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Refinery 29 UK

Forget Fashion Week – The Coolest Brands Are Now Outside London

When London’s famously fast-paced fashion scene hurtled to an abrupt halt during the UK’s first stay-at-home order last March, questions about its future gripped the increasingly quiet capital. Now, as the city inches its way through a third debilitating lockdown following a year of shuttered retail behemoths (RIP Topshop and Debenhams), post-Brexit immigration restrictions and exclusively digital event programming, London’s spotlight seems dimmer this season as another online-only Fashion Week begins. The urban canvas upon which stylists, designers, models and photographers from across the world would usually present their brightest and boldest ideas has been confined to cyberspace and so, too, its shoppers and acolytes. But out of this darkness sprout new opportunities suggesting a more considered, connected and inclusive future as independent labels emerge from London’s sartorial shadow. London has always been at the centre of the global style landscape — a vibrant destination which funnels burgeoning talent and extraordinary design into the industry at large, pumping inspiration and innovation through the veins of its international body. This is where, in recent years, names like Molly Goddard, Grace Wales Bonner and Martine Rose were uttered with bated breath long before they appeared in the pages of top glossies; where a once-bustling high street culture dictated how and where people spent their time and money. Now, with consumers transported from the streets to their screens, the potential for discovery has expanded, resulting in a strong desire to shop and support smaller businesses as the pandemic rages. Enter: a covetable roster of indie brands from Leeds to Manchester to Exeter and beyond — all of which can be accessed any time, anywhere, in a matter of clicks. As the British style scene becomes decentralised, it’s also slowing down, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. An increase in sustainable shopping habits points to a post-pandemic retail model driven not by product but by purpose and small brands, whose nimble business models are environmentally conscious by nature, are well positioned to adapt. For Emma Brewin, whose faux fur hats were most recently spotted on the head of one Gigi Hadid in Vogue, the goal isn’t just to start small, it’s to stay small. “I always want to keep the business small enough to operate in a way that is sustainable and kinder to the planet,” she says. This vision is what unites so many of the regional brands attracting nationwide customers like digital magnets. Plus, the lower rents and cost of living supported by the ability to reach new audiences online allows for more physical and mental space to create. “Finding a studio with low rent has been a major blessing to my business, allowing me to start small and not rack up any debt. It’s given me the space and time to be creative, and not to take such huge leaps right from the outset,” says Deva O’Neill, founder of the made-to-order clothing brand Phaedra. “Selling online has also been a major factor in my freedom – I can sew from anywhere and still be part of the slow fashion community. I have a lot to thank Instagram for!” London will always be synonymous with boundary-breaking style but the industry’s pandemic-induced change of pace offers a glimpse of what fashion could be: a world in which creativity and community thrive beyond city limits without putting the planet at risk. Ahead, discover seven independent brands which are a gateway to this new and friendly frontier. S. Joon, LeedsThe story: S. Joon was established in 2017 on what founder Sahar Asvandi describes as a “buy well, buy less” philosophy. Having trained and earned a degree in contemporary dance, Asvandi worked as a teacher and choreographer, beginning the brand as a way to supplement her income. After selling vintage and designer accessories online and recognising a demand for saddlebags in particular, she founded S. Joon as a high quality brand centred around craftsmanship. The aesthetic: Inspired by a love of vintage handbags, the designs combine sculptural shapes with contemporary details to create classic yet distinctive pieces. Asvandi’s love of dance continues to guide her design approach and influences, which take in shapes, movement and the human body.Price point: £139 to £585Local tips: Saltaire is a World Heritage Site and home to Salts Mill, which houses plenty of Bradford-born David Hockney originals and a beautiful bookshop for hours of Sunday browsing. Leeds also has a wonderful independent food scene; Asvandi’s personal favourites include Bundobust for vegetarian Indian street food and Doh’hut for the best doughnut in town. Head out of the city to the Yorkshire Dales, recently voted Europe’s best national park.Sancho’s, ExeterThe story: Sancho’s is a sustainable and ethical fashion and lifestyle marketplace which began as a pop-up shop organised by Kalkidan Legesse and Vidmantas Markevicius after they graduated from university in 2014. “Our goal then was to connect customers to the makers who produced their clothes to tell the story about who made their clothes in the hopes that it would begin to shift attitudes towards slow fashion,” Legesse explains. The aesthetic: The Sancho’s aesthetic — well made and casual with minimalist details — is inspired by the famous William Morris quote urging people to own only what is beautiful or useful. The store’s thoughtful clothing curation does both, offering long-lasting pieces which cater to each customer’s sense of self and comfort. Legesse and Markevicius believe that ethical fashion is for all bodies and budgets so they prioritise affordable brands and inclusive sizing.Price point: Most garments are less than £100 and Sancho’s offers a transparent pay-what-you-can model, rendering even their higher end ethical pieces more accessible. Local tips: Last year the pair took a trip out to Saunton Sands, the perfect beach for beginner surfers, kite flyers and dog walkers. But you don’t have to go far to discover the range of small businesses on the same street as Sancho’s itself, including