It was past midday and the city seemed bathed in a bright spring light when we arrived at Hannah and John’s home in the heart of vibrant and colourful Easton. Noticeably unaffected by the pressures of modern living, their home retains the unmistakably variegated and mesmerising look that only a house filled with children and dogs, art and ardour, love and laughter, can have. Hannah and John invited us to join them and their beautiful daughter Luna for an al fresco lunch in their garden, and told us about how they met while travelling in France and how Bimblôt ‒ born out of their shared passion for travelling, folk art, traditional knowledge and sustainable living ‒ is the embodiment of their “waste not, want not” philosophy.
After finishing our delicious meal, Hannah and John showed us some of their latest French vintage finds and suggested going out for a walk around the neighbourhood with Luna and Oumai the dog and to show us their storage space brimming with vintage gems. On our way back we popped over to one of their neighbour’s to see the kitchen that John recently refurbished using salvaged and carefully sourced reclaimed materials and then Hannah took us to her workspace at Bristol Textile Quarter, where she showed us the beautifully embroidered indigo jackets and told us about the inspiration behind her work in slow fashion and how she joined forces with Tamay in North Vietnam and started the ethical clothing brand Tamay & Me.
Fascinated by the everyday interaction between people and objects and working in response to the ethical and environmental implications of wastefulness, Hannah and John are part of a forward-thinking community of independent makers and entrepreneurs who believe in a better tomorrow and are able to create something of positive value for the world. By wholeheartedly choosing ethical principles over short-term financial gain, both Bimblôt and Tamay & Me give a beautiful, genuine and honest answer to some simple yet very important questions of our times: what kind of world do we want to help create and what kind of future do we envisage for our children? Today, Bimblôt is run by John and Tamay & Me by Hannah, but both projects continue to inspire and bring about change, pursuing their tireless efforts to infuse our material world with soul, timelessness and hope.
Tell us about John and Hannah behind Bimblôt.
John: I’m a French guy from a village in the South of France. I started to train as a furniture maker aged 16 and never stopped since. I’ve always loved travelling in my van and enjoying festivals and love to read classic French literature.
Hannah: I’m an anthropologist, home for me is London. I have always been passionate about travelling, loved making things, dancing and friendships. I built my first business when I was 12, I was always encouraged to be entrepreneurial and to follow my heart.
What are your most vivid childhood memories?
John: I grew up in a village surrounded by woods and the sea and my vivid childhood memory was freedom and adventure on a bike with my friends.
Hannah: I remember reaching up for a pair of orange handled scissors to cut my hair when I was about 4.
How did you two meet?
We were both travelling in France in our vans. By chance we parked next to each other at the street theatre festival in Aurillac (highly recommended) and spent the whole festival hanging out.
How did the idea of Bimblôt come about and what would you say was the stepping stone for this new creative business?
After a late drum & bass night we missed the last tram home in Montpellier (France). As we crossed the city on foot we found all sorts of stuff that had been thrown out on the street, a coffee machine, a chair, clothes, kids toys and a lamp, we think! Hannah didn’t have an income at this point and we decided to do a flea market. John’s family and friends passed on all kinds of things they no longer wanted and built a stock for our very first market. It was a great experience, we loved it. John instantly became captivated by the treasure hunt, reinvesting 1-2€ to find interesting valuable pieces and Hannah loved finding homes for unwanted belongings, contented in the knowledge these things were not going to landfill. We used to stay at the end of the market to collect pieces that had been left behind. Quickly our stock evolved from car boot sale style to a more refined vintage stock, we were instantly hooked.
What are your strengths as a team of creatives?
It has always been been based on fun. John is very pragmatic and Hannah is a dreamer, which has proved complementary.
John, when did your interest in carpentry and furniture-making start?
I decided I wanted to work with wood at the age of 11. I was determined this was what I wanted to do (don’t ask me why).
What about your passion for antiques?
My passion for antiques and vintage started by doing flea markets in France, I didn’t grow up in an antiques environment but I was conscious that pieces made in the past were much better quality and I was quite sensitive to the aesthetic too. I liked the fact that it was possible to fix broken stuff (something difficult to do today), I still love to open, clean and make a coffee grinder usable again. I like to open and look inside at the mechanism, how they used to work with different materials. I’m particularly passionate about folk art, I’m really surprised by how farmers or everyday folk build furniture without trained skills or tools. Everything is possible and it is often really clever and creative, I use some of the techniques I see as woodworker today which is nothing like how I was trained. My passion for antiques is not just about the products, but mostly about the market buzz, the contact with customers, professional dealers and the other traders.
Hannah, what triggered your decision to travel to Vietnam?
I wanted to take some time out after my degree to consolidate what I had learnt and tie together my love of art practice with travel and exploration of other cultures. Vietnam was my first stop on a year long travel.
Was there a seamless transition from Anthropology to slow fashion and antiques?
My degree at Goldsmiths was incredibly influential and forged the way for so much of what I have gone on to do. It was a brilliant, forward thinking, course that challenged the way we live in the UK today. I am still very close to the friends I made there. It really inspired both my work in slow fashion and antiques. Anthropology gave me the confidence to learn Red Dzao embroidery with Tamay in North Vietnam, we became the best of friends and I was invited to be a part of Tamay’s culture through their intricate embroidery practice. We sat together for 3 months, Tamay teaching me the detailed patterns and explaining the Dzao’s authentic, very slow approach to fashion, this was all way before I came across the concept of slow fashion. Anthropology informed my fascination with how people and objects are related, how we give meaning to the material world around us and how these material objects shape the way we live and interact with each other. The world of vintage and antiques is so interesting as a means to explore this concept in our own European culture, I love seeing what has value and what does not and for who. Essentially, I am fascinated to see how we can understand more about people through their belongings and to tie this up with ideas of sustainability and how we can create a sustainable way to relate to material possessions to do things better in the future ‒ it’s all very interlinked!
