The Margate-based small business owner on keeping things local, squashing fast fashion and creating a sustainable brand
From fashion student to full-time small business owner and designer, Elizabeth Whibley makes clothes that are bright, bold, kitsch and feel-good. Whilst there are lots of unique elements that make up the elizabeth whibley brand, the made-to-order all-inclusive sizing and anti-fast fashion approach are some of the most noteworthy! We sat down with Elizabeth to discuss the messed-up nature of the fashion industry, and how individuals are paving the way to change the game.
Please intro yourself and your practice
I'm Elizabeth Whibley (she/her). I am the director and designer of the slow fashion company elizabeth whibley. My brand focuses on feel-fabulous feminine wear that is size-inclusive, ethical and environmentally responsible, and ooze kitsch, in a confident and playful style!
How would you describe your clothes in a few words?
I prioritise secondhand, vintage and small business items in a style mix of cute, retro and really bold clothing that are easily interchangeable and easy to match and bold to clash!
How did you get into fashion? Was it something that you always thought you would pursue as a career?
I studied a degree in fashion textile print and an MA in Fashion Design, focusing on sustainable and slow fashion practices. As a child, I was interested in fancy dress, styling, clothing, and dressing up, whether for myself or my toys. I've loved the typical brights and pastels colour palettes found in girlhood and am inspired by different textures and layering, I have always loved sewing, making, drawing - being generally crafty and creating was a huge part of my childhood and I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to nurture that into my career. I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was younger but it was always my ‘pretend dream job’ that I didn't know was somewhat realistic until I started studying at university and then started interning at other small brands and I got a real drive to have my own brand and business.
You’re based in Margate at the moment, does the creative community there add to your own inspiration?
I am very lucky actually, I think my brain is wired up to be inspired by everything and everywhere I go - I can always find inspiration and creativity even in the most mundane. I am so happy to be living in Margate, and I have my studio in Margate, Cliftonville, and as I say this, it marks one year since I moved here! I have never been happier. I love the local community, I felt at home here before I even moved here as I was a regular visitor and became friends with shop owners and stylists and creatives down here. I know there are still so many people to meet here yet, which is very exciting! I have immensely enjoyed my year here and it’s all been pandemic, so I look forward to more freedom and social opportunities soon hopefully!
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
I do love the designing part the most, but unfortunately, this is probably where the least of my time goes at the moment as running a business takes so much energy and many different roles, especially as it is such a small brand. I also really love the styling part, as having the garments I have designed physically in front of me to touch and wear is rewarding. I love bringing my imaginative vision to fruition. It makes me really happy when I see and hear about customers enjoying the items I have designed too. It's heartwarming as I am so passionate about my brand’s identity and impact on people.
Sustainability is a really important topic for you and your brand. How do you go about consciously completing a garment from the idea through to the finish?
elizabeth whibley is a slow fashion brand which means I run only three collections per year, so approx every four months. I think if I listed all of my more eco-conscious practices I would be here all day, so I will highlight a few: all items are made to order, meaning they are created for the individual, avoiding wasted fabric and resources. Everything is printed in London or Kent, many of my fabrics are woven or sourced in the UK too. The air miles for my brand are low, everything is designed, toiled, cut, sewn and packaged here in lovely Margate.
As well as printing locally, I also source as many of my trimmings and fastenings from local small businesses, and where possible source vintage and deadstock fabrics too! This is partly for their aesthetic but also for their lessened impact on the environment. None of the fabric scraps are sent to landfill, they are all responsibly reused or turned into stuffing for other projects. My seamstress and I even cycle into work to save on our personal carbon footprint. All of my packaging is recyclable and paper-based.
If you could change something about the fashion industry what would it be?
The rate of production and consumption. And I would change where the blame is pointed to, billion and multimillion-pound brand owners and directors of global companies should be held responsible for their unethical practices, and blame should not be pointed towards individual consumers.
What has been a career highlight for you so far?
A career highlight has to be the newest collection I shot yesterday. I was finally able to do the brand's first shoot that wasn't shot in my flat with just me and a ring light! I had a whole paid team for my High Summer collection which launches in July 2021. I organised the most incredible location, model, photographer, MUA and assistant to push my creative vision to the top of its game and I can't wait to see the final imagery. Despite having worked with and collaborating with other well-known brands, on a personal level, this felt really monumental to me. I really like to see the visuals and be the director of my dreams.
What have you got in the pipeline?
I have an unannounced huge collaboration coming up later this year. I know it's annoying to not say who it is but I can't say yet. I feel more opportunities are at my fingertips as I love to connect and bounce ideas around with other creatives. I am a massive believer in collaboration over competition. I am also really looking forward to my brand's 1st year birthday, which will be 1 November 2021 - I will be sure to do something extra special.
If you could give your younger self any bit of career advice, what would it be?
All your passion and efforts are already worth it, and you're only getting started! Keep track of your finances, get an accountant or learn how to do it yourself early!
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