spaces. In moments of calm with a morning coffee but also for me, theres nothing I love doing more than having friends over for dinner or drinks outdoors in the Summer. Gathering cushions and tableware to brighten up the garden and chatting from daylight to dusk.
How do you find comfort?
I find comfort in social interaction. Spending quality time with my now Fiancé, Jacob, or with family or close friends. My family are in Newcastle so I visit every few months, each time after a trip I feel such comfort and wholeness.
How do you stay grounded?
Exploring new places, travelling, meeting and talking with as many different people from different backgrounds. Sometimes, your own world can become too much the centre of it all and theres nothing more grounding than sometimes feeling like a tiny part of a bigger world.
How do you unwind?
One of my favourite ways to unwind is trying new restaurants, cafes or bars local to me in London. I feel that the way an establishment is designed, is the ultimate unwinding because it creates a world where everything has been thought of - the interior design, the smell, the taste, the music and the personalities that work there. It’s a full five sense overload and thats what really makes me unwind, feel positive and enjoy life.
What is your favourite homework scent and why?
I adore the new WATER scent - that fresh rain water smell makes me feel nostalgic, calm and cleansed. It takes me to the typhoon season in Hong Kong - feeling refreshed by the rain but still being so warm and surrounded by usually distant relatives.