In an interview with Ellie McCreanor, Lucinda Graham shares her journey to becoming a sustainable fashion brand and the challenges and rewards that come with it.
The year 2020 is full of uncertainty, especially for those in creative industries. With the UK Government backing ads encouraging creatives to “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.”, the thought of launching a sustainable fashion brand and website amidst it all may sound impossible. Lucinda Graham, however, did just that. Speaking to the OTwo, Graham shares her experience launching her brand over the past few months and how it all came to be.
“I've been freelancing since the age of 19, and although I have experience in several creative areas, I would say that styling and creating sustainable fashion take precedence over most. What drives everything I do and create is authenticity and responsibility for the environment and people. All clothes and accessories are made by me in my home studio and are all ethically/sustainably sourced. I especially love working with vintage upholstery fabric! I'm really inspired by the potential of what most people consider waste, as well as fabric manipulation. I launched the store [online] at the end of September of this year ... and we also have one physical stockist.
I'm a huge extrovert so I actually really thrive working on team projects when I'm styling, like, shorts commercials and music videos. The industry is often portrayed via 'The Devil Wears Prada' based rhetoric, but I've been really lucky to work with incredibly kind, funny, and talented people. The sense of achievement and the buzz you get being on set knowing that every crew member is an important cog in the machine in producing something great is simply amazing.”
The jackets featured in our photoshoot this issue are Graham’s most recent designs and they truly reflect her love for repurposing vintage upholstery fabrics to create entirely unique pieces. She spoke to the OTwo about her recent stock drop and what it has meant for her and her brand.
“Well, it's been a rollercoaster, to say the least, I knew it would be hard, but not this hard? I had received a grant earlier in 2020 which allowed me to buy more equipment and materials, but have had no investment or support otherwise, and as a full time creative, this is my source of income. I felt very unprepared for the financial side of things and felt increasingly let down by my university who didn't prepare me, but I was lucky to have family members who are entrepreneurs who were able to give me advice and point me in the right direction. It's been a lot of long days. I only moved into my studio in September, so it was a very quick turnaround between finishing up commissions and producing the ready-to-wear for the site. I started off by creating pieces for myself, and then people seemed to love them so much that I started taking commissions to make for others! It was incredible really, as I'm very tough on myself, so for people to support me and invest in me in that way was just incredible!! The jackets' shape was inspired by vintage chore/workwear jackets, to which I changed the silhouette by playing around with gathers, pleats, and voluminous sleeves. I hate how sustainable fashion tends to be very minimal and boring, hence the slogan, 'Sustainable Not Shy'.”
The slogan “Sustainable Not Shy” is an important message to reiterate when talking about sustainable fashion, as there is definitely an image of sustainable fashion as, to quote Graham, “minimal and boring”, which is so far from the truth as her designs illustrate. However, being a sustainable brand comes with challenges which Graham was open and honest about;
“In a lot of ways, by choosing to be a brand that practices sustainability, you are making your job 10 times harder from the get-go. It means that sourcing the fabric takes much longer, the recyclable/compostable packaging, the recycled clothing labels. Even the pattern cutting process is made much more time-consuming by choosing to consciously minimize waste fabric through our patterns. All of these factors naturally drive up the price of the garments, which is frustrating as I want to try and keep what I make as accessible as possible! But I have received negative comments from people who are annoyed that the clothes cost what they do, which warrants a calm response where I break down the entire creative process that goes into producing just one jacket. Sometimes I'll have a really cool idea, and when it comes to materializing it, I simply can't afford the sustainable alternative/won't allow myself to buy the plastic-based fabric. Being rurally based during a pandemic poses challenges too, as haberdasheries/sewing shops/vintage stores are not accessible, therefore everything has to be ordered online, which is a frustrating side effect due to air miles and travel.”
In the midst of a pandemic, creating a business of any kind is daunting. However, Graham’s work has fortunately been minimally affected; “I feel like the pandemic has only affected the way in which I work rather than the work itself. Apart from not having a face to face meetings nothing has really changed for me! As freelancers always heavily rely on online communications.”
Being a sustainable designer and brand owner really does require a commitment to ethical clothing practices and to the protection of the environment. When asked if she had any tips on how to be more sustainable in your fashion choices, Graham replied; “Definitely! You don't have to gut out and throw away your entire wardrobe and buy a new one sustainably, but when you do need to replace key wardrobe pieces, try buying vintage or from a smaller/local brand. Starting with staple pieces like a winter coat or a black winter boot. Invest in something that has minimal impact on the planet and that you will keep for much longer rather than poorly made fast-fashion items that are trend-driven, but also tend to be poorly made!”
Lucinda Graham is a beautiful example of the unique pieces that can be found when shopping sustainably. The brand is truly focused on making quality pieces that will bring excitement to any wardrobe whilst also saving the planet, one jacket at a time.
Stylist: Lucinda Graham
Model and Photographer: Nurina Iman Nizam