There are currently over 555,000 people working in fashion within the UK, and the overall UK industry is worth around £66 billion, according to the Fashion United's research. Despite the fashion industry having a reputation for being notoriously hard to break into, there are a number of UK startups who are spotting a gap in the market and creating innovative businesses around changing consumer needs - such as merging tech with fashion, or creating products for consumers who are looking for garments that are both ethical and luxurious.
In the wake of London Fashion Week, where the world's biggest fashion brands showcase their latest lines for autumn and winter 2019, we’ve put together an article celebrating some of the smaller UK businesses that are making a name for themselves within the fashion industry. Here are the UK fashion startups to keep an eye on:
Men and women's sustainable fashion & tech| Isle of Wight | 2009
Rapanui is the 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 used water to make it crystal clear, drinkable and perfect for using again.
The team at Rapanui are currently working on new fibres made from their old t-shirts in order to create a circular economy, where consumers can send their old t-shirts back to the business in exchange for store credit. 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 ‘mining’ precious metals, such as gold, from unwanted devices.
All jewellery is crafted in this way from salvaged gold and silver and is made from 100% recycled e-waste. Whilst most gold is mined from the earth's core through socially and environmentally destructive processes, 'mining' from unwanted waste produces 10 x more gold per ton. When it comes to stones, Lylie's only uses man-made stones, recycled diamonds and cultured pearl farming.
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.
Rainwear made from recycled tent materials | Wales | 2018
This Wales-based business was founded by Beth Cosmos after she noticed the sheer volume of tents left behind at the UK's music festivals. Beth combined her fashion training from the University of South Wales with sustainability initiatives to produce rainwear for kids with a difference; all products are made from materials which would otherwise end up in landfills.
The business currently has several raincoat designs on sale for children, along with a range of bags. Made from reconditioned and recycled nylon and polyester, the raincoats also have a lining made of breathable rip stock which ensures the coats don't get uncomfortable or clammy. Each coat is handmade individually, so no two are exactly the same. Beth is working on a collection of fun adult rainwear along with splash suits for children.
All products are designed and produced in the UK, and the business is committed to ethical sustainability. Every part of each tent that is recovered is reused and the business works with UK music festivals to reduce plastic waste and promote recycling. Beth is also hoping to introduce a scheme where coats can be returned and repurposed once a child has grown out of it.
Virtual search tool for fashion| London | 2011
Snap Fashion was invented and developed by 27-year-old Jenny Griffiths, a Computer Science graduate with a love for fashion. She created a tool which 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, 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 Vegan Society.
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.
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 article highlighting Fair Trade Principles.