A couple of months ago, I popped over to Vilnius in Lithuania for a long weekend. While I expected to find a lot of cute cafes and stark Soviet architecture, I did not expect to discover a thriving fashion community! My itinerary simply involved cafe hopping but I ended up indulging in a lot of retail therapy in between trying to hunt down the city’s best honey cake, which was even better IMO.
I was really impressed by the boutiques and independent designers I discovered and resolved to squeeze a Lithuanian designer’s piece into my carry-on back to London. When I spied this asymmetric coat at Shyzuka Studio, I knew I had found *it*. The pop of pink print really elevated the design and both the think, heavy fabric and craftsmanship were incredible.
I try to support independent designers as much as possible, particularly emerging British designers. I wanted to share three compelling reasons to support independent designers and highlight the ethical implications of buying from smaller brands:
1. Supporting an individual
I may be stating the obvious here but the fashion industry is extremely competitive. It’s nearly sickening. And it’s incredibly hard to “make it”. I’ve been attending London Fashion Week for nearly a decade and I’ve sadly lost count of the amount of incredibly talented designers who have come and gone.
It breaks my heart to support brands like Kinder Aggugini, Sibling or Meadham Kirchoff for seasons only for their name to no longer appear on any of the schedules. In the case of Meadham Kirchoff, the brand was much loved in the fashion industry and was the recipient of several sponsorships including NEWGEN, Fashion East and Fashion Forward as well as working on collections for Topshop and winning an award at the British Fashion Awards. This still didn’t stop the design duo from closing their label, in a “quagmire of debt”.
Buying one piece from an independent designer makes a much larger impact than say buying a piece from a high street retailer. In the last year, I’ve discovered two independent designers that I love, Mebuar and Olivia Rose, and either had lengthy IG chats with both designers who are so grateful for the support. Jen from Mebuar even wrote me a lovely handwritten note with my last order.
2. Supporting the fashion community
When you support an emerging designer, you’re actually supporting an entire ecosystem within the industry. From machinists and pattern cutters to photographers and brand managers, it really does take a village to bring a designer’s vision together and communicate it to the world. When you buy from an independent designer, the entire community benefits.
Most emerging British designers are situated in studio spaces dotted around East London. Roksanda, Lou Dalton, Jonathan Saunders all made their start from a studio space in Hackney and there is a significant investment by University of the Arts in creating a fashion district in East London. This not only benefits the designers and the fashion industry but also the local economy.
3. It’s often more ethical/sustainable
Did you know that the fashion industry is the second biggest polluter globally after the oil industry? From water consumption/pollution and rainforest destruction to increasing waste and carbon emissions, the industry is playing a huge part in the destruction of our planet. One of the ways in which you can help the planet is by buying from smaller designers.
Most of the independent designers I know don’t mass produce their collections and quite a few brands offer made-to-order pieces – Matthew Williamson actually shifted to this business model a couple of years ago. This way of operating is much more sustainable than high street stores, who mass produce their collections either seasonally or on a monthly basis.
There is also an increased level of transparency when buying from independent brands. I know Olivia, founder of Olivia Rose, buys a certain amount of each fabric to produce her collection (which is also made to order). She handmakes each piece herself so there is no wastage. The priorities are original designs and high-quality pieces, I can attest to the beautiful quality of her clothing.
For larger brands, the priority is slightly different. It’s all about margins and profit – what can they do as a business to increase margins and therefore increase profit. Often, this means cutting down the cost of production as much as possible by using large industrial factories. The majority of these factories are in China, followed by Bangladesh, Vietnam and India.
There are an estimated 40 million garment workers globally and the majority work in awful conditions for little pay. In fact, they are among the lowest paid workers in the world, the minimum wage in Bangladesh went up to $95 A MONTH last year – this is the true cost of buying fast fashion.
Not all independent brands handmake their clothing but they often rely on small, family-owned cooperatives or factories for their production. A couple of years ago, I visited a Portuguese factory which produced footwear for luxury brands and was really impressed with the working conditions, hours and overall quality of the workplace. Smaller factories balance fair-trade practices with quality craftsmanship.
So there you have it, a little insight into the fashion industry and why it’s important to support emerging designers. I hope that the one takeaway from this post is the impact that the fashion industry has on the environment and the need to support smaller brands with more ethical, sustainable practices. I shared some of my favourite emerging designers I discovered on Instagram in a previous post and will continue to share my newest finds. I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below!
Photography by Kylie Eyra.