THE STORY OF THE TALLIS
Inspired by the legend of the Tallis – a deer that is said to bring safety and comfort to those who happen to spot him in the snow – and driven by her sustainable sourcing background, Lilly Gilbert founded Tallis to offer luxury fur products, using exclusively responsibly sourced materials. Lilly and her team are committed to reach out to industry experts to find new solutions and push the boundaries of what is possible in responsible sourcing fur, so you always know where your fur comes from. Lilly speaks to us about launching a product that has both die-hard opposers and faithful supporters, responding to challenges she came across and her future plans; hint: superstar model Cara Delevigne is included.
What is your background and how did you become interested in designing fur accessories?
For me the penny dropped on responsible sourcing when I was diving in a school of tuna, and how could something so beautiful be endangered due to over-fishing. My passion for sustainability grew, and I carved out a career in responsible sourcing. My background is working with retailers and international organizations on sustainable sourcing strategies – from protecting cotton farmers in developing countries to having alternative sources of palm oil to avoid deforestation. It was obvious when I founded Tallis that sustainability was going to be integral to the brand.
I created Tallis to make luxury-yet-contemporary fur products, using responsibly sourced materials. I saw what was out there and what was missing, and realized I wanted to try and do it better. Designing fur accessories is hard, because I want to have them all myself!
Besides fur, what are the main materials you use?
This year I created a capsule collection of handmade, upcycled cashmere hats with fur pom poms. The impy beanie with two vintage mink poms is my favourite! Now I am also working with a fabric made from possum fur, merino wool and silk. The possum fur gives it a cashmere-soft feel and it is super warm, plus possum fur is a classic example of responsible fur – it is a byproduct of environmental management in New Zealand.
How much do trends influence your work?
I have core products like the Tallis Originals, which I have updated this season – like the new sheepskin version with a tartan lining. At the moment, I am channelling Game of Thrones (look out for the new shearling and possum-fur knits in the new collection)!
You have recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign. Why did you choose to join and how did you use the fund?
Kickstarter is a great platform if you are trying to launch something new. Whenever I talk about “ethical fur,” I am met with blank stares. I made the film and launched it on Kickstarter to get my story out and explain that you can make fur products in an ethical way. In the end, 75 backers pledged £8,000 in support of the project. It was a wonderful experience!
Of the £8,000 raised, half of it went to making the hats which each of the backers was given. I used the rest to ramp up production; it has enabled me to buy bulk materials from vintage furs to my signature Tallis ribbons. I have also used it to develop interesting avenues for the new collection, such as the fur-wool-silk mix knit products.
How is the fur you are using “ethical?”
I define ethical fur as falling into one of four categories: remanufactured vintage (not using anything new), byproduct (of the food industry or environmental management programs), pre-consumer surplus (spare cuttings and trimmings) or coming from higher-welfare farms (on the same or higher standard as the food industry).
The “byproduct” fur we use comes from pelts usually destroyed as part of population management schemes. The sources we will use are possums (an invasive species introduced to New Zealand in 1837 which damages local ecosystems) and Swiss Red Fox (a managed population since the extinction of its natural predators). In the case of the Swiss Red Fox, the pelts are typically destroyed as there is no market for the fur – we are trying to create a market for it as a responsible alternative to other sources of fur. I work with the Swiss Fur Association.
The higher-welfare farmed fur we use is raccoon fur from farms in Finland which implements the higher welfare and environmental standards of the SAGA certified label.
Everyone finds different things acceptable in fur, so we clearly explain on each of our products where the materials come from, so people can select a product which they trust. Fur is not for everyone, but for those who want it, I want Tallis to be their go-to brand for trusted products. For more information, please go to this page, where I have written about the fur we use.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
Sourcing responsibly is hard, time-consuming and can be costly. I have had to lean heavily on my previous experience and network to navigate through it and come up with wonderful, responsibly sourced fur products that do not cost an arm and a leg.
The fashion industry’s approach toward fur seems to change – they made a great comeback in the past fashion weeks. Do you feel consumers’ attitude towards fur is changing?
I definitely agree that more consumers are wearing fur, in particular in its less ostentatious forms such as hood trims and pom-poms hats. People are still worried what others think when they wear fur. I hope if people see a Tallis product on someone, they recognize the deer logo and remember that means the fur has been sourced responsibly.
The fur industry has done a lot to improve animal welfare issues in the sector; a good source of what has been done and still being done is the British Fur Trade Association, which Tallis is a member of.
How do you feel your company helps changing opposers’ views on wearing fur?
I write a fur blog on our sourcing policies, which I hope shows people that sound sourcing principles can be applied to any supply chain, even fur. When I say “ethical fur” people look at me like it is a mutually exclusive term – I hope I can show them it does not have to be.
Have you thought of expanding in other fur accessories?
Yes! The new collection has added oversized knit scarves into the mix. I always get asked about gloves, as well.
What are your future plans?
Take the new collection to Paris Fashion Week and then Milan. Get Cara Delevigne to wear the yellow impy beanie!
Images © Will Milligan for The Tallis