Leodis Forum — 4

The Business of Fashion

Our fourth edition of the Leodis forum focused on independent fashion and we were proud to welcome a broad cross section of established local, independent companies such as Accent Clothing as well as new, start up brands such as Tomato T-Shirts and Humble Kind Clothing. Our hosts for the evening; Lamberts Yard proved a perfect venue for our brands to showcase, discuss and network.

It was Fezan Mazhar, the owner and founder of Humble Kind Clothing, who got the evening’s talks started, discussing his desire to create something that he could look back on with pride and be able to say ‘I created this’. He is well on his way to achieving this goal with his current collection now being stocked in Accent Clothing, and at such a young age (he is just about to turn 18), it is incredibly impressive and inspiring to see the passion and drive of Fezan paying off. He also spoke of his newest collection of custom printed shirts which will be stocked in Accent once released, although he remained tight-lipped on the details, his excitement was palpable and exemplified to the audience just how motivated, dedicated and committed this young entrepreneur really is.

The theme of young entrepreneurialism was continued when Tom Chadwick took to the floor. He explained that his brand Tomato T-Shirts was based around the concept of sustainability. This was part of the reason why he chose to use bamboo blended cotton as the base material for his clothing. Explaining the many benefits of the material, including anti-bacterial properties, absorbency and ‘hypoallergenic' nature (making it a great choice for those with sensitive skin), it was clear that Tom has a deep understanding and belief in the path he is taking with his business.

Tom also talked us through one his unique packaging for his shirts: taking a second hand vinyl sleeve and hand-paining his own designs onto them bringing a unique selling point to the brand that surprises and delights his customers as well as reinforcing the sustainability ideology behind his brand through bringing in a creative, up-cycling element to his work.

“I want create clothing that not only looks and feels amazing but also isn’t damaging to the environment.”

Hannah Beaumont-Laurencia (Beaumont Organic)

Hannah Beaumont-Laurencia continued the theme of sustainability, taking to the stage to showcase her own ethical brand Beaumont Organic. Choosing not to talk about the benefits of organic cotton itself on the basis that “we would be here all night!” Hannah instead focussed on her wider vision - “I want create clothing that not only looks and feels amazing but also isn’t damaging to the environment.” With deserved pride, Hannah told the audience that all fabrics used in her clothing are sourced from the UK and the EU which allows her to be able to trace production of the fabrics from end to end and ensure that nothing environment-harmful was carried out in bringing the fabrics and her clothing to fruition.

With each of these brands and their respective owners, it was stunning to witness the passion and skill that is invested in what they do. The work they exhibited during the evening was not only high-quality and unique in their own ways, but it was inspiring and encouraging to know that these beautiful end products have been built on foundations that strive for high ethical standards.

“I’ve met so many amazing people in this industry in Leeds and I believe in this city.”

Bo Carter

Brita Hirsch, owner of Hirsch Tailoring, was another fine example of a passionate entrepreneur: an incredibly talented bespoke tailor who delivered an impassioned talk on her belief in clothing that is 'handmade' over clothing which is 'manufactured'. Brita is clearly someone with her ideology rooted in the tradition whereby creating a product is as much about the value of the time invested in the process of creation as it is the product itself.

For Brita, the time invested in creating a tailored item of clothing is as valuable as the product that time is invested in. The dedication, care and attention given to a garment is valuable in itself and the work that goes in to this was on display as Brita had brought along a part-made suit jacket that she was currently working on; clearly displaying the layers of material that build up the jacket and the intricate stitching and shaping of each panel of fabric that exhibited the true level of skill and craftsmanship that goes into each piece that Brita creates.

Accompanying Hirsch Tailoring in the handmade tradition was multi-award winning fashion designer Bo Carter, exhibiting her exquisite line of bowties and pocket squares; part of her latest Spring/Summer collection.

Bo arrived in Leeds from Poland over a decade ago and quickly made waves in the fashion community after entering Leeds Fashion Show. Since then, she has gone on to showcase her collections around the globe and has picked up a host of awards for her work, including her most recent accolade as ‘Most Talented New Designer’ bestowed by PETA’s Vegan Fashion Awards; a title also held by the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney.

