Websites? Gah. They’re so 2005.
What does the future of fashion look like to you? Super-slick Asia-friendly conglomerates crafting iPhone-charging ostrich-leather handbags? Or two twentysomething friends in a Bethnal Green back room, stitching leather onto vintage shirts?
Penny Royal’s first collection is the epitome of London street style. Using upcycled silk shirts from the capital’s many vintage shops, twentysomething founders Sophie Rogers and Beth Richardson add hand-carved leather embellishments to create their own version of “grown-up grunge”. As Beth says, “The whole range is meant to be casual and comfortable, with a bit of an edge – something you could wear to work or out to the pub.”
The shirts are cute, quirky and compulsively collectible, but Penny Royal is as interesting for its approach as it is for its experimental first line.Richardson and Rogers have eschewed PR releases, press junkets and even a website to launch their products solely on Twitter and Instagram. The result is a burgeoning grassroots buzz – and a case study of how to start a part-time label on a shoestring in a long tail economy.
PHOENIX asked Richardson to offer some advice for all self-starting designers out there.
What’s your design background?
Technically none – our background is pretty mixed as we met at university studying things from books, but we both had creative aspirations. Sophie runs a style blog (Bernard’s Watch) with her boyfriend and I dabble in photography, so now that I work in digital marketing and Sophie works in copywriting, the clothing line is something we can really make our own.
You don’t have a website – a bold move. Why?
Because Beth works in social media we thought it best to launch the clothes on Instagram and Twitter as a bit of a testing ground and build the brand around what’s doing well. We found we had interest through promoting on there alone (so didn’t feel like we had to make a website straight away). The whole range will be on sale through ASOS marketplace within the next week (cheeky plug!), but there are heaps of ways to promote the line to check out first, so we thought, why not?
What would be your advice for anyone trying to start their own fashion business?
Start from something you’re inspired by, whether that’s music or art or anything you’re already doing, rather than worrying about whether it’s on-trend. Be prepared to make mistakes because, to be honest, the first few things you make will probably suck and won’t be as good as you want them to be. But don’t panic, do work hard, ask your friends for help (because they’ll help more than you think) and don’t quit when it takes longer than you thought it would (and it definitely will).
We started with zero budget, two full time jobs and a noisy cat, so making time to actually sit down and make stuff can be pretty tricky – be prepared for late nights and early, hungover, Saturday mornings if you actually want to get stuff done! Most importantly enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing and make things you like, otherwise what’s the point?
Where would you love to be this time next year?
The plan is to keep doing this, but bigger. It’d be great to keep adding new lines and collaborate with other new start-ups around East London. There are new creative venues popping up and popping down every other week in Shoreditch and Bethnal Green and it’d be great to get stuck in there. We’re currently in talks with an ace illustrator (David Gee) and, fingers crossed we’ll be working together on a range very soon.
What and where inspires you in London?
Living in East London we’re super lucky to be walking distance from Brick Lane and Stepney Green, where we hunt high and low to source our vintage shirts before we customise them at home in Bethnal Green. A lot of our ideas start with things that we’ve spied online then we look at Tumblr and Instagram to see what people are already doing. But then again it sometimes helps to switch off the Internet and go off radar, sit in a coffee shop and do some good old-fashioned people watching.
Who are your heroes – in the fashion world and beyond?
For business nous; Sophia Amoroso of Nasty Gal. For repping our beloved East London; Alis Pelleschi. For enduring give-a-fuck style; Alison Mosshart. And just because she’s still killing it at 40; Kate Moss.
Interview: Molly Flatt