Sometimes design is decorative, but good design serves a purpose. Function and form; style and substance. The leather and canvas goods handmade by Francli, a craftwear brand based down in south Cornwall, follows this ethos. Rucksacks are made with surplus army canvas and deadstock materials, commissioned by people who see themselves using one for trips, adventures and daily life – but most importantly, for years to come. A leather phone case begins as something practical: yet as the patina changes over time, scratches scar the surface and the colour deepens, and it becomes a reminder of all the moments that have happened in its lifetime.
This is what Ali Goodman, the founder of Francli, has created with her business. A brand rooted in the slowness and thoughtfulness of making. Look out of her studio at Argal Home Farm near Falmouth, and you’ll be met with rolling hills and tree-lined fields – a scene that sparks endless inspiration for Francli’s collection of British heritage craftwear. We caught up with Ali to talk about her craft, sustainability and what’s next for Francli.
Can you tell us a bit about how Francli began and the journey it’s gone on?
Francli started in 2013 because Franki Baseley and myself (Ali) wanted to move back to the sea. We were two design graduates interning in London, but deeply missed the Cornish coast and the physical act of making - two things we’d discovered when studying at Falmouth University. We made collections of function-led workwear, tools and accessories for rural-based craftspeople. Inspired by our artistic friends, with everything hand made in house with repurposed materials.
Franki went into teaching in 2015, and I continued the exploration. Embracing British heritage fabrics and leather into the designs and spending the following 7 years on refining my craft skills. Becoming most well known for custom rucksacks and fine leather goods. We’re now a small studio of 3, making limited made-to-order batches and one-off commissions, from canvas and leather rucksack to aprons, bags and accessories for the adventurous people that use them. A lot has evolved in 9 years, and a lot has been learned. But essentially not much has changed; I get to live by the sea and make things with my hands, my two persevering loves.
Your studio is in Cornwall near Falmouth – how does the location and setting interact with your process and products?
Ah everything! The rocks, pathways, dune grass, sand, salt. In both colour and rigour. We want to make things that fit into, and hold up, in this landscape. I’m especially aware of waste and not taking too much, so our process treads as lightly as possible on our surroundings. We don’t create much stock as most items are made to order. They’ve been chosen with purpose, and therefore will hopefully last as long as possible. When we put goods on the shelf, they’re made with salvaged and repurposed materials.
What is it about making something with your hands that you love so much?
I think it’s the flow effect. I’ll get so absorbed in the process, everything else falls away.
You make things to order and often reuse materials – there’s obviously a sustainability element there, but what else do you think it offers to the narrative of the product?
I love to share process insights with our customers. Photos, notes, what we’ve been listening to as we make. Also the element of choice and participation is key with custom projects. I want the space between maker and user to be as close as possible across everything we do. The journey of flat material to finished product, the time that it takes and how much we enjoy doing it. I hope that helps it become more connected and cherished in its life outside the workshop.
There’s definitely an element of practicality that comes through from Francli’s products, as well as a passion for craft – is that what you always wanted for Francli?
Yes, definitely. As a maker, I need the boundaries of a functional brief to work within. What materials are available? How does this contribute to everyday life? I want to make things that can be used for a very long time. I’m less religious about a linear ‘form follows function’ than I used to be. For something to be used, it has to feel right. To be beautiful and inviting. I’ve enjoyed embracing that idea more in recent work.
Will we see a few more products and objects coming out for the studio?
There will be some updates and remakes of past designs quite soon. The Ditty Bag - our sea swimming staple - is making a comeback with a very special leather. Tanned with heritage techniques based on a leather cargo that was salvaged from a 1786 shipwreck on the Devon and Cornwall coast.
The Oddments Collection always leaves the door open for new products and objects. A continuous project to utilise our workshop offcuts and the salvaged materials we’ve collected over the years. It’s a very free design process, depending on the materials available and what’s going on in the workshop at that time. I’d love to keep developing workwear pieces - I’m always getting requests for more dungarees…
Where do you feel most at home?
With my partner James and our dog Dingo
Favourite room in your house?
Go-to song for a morning at home?
Stand on the world, The Joubert Singers
Top country on your bucket list?
Favourite global cuisine?
Japanese (particularly ramen!)