The fashion industry has struggled with heavy disruption to its supply chains, production lines, trade shows, distribution networks, and sales channels as a result of Covid-19, not to mention the impact of Brexit. However, fashion businesses have proven their resilience and willingness to adapt to changing times. In an industry long dominated by a few key players, this global shakeup has created vital space for younger, agiler, and more socially-conscious fashion brands to emerge.
The competitive nature of the fashion industry makes it difficult for fledgling businesses to become established, but a number of fashion startups have successfully launched after spotting a gap in the market. The dramatic shift in shopping habits following the pandemic, along with pent-up consumer demand, means there’s a significant opportunity for budding talent in the UK. From combining tech with fashion design to championing sustainability values, there are endless ways to capitalize on new trends.
With the June edition of London Fashion Week just around the corner, we’ve put together an article celebrating some of the small businesses that are already making a name for themselves. Read on to discover the UK success stories to follow:
Men and women's sustainable fashion & tech| Isle of Wight | 2009
Rapanui is a sustainable fashion brand that's come a long way from its humble beginnings in a garden shed on the Isle of Wight. The business is now an award-winning brand that creates a range of clothing from organic cotton in a factory powered by renewable energy. The ethos of the business is built around disrupting the clothing industry by reducing the volume of clothes that end up in landfills, along with producing high-quality garments in an ethical environment.
All orders are shipped in paper mail bags or cardboard boxes, and even the tape used for packaging is paper-based. The business also addresses the fact that wastewater from dyehouse effluent is a major source of pollution, so it uses a recirculation system that refilters and cleans the water to make it crystal clear, drinkable, and safe for re-use.
To create a truly circular economy for clothing, Rapanui has designed their products so customers can return their old t-shirts to the factory once worn out, and new products can be made from the recovered fibres. You can read more about the details of their manufacturing process on the business' website, or keep up with Rapanui's latest innovations on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Jewellery made from salvaged electronics | London | 2017
Lylie’s was founded by 24-year-old Eliza Walter in 2017 - who trained as a goldsmith in London's Hatton Garden. The business is built around the concept of using discarded technology, dental waste, and unwanted scrap to create eco-friendly jewellery. This ethos of finding wealth in waste is brought about by Eliza's innovative process of ‘e-mining’ precious metals, such as gold, from unwanted tech devices.
All Lylie’s jewellery is crafted using gold and silver salvage from recycled e-waste. Whilst most gold is mined from the earth's core through socially and environmentally destructive processes, e-mining from unwanted electronic waste produces 10 times more gold per ton. When it comes to stones, Lylie's only uses man-made stones, recycled diamonds, and cultured pearl farming. New pieces are also made from pre-owned gold and silver jewellery, with customers encouraged to supply their unwanted jewellery in return for store credit.
All jewellery produced by Lylie's is given a specific Salvaged Hallmark, demonstrating that the design has been independently tested, whilst acknowledging the use of recycled precious metals. The business is also partnered with The Woodland Trust in order to carbon offset the emissions created in making their jewellery and packaging.
Overall, this is an innovative take on producing delicate and beautiful fashion statements from unwanted waste. You can learn more about Lylie's, and browse the beautiful collection of sustainable jewellery, on the business' Instagram and Facebook pages.
Virtual search tool for fashion| London | 2011
Snap Fashion was invented and developed by tech visionary Jenny Griffiths, a Computer Science graduate with a love for fashion. She created a tool that allows consumers, influencers, and retailers to simply take a picture of a piece of clothing or look they love to find dupes. The website and app scan hundreds of thousands of items from over 250 online and high-street retailers to put forward look-alike items, allowing users to find the perfect match both in terms of aesthetics and price point.
It's the first image-driven shopping website and app of its kind. Retailers that feature on the tool include Topshop, New Look, Gap, and even department stores such as Selfridges and House of Fraser. E-retailers also feature, including the likes of ASOS and Boohoo.
The app allows you to make purchases directly, or to save items you like the look of to get alerts on when it goes on sale. It's an inventive way of bringing fashion back to its routes of being visual and allows consumers to harness the power of tech to find the perfect product at the click of a button. Learn more about the brand and keep up with Snap Fashion on Twitter and Facebook.
Vegan and cruelty-free shoes | Brighton | 2001
Natalie Dean founded Beyond Skin after struggling to find both stylish and cruelty-free shoes. She wanted to marry luxury fashion with sustainability and achieved this by creating vegan shoes that are both ethical and beautiful. The result is a range of footwear made using 100% recycled PU vegan leather linings, designed in Brighton, and produced in Spain.
The brand has been regularly featured in the press since 2003 - when Natalie Portman wore a pair of Beyond Skin shoes to the Oscars. Since, Leona Lewis, Anne Hathaway, Ellen Page and Cheryl Cole, amongst many more, have raised awareness of the brand and its products. The brand has gone on to win awards with PETA, the RSPCA, and the Observer Ethical Award.
Beyond Skin's current range of shoes includes a stunning selection of boots, heels, sandals and even a bridal collection. The business is on track to use 100% recycled or fully sustainable materials across its full range of products by 2025. You can view Beyond Skin's range of shoes on Instagram, and keep up with the latest from the business on Facebook and Twitter.
Inclusive fashion for tall women | London| 2013
TTYA London was founded by British-Nigerian designer Irene Agbontaen, who experienced first-hand the frustration of clothes shopping as a tall woman. Standing at 5”11, Agbontaen had invaluable insight into the struggles of her target audience, and used this to launch a clothing line that's designed with taller-than-average customers in mind. With size inclusivity at its core, TTYA London delivers accessible, functional, and contemporary fashion that accommodates tall women without compromising on style.
The first tall-specific clothing brand to retail at Selfridges, ASOS, and Barney’s New York, TTYA London has racked up numerous triumphs over the last eight years. British Vogue, Glamour UK, and Look Magazine are just a few of the top publications that have featured Agbontaen's eye-catching designs, but the greatest endorsement has been from the brand’s celebrity followers including Beyoncé, Jourdan Dunn, and Serena Williams.
TTYA London presented its debut catwalk show at Lagos Fashion Week in 2018, a collection characterised by bold Ankara prints and cutting-edge tailoring. This bespoke print, which is present throughout Agbontaen's line, encapsulates how she draws upon her Nigerian heritage to celebrate the diasporic experience through fashion. You can discover more about TTYA London and its latest collection on Instagram, or check out the TTYA Talks podcast on Spotify.
If you've enjoyed this article, or want further insight into running an environmentally-conscious business within the UK, take a look at our Guide to Certified B Corporations, or this article highlighting Fair Trade Principles.