Pure London: AW 20/21 labels to watch
Pure London offers a massive selection of labels from the mass-market to the premium and much in-between. Each season, we pick out our favourites from new (or nearly new) to the show brands.
This time, there was a distinct trend for exhibitors to focus on sustainability-friendly stories such as manufacturing closer to home and creating style that was as far removed from disposable fast-fashion as it could be. And another theme was bravery, as independent designers or more established business took the plunge into wholesale and struck out with bold creative ideas.
SPECIAL OCCASION STYLE
Matthew O’Brien was a first-time exhibitor and summed up the need to be bold. The 29-year-old day-to-occasionwear designer is a rare example of a thriving independent business that’s expanded its retail footprint, taking over a department store-sized space in Chester and including directly-controlled manufacturing on its upper floor.
Part of fashion’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ wave, the self-funded business is now wholesaling for the very first time. The pieces retail from around £60 up to £450, so are well outside of the value sector that is often thought of as what thrives in a tough economy. Has he taken a brave step in such difficult times?
Well, he thinks the offer is “fairly Brexit-proof” given that it’s made in the UK using British-sourced materials. “I know the economy is so uncertain at the moment, but in terms of taking a brave step, I think I've already done that in terms of opening a huge store on the high street,” he told Fashionnetwork.com.
“I think going down the wholesale route now is perfect timing because all these collection pieces are proven. I know the styles and lengths that work. The store’s been a good starting point for developing a wholesale collection and that collection has been refined, as I sit in front of clients all day. These designs all originate from an encounter with a client. It's not as if I'm locking myself in a in a studio and just it dreaming up. All these dresses have been proven on size, 12, 14, 16 and they work well.”
His looks veer towards the formal, but he takes care to ensure that all of his pieces work to smooth out bulges and cover imperfections, with careful placing of details and carefully selected linings all designed to work very hard.
And this seemed to make an impact on stand with a steady stream of visitors, and on the Pure London runway with O’Brien’s section consistently generating the biggest applause.
A complete contrast to this, but also operating, at a mid-market-to-premium price point, was Melbourne, Australia-based Flare Street. And the company had a good story on its hands as well via a print collaboration with Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki.
Flare Street is an interesting brand, and a brave one too, in that it’s made a virtue of a very limited product offer. Essentially it’s all about “flares and bellbottoms”. It's a style you might expect from an Australian brand given that it's almost tailor-made for resortwear, although its customers actually wear it in town as well.
Again, this is another label where manufacturing is kept local, all the products being made in Melbourne. Keeping it local matters to founder Nik Shimmin, along with a wider sustainability focus and reducing waste.
The new Hulanicki link-up resulted from Shimmin taking a bold step and emailing the design icon to ask if she could work with her. And with the answer being yes, it’s allowed her to extend the brand from its bottomweights focus with the introduction of jackets, dresses and tops.
She’s big fan of 1960s and 70s fashion and the decade’s designers and is making the most of the Hulanicki collab, which was her main focus at the show.
It’s built around Hulanicki’s hand-drawn prints that Flare Street then digitised and reproduced in 70s-style colourways, with items retailing at around £120 for the pants and up to £340 for a tailored jacket.
Shimmin, who’s also taking part in London Fashion Week and will be showing in Los Angeles after that, said "the response has been really positive at Pure. A lot of people recognise Barbara's name over here and so that's been really great. We've had a good response to the high quality velvet and organic cotton”.
Another exhibitor who’d travelled a long way was Nashville-based Liz Hodder Studio, again, a newcomer to the show. The textile designer admitted that her offer was probably a bit high-end for the event, but it was undeniably beautiful with a range of wool-silk scarves and kimono dress-jackets in unique stylised floral prints (the latter retail for around $425).
The still-nascent business started when Hodder stopped seeing her work as a side hustle and decided to do it full-time. “It's brave, but life is short,” she explained.
“My price point is high for the show," she said, "but I'm making everything in the States and that's really expensive to do. We don't have the access to resources that you have here. We don't have the infrastructure for textiles like we used to”.