the micro-roaster Crankhouse Coffee, vegan barber shop The Roots Foundation and Bookbag, a quaint independent bookstore.ROOP, ManchesterThe story: Founder Natasha Fernandes Anjo’s furoshiki bags are inspired by traditional Japanese wrapping cloth used to transport clothes, gifts or other goods. Each design features four knots and a signature scrunchie strap giving them a bit of a bounce, and is created using vintage, leftover, damaged or deadstock fabrics.The aesthetic: Anjo hand-makes all orders in the UK and aims to keep her brand green, from product to packaging. Due to the nature of the brand, many pieces are one of a kind or limited editions because of the offcut fabrics sourced from factory seconds, stores like Abakhan, eBay, charity shops and beyond. Price point: £75 and up Local tips: For coffee, Anjo loves Siop Shop (and its Instagram account!). For food, she’s obsessed with Bundobust (yes, the same spot that’s S.Joon-approved) and stops by whenever she’s in the city centre for its gluten-free and vegan options. Anjo’s favourite local spots include the National Trust’s Dunham Massey for “a beaut walk” and PLY
for a Ply Spritz. Her studio is in Stockport next to Pear Mill, which she says has a huge vintage emporium that you can get lost in for hours.Olivia Rose The Label, EdinburghThe story: Founder Olivia Rose Havelock says that her grandmother was her biggest inspiration growing up: “She was the most stylish person I ever knew and was always sewing!” She taught Havelock how to sew when she was young, and the designer says she hasn’t stopped sewing and dressing up since. Launching her own brand was a natural next step in turning her passions into a profession. The aesthetic: Olivia Rose The Label is for women who love to play dress-up. It’s romantic and ethereal with a hint of attitude. Price point: £150 to £350Local tips: Havelock loves walks to Arthur’s Seat (a now-extinct volcano with excellent views of the city) and Edinburgh’s local bakeries like Twelve Triangles. Her favourite restaurant is Maki & Ramen. Emma Brewin, KentThe story: Emma Brewin’s namesake label was founded in 2014 when she started making coats and hats while working out of an old pig barn she rented from friends. Last year Brewin was able to purchase her own studio and now every hat is handmade from start to finish from within its walls in Deal, Kent. Brewin employs women locally, all of whom are paid a living wage, and she operates with the intention of staying small enough so that her business is sustainable and kinder on the planet.The aesthetic: Brewin has one word for this: sexy.Price point: £320 to £475 Local tips: Brewin recommends Deal Saturday Market for beautiful wine, bread, antiques, meat, cheese, cakes and flowers. She also suggests having a swim in the sea, no matter what time of year it is. “You might not thank me when you’re in, but you will when you’re out,” she says. Next, find The Ship Inn to relax for a few hours with a Guinness.The Ottowin Shop, BristolThe story: When partners Lucy Lloyd and Ollie Cross designed their first footwear collection in 2016, Ottowin was born: a made-to-order shoe label which has evolved into a full-on shop featuring the pair’s handmade designs along with home goods and apparel from other local artisans. They produce fewer than 200 pairs a year, with a six-week minimum lead time for footwear orders in an effort to encourage customers to slow down and embrace the craftsmanship behind each product. The shop is also home to Ottowin’s open-plan shoemaking studio so customers can see for themselves what small-scale craftsmanship and mindful production looks like. The aesthetic: Natural fibres, earthy yet bold colourways and an extraordinary attention to detail is consistent across Ottowin’s entire offering, from the label’s timeless footwear made in house to its considered curation of garments and homeware. Price point: £150 to £320Local tips: The Ottowin Shop is located on Gloucester Road, which Cross describes as one of the longest independent shopping streets in the UK with a vibrant scene and supportive locals. For brunch and baked treats, Cross and Lloyd go to Fed 303 (the cinnamon buns are “insanely good”, they promise). For bread and coffee, Bakers & Co is just a stone’s throw away from the shop, and for a great meal and wine, Marmo in the city centre is “a must”. Phaedra, NorwichThe story: Founder Deva O’Neill has always been interested in fashion as a form of self-expression, though her earliest motivation for making clothes came from never being able to find garments that suited her tall frame. “I constantly scoured charity shops in the hope of finding simpler dresses, with a really specific idea of what I wanted to wear – simple, beautiful, timeless garments,” she says. “Then I had a lightbulb moment and realised I could just try and make my own.” Since inception, Phaedra has been about turning away from mass-market consumption towards sustainable, transparent and ethical practices. “I feel that questioning the status quo is a radical act, and on the back of this comes a more careful approach to shopping,” O’Neill adds. The aesthetic: Phaedra is designed with elegance and ease of movement in mind, striking a balance between form and function rooted in a natural, muted, humble and considered simplicity. O’Neill started the label when she was living rurally in Cornwall and the colour scheme and design she implements in her work today are largely influenced by the sea and its coastline. Price point: All garments are made to order with a variety of customisation possibilities. Tops from £60 to £80, dresses from £110 to £130, workwear and jackets from £130 to £150.Local tips: Just a few minutes away from O’Neill’s studio is St Benedicts Street, where she says you can find great charity shops, art supplies and centres, eateries like The Bicycle Shop, and Little Shop of Vegans, her go-to spot for local groceries. In the city centre, O’Neill shares that the Riverside Walk is beautiful all year round. The water meanders right through the best parts of the medieval city, starting at the cathedral and ending up at The Adam and Eve, Norwich’s oldest pub.Like what you see? 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