The owner and managing director of technical clothing company John Field talks about her love of shooting, stalking and the wilds of Scotland.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Belgium in the countryside near Bruges. I went to boarding school near Waterloo, and then studied business for three years at an American university in Brussels. After graduating, I spent six months backpacking on my own around South America, before moving to London to do a masters degree in fashion entrepreneurship at the University of the Arts. That was followed by an internship with the group that owns Cotswold Outdoors and sister company AS Adventure in Belgium, before returning to Belgium to work for our family company (The Seyntex Group, manufacturers specialising in fabrics, garments, sleeping systems and equipment for the military), before relaunching John Field in 2011.
How did you get involved with John Field?
My family bought John Field – which was originally an equestrian clothing company – from a Brussels businessman in 1968 as my father and uncle were both professional showjumpers and wanted to create a range of highly technical riding clothing of their own. They launched their range in 1970, but, over time, the company diversified and moved into the fishing, shooting and outdoor market.
In 2011, I was tasked with relaunching the brand with specific goals: to create highly technical garments; to retain the elegance of traditional fieldsports clothing; and to offer high quality at value for money prices.
What does your role entail?
As managing director, my role is obviously quite diverse. My main role, however, is in researching and designing new products, as well as improving existing ones based on feedback from customers and those who field test our clothes. But of course my role varies from season to season. From September through to December I create the new collection, and then in the spring I will primarily focus on our marketing strategy for the year, updating our catalogues and gearing up for the show season in Europe. Once the shows are out of the way, I launch production and update the website with the new products. During the summer, I focus on implementing our marketing strategy whilst also trying to meet up with as many clients as possible.
Are your products influenced by your own experiences in the field?
Yes, absolutely. I use all the garments myself and so do my family. Some of my cousins do more stalking than I do, for example, so they will test our products in different environments like Turkey and Croatia, and they provide me with their feedback.
So how did you get into country sports?
I grew up in the countryside and have always enjoyed spending time outdoors, especially with my dogs – I am a huge dog fan; we have always had Jack Russells, springer spaniels and labradors – but all of my family shoot, stalk and hunt (my father is a master of a drag hunt in Belgium and my brother Arthur often hunts with the Vale of the White Horse in the UK), so I have been exposed to country sports from a very young age.
I guess it’s in my blood.
Can you remember your first live quarry?
Absolutely. My father has shot and stalked in the UK for many years, so my first live quarry was actually a pheasant on a driven shoot in the south of England. I would have been about 12 years old. I also shot my first ever stag in the UK, on an estate near Wick in the north of Scotland. We were staying in a remote cottage and going out for the whole day, so it was quite physically challenging. It was a very exciting trip, though, with hours on the hill in the most amazing surroundings. I remember the stalk in, the adrenaline, being in awe of the landscape; it really was a magical experience and it’s something that is hard to convey to non-shooters. I also did some grouse shooting on that trip; I particularly enjoyed watching the pointers work. That trip really started my love of shooting and stalking in Scotland and we go every year now.
What is it about Scotland that you love?
It’s a combination of many things. The stunning and diverse scenery, the whole experience of being out with the ghillie, and being away from everything else and the pressures of life. Last year we went to Scotland as a family for my father’s 70th birthday, which was wonderful. Unfortunately neither of us got a stag, but it was a fabulous trip to a tough and rugged landscape with traditional ponies and many hours of walking. We would get to the top of one mountain and the ghillie would say “there are only four more to go!”, so it was very hard work but immensely rewarding.
What rifles and shotguns do you use?
I am very lucky to have a beautiful pair of Arrieta 20 bore side-by-side shotguns which were given to me by my father; they are very special to me as well as very nice to shoot. As I do most of my stalking in the UK, I tend to use the estate rifle.
Are you a competitive Shot?
No, I’m not. But, like anyone who takes their shooting seriously, I get very frustrated when I don’t shoot well, particularly at the beginning of the season when I’m perhaps a bit rusty. I wouldn’t say that I am a brilliant Shot, but I do like to shoot to a reasonable standard.
What is it about shooting and stalking that you so enjoy?
For me, stalking is all about the scenery, the solitude; I can never get enough of that. And I guess, the adrenaline and sense of achievement you get from having to work really hard for your quarry is also a part of it. With driven shooting, it is more about the challenge, the atmosphere, ambience and camaraderie, and sharing the experience with friends. And although stalking is largely solitary in nature, sharing the experiences in the evening is also special.
What about fishing?
I have done a little bit – I tried for a salmon on the Spey at Tulchan as part of a Macnab once, and I have caught some trout – but I would definitely like to do more.