That has helped push prices up, as has her extensive use of silks. But she added: “People here seem to love the work and they don't mind what it's on — it doesn't have to be on silk, it can be on cotton”.
Like the others we spoke to, local manufacturing is important to her and she works with a community in Nashville called Sew For Hope, helping people learn a new skill, as well as Prang apparel, a female-owned independent production house.
She was exploring the possibilities of wholesale at the show and was encouraged, despite the price issue. “To a lot of the younger generation, it matters where it’s made and sourced, the story behind it has value now in a way it never did. And Europe loves craft, they value it more in some ways that the US does,” she said.
Print-focused, but a complete contrast to Hodder’s delicate florals, was Labo Mono, a newcomer not only to the show but to the whole industry. Founded last year by keen cyclist Ali (yes, just Ali), the brand is based on a single jacket that’s designed to be functional while cycling but to also work for everyday life. It features abstract modernist prints in bold and contrasting colours.
“This is my first trade show ever,” he admitted. Having taken the brave step of moving from just being a frustrated consumer to a creator, the web designer came up with ideas, made a prototype, found he was being asked by lots of people where his jacket came from and so launched a Kickstarter campaign to get funding for a production run.
“I took lots of inspiration from hiking jackets and cycling jackets,” he said “but with a visual style that's nothing like technical jackets. I started from the pain points to create a jacket that was functional and versatile. There are more and more casual cyclists, but cyclists brands are really focused on pro cyclists. It's hard to find something if you're not going ‘full techie’.”
So what exactly is different about his jackets? “For example on this one I've got sleeve pockets that are also very handy for your Oyster card, or your keys,” he said. “It’s the little things embedded in your everyday life in the city. And the prints make it different. I’ve been collaborating with artists on them”.
Sustainability is important too. “It doesn't take much to just think about how you can swap one material for another to be more sustainable.” He explained. “You can make a big difference”. For him, that meant a long process and trips to PV to track down recycled polyester and other sustainable materials.
Another designer who feels sustainability is important is one who’s a clothing sector veteran and who’s been promoting sustainability for years, a brave move at a time when few were interested. Phil Wildbore of ethical denim label United Change Makers (UCM) was showing at Pure in partnership with Basque Country-based SKFK and also had an interesting story to tell.
Wildbore, who was the man behind Monkee Genes several years ago, was showing a brand new sustainable denim range that had only been unveiled for the first time at Neonyt in Berlin last month.
Of his previous incarnation with Monkee he said “as far as I know that was one of the first jeans companies to have GOTS certification. Ethics are just part of my DNA I couldn't work any other way, it's not something that I've just entered because it's front-page news at the moment”.
The new UCM offer is all, of course, GOTS certified and his sustainability focus means he’s also been “helping Pure form an ethical section”. With around 30 companies, it’s well behind Neonyt’s roughly 170, “but it's a bigger ethical market in Germany. The UK is getting there”.
So what’s different about the UCM line? “The idea is not to offer such a vast amount, to basically hone it,” he explained. “On the women's side I have a dungaree, a wide skater, a high-waisted skinny and a boyfriend fit. I've honed every one of those fits so I'm very confident that if you’re a shop in, say, Exeter, if you've got those four lines, there’s not much more that you'll need. Jeans shouldn't have to be reinvented every 12 months. This idea of having a vast amount of gear isn't sustainable and it’s not sustainable for the shops either”.
And he feels the line is important in helping under-pressure independent stores offer something that can’t be found in big chains. “We’re trying to work with the indies so they have a brand they can trust and one that isn't going to be discounted online,” he said.
The women’s jeans retail for around £70, but the men's reach over £100 due to features such as the hemp mix in the fabric.
And how have buyers reacted? “The response has been wicked,” he said, adding that they also love the very different (and equally sustainable) SFSK. That’s a womenswear collection in delicious autumnal tones with a strong selection of outerwear and some unique prints.
“This is proper design, you won't see anything like this and the prints are spectacular,” he enthused. “It’s had a huge reaction from independent customers. We cherry pick fabrics and we put that with decent design. For me, design is like cooking if you start off with really good ingredients you'll get a decent meal!”
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