Speaking at the forum, Bo began by explaining that “I care about ethics and that’s the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing” referring to her approach to both design and manufacturing. By choosing materials that cause no harm to the environment or animals, carefully sourcing her materials and designing in such a way as to minimise waste, Bo doesn't just believe in an ethical approach to fashion, she is helping to lead the way in making it a reality.

She then moved on to her strong feelings towards the city she has lived in for so many years: Leeds. “I’ve met so many amazing people in this industry in Leeds and I believe in this city.” Bo focussed on her desire to breathe new life into the local independent fashion community. Noting the recent surge in popularity that independent food and drink has seen, Bo attributes this to a strong culture of community and a strength-in-numbers mentality, firmly believing that the future success of independents operating in the fashion industry lies in this collaborative model.

This idea of collaboration and networking was also central to the talk that Director of Bridge & Stitch, Rachael Hobbs delivered. Her company provides clothing companies with the experience and professional network of Rachael and her colleagues, helping them to source manufacturers, and services such as printing and embroidery within the UK which can prove elusive to companies that are new to the market. From being able to provide design development right through to sourcing fabrics, all aspects of the supply chain can be supported with a professional and experienced eye such as Rachael’s.

Talking about one her customers, she recalled being contacted by Chris Dobbing who moved to Beijing and due to the level of pollution that was prevalent at the time decided that he wanted to set up his own company producing face masks. He quickly found that he was unable to find a product that lived up to the standard he was looking for and so reached out to Bridge & Stitch to help him source a UK manufacturer. Rachael concluded the story by proudly telling the audience that this British-made product is now being exported and sold in China, which was received with warm applause.

“Independents can make stuff happen, without the constraints that you might have at a larger company.”

Grace Wood (Accent Clothing)

Paul Luke also took to the stage to discuss the concepts of connections and networking, but from a very different point of view. As well as an active poet and illustrator, Paul is a Leeds College of Art lecturer within the Fashion faculty and his experience within the education sector brought him to talk about his desire to bridge the gap between industry and education. He spoke fondly of the countless students that he has tutored throughout his career, and pointing to a few that were in the audience during the evening; the talent, skill and passion that he has witnessed is something that he is both stunned by and proud of. The central issue for Paul is that once these talented young people leave education, there is currently not enough out there in the world of work for them to grasp and exercise the creative muscles they’ve honed during their time at university.

As well as Paul, who has worked in the industry in the past was an illustrator, we also had a current PR professional operating in the fashion industry in the form of Sharon Brigden who offered tips and tactics to budding entrepreneurs to help them identify and target the right market for their clothes. Her advice hinged on understanding who one might want to see wearing their clothing and getting in to the mind of the people they want to target.

Sharon was followed by Grace Wood, Marketing Manager for local, family-run clothing retailer Accent Clothing. Grace discussed her love of the music industry, having worked with the likes of The Arctic Monkeys in past jobs, and how she is trying to bring what she knows and translate it over to an independent - “Independents can make stuff happen, without the constraints that you might have at a larger company.” This is exactly what she has been doing by successfully bringing smaller independent labels like Tomoto and Humble Kind Clothing on board at Accent.

Grace also talked about her pride in working for a company like Accent that defied the financial trends over the past decade by achieving growth while much larger companies have dwindled in the recession and even closed their doors completely.

Following on from Grace was Laura Bartlett who is the Chief Editor at House of Coco, an online and printed fashion publication that aim to inspire readers to explore fashion, beauty, art and travel and push the limits in the name of adventure. Laura discussed her experience on BBC’s Dragon’s Den, where she had just three minutes to pitch her idea of taking the online fashion magazine, Urban Coco, that gained a lot of interest across the world, into a printed format so it could reach the wider audience. Unfortunately, none of the five multi-millionaires invested, and as the magazine stumbled, she still retained her determination, passion and desire for a successful business venture and soon relaunched as House of Coco to include travel, art and lifestyle and today the business has blossomed into having over 30 writers, all of whom travel the world.

Bringing along a copy of the printed magazine herself, she said the magazine is stocked in department stores across the country. Laura finished on a high note, telling us how the tables were soon turned on the dragons as one of the them contacted her asking to be included and Laura simply said “I’m out!” LB