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Meet the Judges, Polly Leonard of Selvedge

16 June 2018 by Meghna Sarkar in Fashion, Features, Home, Interiors & Auto, Sponsors, Judges & Champions

We talk to Polly Leonard, Founder and Editor-in-chief of Selvedge Magazine, who joins the TexSelect judging panel this year.

Polly Leonard, a passionate textile lover and distinguished entrepreneur, is the founder of Selvedge, a ground-breaking magazine much admired in the creative world that aims to explore our intimate relationships with cloth.With a BA in Embroidery and Weaving from the Glasgow School of Art, Polly has an addiction for textiles that morphed into a niche bi-monthly periodical in 2004.

Selvedge is more than just a magazine – it’s an ongoing conversation about the prominent and diverse role of textiles in our lives, represented through its informative and enriching spreads. Selvedge also organises regular workshops and craft fairs.

What was your background before starting Selvedge?

I trained as a textile designer and artist, both in the UK and the USA. I have wide range of interests around material culture and the role of cloth in the evolution of humanity. After graduating I taught for a decade, before I had my son 19 years ago. I stopped teaching for a while and began writing to fill my time. I was then invited to edit another magazine, which I did for a couple of years. This gave me the idea to put together something a little more sophisticated with a wider remit, but with textiles at its heart.

What prompted you to start Selvedge, and what inspires you now?

Timing – I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset. I had been working within textiles for a decade, so had accumulated some knowledge and contacts within the field. By 2003 the internet was just big enough to make it possible for a nicheproduct to reach a large enough audience quickly enough for it to become established.

Textiles are my greatest inspiration. Selvedge is a magazine that acknowledges the significance of textiles as a part of everyone’s story.  We are surrounded by cloth from the cradle to the grave and by exploring our universal emotional connection to fibre we share the stories and values that mean the most to us. From why we love the sound of a needle pulling thread through taut linen, to why we are fascinated by the clothes we wear and the fibres we unknowingly rely on. There are many sides to every story and Selvedge is dedicated to finding and nurturing textiles from every angle. I believe that textiles unite all humanity and in surveying the development of society it is clear that – from a spider’s web to the worldwide web – textiles appear as the protagonist.

In this digital age, when people have such a short attention span, what do you keep in mind while creating content for your audience?

Selvedge readers are largely women from a diverse age group with a wide geographic spread. They come together because of a shared interest in textiles. I aim to inspire and to educate, by providing in-depth content presented in an engaging and aesthetically pleasing way. I present academicquality content in a journalistic style and pair that with a strict image policy and high production values.

What would you say was your most significant achievement with Selvedge?

Survival! The economics of magazine publishing have always been fragile, as the production costs are huge. I believe Selvedge was the first of a new breed of periodicals, of which there are now many, who use the same business model. Selvedge has high production values, uses good images and much of the content is not time sensitive, so, in a way, it’s more like a book.

We rely less on advertising revenue and more on subscription sales, and don’t use the traditional distribution channels where unsold copies are pulped. The most challenging part, now 15 years on, is keeping each issue as fresh and exciting as the first. Luckily, textiles are a vast subject, and with the twists and turns of fashion there is always something new to write about.

How has Selvedge grown since its launch in 2004, and what are your future plans?

The magazines mission is to promote textiles, so as well as producing 85 issues over the last 15 years, we promote skill acquisition by running workshopsaround the UK and in the south of France. We sell books and products online and hold selling fairs for designer makers. Over the years we have collaborated with the V&A, Ercol and Liberty to name a few.

Selvedge recently underwent major restructuring. We closed our retail space in January and the team now works remotely. Although it has taken a while to adjust to the change, there are more advantages than disadvantages to this way of working. Some of the financial pressure has been released so we are able to focus on the magazine and be more selective in the brand extension activities we engage in.

What do you think are the elements of good textile design?

I have been passionate about textiles for as long as I can remember. I am of the generation who developed hand-skills during childhood. There is something special and important about hand-made objects, but it is the textile industry and its products that have shaped the contemporary world more than anything else. Ironically, it is the disposal of textile waste that is the biggest preoccupation we have today. A good design must be mindful of its environmental impact. Textiles must also satisfy the hand as well as the eye, and texture, handle and drape are important. Yardage must have balance and movement. Finally, textiles are a great medium through which to explore colour in a sophisticated way.

What makes a great textile designer, and what will you be looking for at TexSelect?

I believe grit to be the defining quality of a great designer.That is the ability to persevere through adversity, to keep thinking, keep researching, keep looking.I am looking for an understandingof the innatequalities of cloth. Considered, intelligent design that is greater than the sum of its parts.


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