The British steam train era is one that evokes great nostalgia for a time where longevity, quality and provenance were all fundamental aspects of working life. One where people would put great care into every stitch of their creation. This is the driving force for William Kroll and his English-made clothing label Tender, a dapper collection of denim and other garments and accessories designed to become beloved staples in their owners’ wardrobes. In addition to Tender, William and his wife Deborah also run the online shopfront The Trestle Shop, which sells more unconventional and experimental items – often one-off or limited-edition pieces – that challenge the status quo of mainstream design.
I grew up in Oxford … which is where my parents still live. My grandparents were very creative people and my grandpa in particular was a big influence on me. He was the art editor for British Vogue in the 1940s and 1950s and also worked for House & Garden and The World of Interiors – he did some really cool stuff. So he was always very keen to have me drawing and making things, and seeing things with my own eyes. He would take me to see pretty challenging and exciting things, like exhibitions, contemporary art shows and events at auction houses. It really opened my eyes to a lot of things.
I’ve always enjoyed making stuff … and when I was about 12 or 13, my best friend and I started to really get into photography. We built a darkroom in the attic of his parents’ house and started developing photos. That really got me excited about making things for myself. So I started making bits of furniture and banging things together – and then I started making clothes.
I made my first pair of jeans … when I was 14. I hadn’t been particularly interested in fashion but I was interested in finding out how clothes were made. Jeans seemed the easiest to follow because you could see what had been done since there weren’t any linings. I found a pair of jeans and I liked how they had contrast stitching. To this day, that’s something that I really like about the attitude of denim – there’s nothing that’s hidden and all the construction is evident. It’s really quite honest.
I came to London … when I was 18, to go to Central Saint Martins to study menswear. While I was there, I had the opportunity to take a year off. I wound up working at Hackett, which used to have a bespoke department. They wanted to ramp that up a little, so they got in a really fantastic tailor, John, who had a place on Savile Row called Tobias. I was allowed to stop being a shop assistant and become his full-time apprentice for about 18 months and he taught me a huge amount. He was unusual in that he was a tailor and a cutter, so he was making both the patterns and the clothes. That was the first time I came into contact with really high-end handmade clothing and I’ve certainly taken a lot from that into what I’m doing now.
After I graduated … I got a job with EVISU and ended up in Hong Kong working for them, which took me to Japan quite a lot. I met a lot of amazing people and really began to understand why people say that Japan is very exciting for people making things. I ended up deciding that I was going to leave my job in Hong Kong and go to Japan to try to learn indigo dyeing – I’d met a guy who had set up his own little atelier and he said he would teach me. Since then, I go back to Japan two or three times a year now and a big part of my market is there.
I don’t intentionally take risks … it’s more about doing something I feel is right at a certain time but nobody else is particularly interested in it commercially. But I think it’s worth doing things that you really believe in because there are a lot of good products and if you’re not doing something you think is interesting, it’s difficult to present it as something you think people should take notice of.
I’m getting better … at riding the crests and falls that come with running a business – the little ups and downs that come all the time. Yes, you’re always working and you’re always thinking about it, but it’s exciting and I wouldn’t change it for the world. And it’s really nice to not have a boss!
I’m really proud that … people like what I’m doing – it’s really cool to think that people in their private lives are enjoying the products that I’m making.
I wear a lot of my prototypes … so that I can test them. Right now I’m wearing next season’s socks, where I was trying out a new dye, and shirt that shrunk too much so we changed the fabric. And I’m also wearing a pair of jeans that we put a cell phone pocket on, but I don’t think the design will see the light of day on anyone else. Plus I have on the first Tender watch and the first pair of Tender glasses, so I think I’m wearing five different experimental pieces at the moment! I end up with quite a lot of ‘Frankenstein clothes’ but it’s nice because it also means that, by the time things are coming out in public production, I have a version that has been worn for a year, so I can show people how things will look. That’s a really important part of the way I design and I really think that you’ve got to live with something before you put it out there.
In the end … it’s my name on the tin. There’s a huge amount of stuff out there in the market, but there’s also a huge amount of very good stuff, so it’s really important that I do something that I feel is genuinely different. I guess that’s a pretty arrogant thing to suggest and it’s a big ask, but I just love making stuff and I love seeing things that I’ve designed come into creation. Hopefully that comes through in the products and makes them feel personal, because I think people respond to that.
I’ve had a lot of people who have really inspired me … Certainly my grandpa – my wife and I now live in the house that was my grandparents’, so there are lots of things that remind me of him daily. But then there are also so many other people who have really helped me out and shown me really interesting things. I’ve been very lucky because I’ve been taught by some excellent people. Even my woodwork teacher when I was in high school encouraged me to make stuff for myself and he wasn’t too worried about whether or not I was on the syllabus. He let me use the woodworking machines and use up their stock and make interesting things.
I find peace … at home. I got married in summer last year and my wife and I have a great home. We enjoy cooking a lot and we’ve been working on our garden recently. There are some lovely plants that were planted by my grandmother probably 40 or 50 years ago and have since completely run riot. We have huge camellia bushes and everything was covered in ivy, so we’ve been clearing that out. It’s nice just being out in the garden and getting muddy.
I don’t believe in a god … I’m an atheist, I guess. I believe in being nice to people and that you ought to be a good person.
My mum used to say … that if somebody is annoying you, it’s probably because you see that irritating aspect in yourself. And I think that’s very true. If things aren’t going well with someone and you try to imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes, I think it helps you get along with them. It really teaches you an element of self-awareness.