Collaboration isn’t always easy. Add a long, deep-rooted personal history into the mix of two creative minds and things can get truly messy. That couldn’t be further from the truth for the Raeburn brothers, Graeme, and younger sibling, Christopher. They have a rare knack of balancing their family and work life, using their familial connection as a strength and support that is pretty unique in their industry.
Both graduates of the Royal College of Art, and trained in art and fashion design, Graeme went on to work as a lead designer at cycle clothing company Rapha – the initial connection to the brand was made by Christopher, while the brothers were still sharing a studio space in East London. At Rapha, Graeme been at the forefront of the brand’s growth. Christopher, meanwhile, set up his own studio, making his mark with his repurposed materials, in particular, the now-iconic outerwear he crafted from decommissioned parachutes. This approach, and aesthetic, has remained a core part of his designs ever since: collections are underpinned by functional fabrics that have been luxuriously repurposed.
Their first collaboration was a Rapha x RÆBURN collection, put out in 2013, where they got a feel for working together. As the brothers embark on an exciting new phase in their collaborative practice, FOLD caught up with them, to talk about growing up together in their respective fields, the pros and cons of working with family, and why they’re both so passionate about making designs that are responsible.
What it was like growing up together, and how do you think your upbringing lead you both to choose a creative path?
Graeme Raeburn: We grew up in a small village called Markbeech, in Kent. It was four miles to the nearest shop so you really had to make your own fun. Our parents always encouraged us to design, make and build things.
Christopher Raeburn: I grew up as the youngest of three brothers, and it was fantastic having siblings I could look up to. Our oldest brother, Stuart, has always been business-minded, while Graeme has remained thoughtful and creative, which meant I was able to draw from their different experiences as I formed my own.
How and when did you decide to start working together?
GR: There has never been a particular moment in time. We grew up, studied and worked together, therefore it has always been a constant.
CR: The process of working together has been a natural one. We went through the same educational journeys, this being right through from secondary school, art college (at KIAD) then on to Middlesex University — and finally the RCA. Although Graeme was three years ahead of me, we were always able to support each other throughout this journey and are still generally good at asking each other for help if we do need it.
Being siblings – were you ever worried about working together?
GR: I’ve never been worried about working together and when it comes to balancing family and work life, it feels blurred into one as we are often within each other’s spaces.
CR: From my perspective, there naturally is a concern about working with siblings. There have been stressful moments along the way, however, what we have managed to do quite successfully is to assign one another as a project manager for different bodies of work to manage various projects. Graeme is able to work on performance-driven pieces that focus on form and functionality, while I can push on the creative side.
Does your personal relationship play into your work, do you second guess each other in a sense?
GR: As brothers, we know and recognise each other’s strengths and by collaborating together we are able to harness our skill sets to essentially enhance our work. We can take on areas of work that maybe the other needs support with and use our qualities to complement each other.
What do you each think those strengths, and weaknesses, are?
CR: The exciting thing is, I still don’t think we know exactly what we want to do. We are not fashion designers in the conventional sense, and while RÆBURN is always evolving, our roles within the business are adapting. In terms of strengths and weaknesses, it’s about finding the balance between us and knowing that our skills can combine. Graeme’s experience with Rapha, being such a brand full of purpose, means he can bring the blend of fashion and functionality together, which is an exciting next step for the business.
GR: I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do, however, the convergence of two areas of expertise is really exciting. I would not necessarily say weaknesses, but more of an emphasis on our collaborative skill sets that are coming together now.
How does it usually work when you collaborate?
GR: I think it begins by considering Chris’s overall vision, from which I can concentrate on how this vision can then be interpreted and executed to enhance our work.
Is there a collaboration you’re particularly proud of?
CR: The most visible collaboration that we have done has been the work of Rapha x RÆBURN, however, I would say the most exciting collaboration is the one we are about to embark on. I believe it’s always about the next step, so I do really hope our most successful collaboration is the one ahead of us.
Can you each tell me a little more about what you’re working on now?
CR: I’ve recently been appointed as Global Creative Director for Timberland, which is a big step and great opportunity not only for me, but for the company in really driving creativity on a global scale. This is also allowing us to develop the retail side of RÆBURN, so it’s a really exciting moment overall. I have been in China, travelling between Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, visiting markets to really understand the opportunity here.
GR: I’m currently working on RÆBURN AW19 which we will show in January. As we approach the brand’s 10-year anniversary, it’s a great opportunity to enhance an already fantastic ethos at RÆBURN. I’m also working at the Royal College of Art, where I tutor on a platform called ‘Sports As Identity’, which allows me to share knowledge on an educational level.
When ideas are stuck, where do you each go for inspiration?
GR: Walking and cycling is a real passion of mine and I have found that this has always been a good source of personal inspiration and a tool to refine and reflect on my ideas.
CR: The truth is, over the past ten years, inspiration has come from a really broad range of places. This could be anything from a physical object such as a life raft which then forms a collection that grows around this item, through to a flea market in New York or an antique store in Tokyo. What I find, being a creative, is that I am interested in everything and inspiration can be found everywhere.
What excites you about the world now?
CR: It is a brilliant moment for the industry, as we are becoming ever closer to closing the loop. The innovation that is happening around responsible design is ground-breaking, so to now be operating the business in the way we do, where we are specifically trying to push innovation forward in a modern way, is really exciting. We’re really proud not only to be challenging ourselves but also the industry as a whole on moving things forward.
GR: Also, seeing the industry on the cusp of being changed radically, as we have to be accountable for the way we make, produce, sell and dispose of apparel. There are really interesting materials and programs which will totally affect the way we are consuming — and to be at the centre of this is very exciting.
Portraits by Ben Broomfield