How do Bimblôt and Tamay & Me complement each other?
They feed each other whilst having the same values. Bimblôt was created from Tamay & Me and Hannah’s previous experience of business, yet Tamay & Me in its most recent manifestation has developed from Bimblôt’s economic security. Today Bimblôt is run by John and Tamay & Me by Hannah, each project has developed to be slightly different but they inspire and we often help each other in the choices we make.
How would you sum up the Bimblôt style?
Aesthetic and quality with a minimum impact to people around us.
In your opinion, how does a house become a home?
With time, you can buy everything all at once and have a great magazine style house, but it will miss what is most important: a soul and a history and that you can’t buy.
What was the most memorable buying trip so far?
Definitely October 2015, Hannah went to Vietnam to start the new jacket design, it was a gap of a few years since she first started working with Tamay. And John decided to take Luna (our daughter) aged two at that time for a road trip around France buying vintage, they really bonded with each other during this trip. Hannah launched Tamay & Me a few months later.
What about the most rewarding project you have been involved with?
Maybe the mill house project? We rebuilt a mill house in the South of France over 2 and a half years, it was an amazing experience to be involved in every step of the build, we created a beautiful home incorporating all our skills and really learnt to work together.
Travel seems to be a key concept in your lifestyle. From the myriad of experiences that travel has to offer, what are those that you hope your child will benefit the most from?
The love to travel too. Staying open minded and conscious there is not one way to live, or to be. And the ability to relax and take experiences as they come.
How challenging is passing on your “waste not, want not” lifestyle to your child in this fast moving world?
Today it’s quite easy she’s just five, she’s really open to our opinion. She is very aware that belongings come and go and that we mustn’t be wasteful. She is incredibly sharing. It could be challenging in the future when she will grow and start to use society as a reference (school, media, mainstream culture…). We must let her grow and make her own discoveries and mistakes. We hope she will be find her own way of being herself and not just reproduce what we believe like a sheep. We trust her and are ready to go with the flow… let’s speak about it in a few years!
What advice would you give to someone starting up a similar creative business?
Find a way to have a regular income. You need a free, creative mind to make something and you need time to build something stable. Dealing vintage was our stability and it gave us a cash flow (more or less) to build the carpentry side of Bimblôt and Tamay & Me. Not taking it too seriously and enjoying the process is important, there are lots of highs and lows, it’s a journey much like travel.
Both Bimblôt and Tamay & Me address ethical issues and your products are aimed at changemakers. What do you think has changed in people’s approach to buying in the last decade and how important is it to raise awareness of the backstory for a higher level of social responsibility?
By watching the world around us, we no longer have economic/environmental and scientific security, everyday life is affected and everybody can feel that change needs to happen. The challenge is to be affordable for the whole population and not just a minority of wealthy people. Equally, consumers need to make an effort to spend less in quantity and more on quality, and be aware that buying something doesn’t just affect the exploited worker on the other side of the world but also our neighbours and ecosystem too. It’s about living in a big global community.
How do you balance the ethic and the aesthetic?
We think that when you do something ethically it often comes naturally that it is aesthetic, ethical means natural materials and often traditional knowledge which is a good start for beautiful aesthetics.
It is said that Marcel Duchamp found the Bottle Rack at a department store in Paris in 1914 and then labelled this object a readymade artwork. Are there any ordinary, everyday objects in your collection that you regard as artworks per se?
A lot! As John said before, Folk art is a part of it, originally an everyday object or working object but that has involved a lot of creativity and personal skill (maybe the definition of an artist). It’s not too far from art brut, when the intention wasn’t to sell it but just a personal process without thinking about the rules and without judgement. Religious representation is one of our favourites too, pieces that were made to be adored, not sure if this counts as an everyday object?
John: as a commercial one I would say the folding fishing chair (metal one), it’s quite something.
Besides the obvious differences, what distinguishes the most your home in Aveyron from the one in Bristol?
Community. It could be surprising because Aveyron is a beautiful countryside area where community life is vital but for what we love, believe and do Bristol is perfect. We have found a real community of independent makers who also believe in a better tomorrow, it is a really positive place to be.
What does a typical Sunday look like for you?
Breakfast in bed! Eating croissant, drinking coffee and reading newspapers followed by a brunch and a walk in the countryside with Oumai our dog; then we love to come back home and start a fire.
What are some of your favourite places in Bristol?
Bravas, a brilliant tapas restaurant and Leigh Woods, Oumai and Luna love it there.
What about near your home in Aveyron?
Saveur Paysanne in Villefranche de Rouergue, is all about independent food producers who created an co-op shop with the most amazing meat, cheese, fruit and vegetable. Also by the river Lot having picnics and swimming in the river.
What are your dreams and ambitions for Bimblôt?
To keep going! We don’t really see it as a business; it is about everything we do, Bimblôt is a platform to do what we want and go where we want… who knows, John says let’s just stay free and independent. Hannah always has idealist dreams, there are lots of exciting things in the pipeline, but really it’s about creating something sustainable for everyone.
Can you recommend us a song, a film, a book and a recipe?
Song : Guts, And the living is easy!
Film : Tideland Terry Gillingham
Book : Grayson Perry, The Decent of Man
Recipe : Slow roasted organic belly pork and tell your friends to bring salads!