Articles - 12th April 2019

Starting An Independent Fashion Design Brand

Words by Manimekala Fuller
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Fashion is beautiful; fashion is inspiring; fashion is a form of art that is relevant to our everyday lives. But it’s just clothes, right? Well, those “just clothes” have a huge impact on how we think, feel and behave. In our globalised world, those clothes directly affect not just the billions of people who wear them, but also the millions of people who make them.

I’ve always loved making things, and I’ve always wanted to wear the things I make, to show them off. It wasn’t until Year 11 that I realised being a fashion designer was a viable career path. I took the prescribed route: I studied Fine Art at A level (somewhat unusual for a future fashion student, but useful conceptually), did a Foundation, and got accepted onto the University of Westminster’s prestigious BA Fashion Design course. During my studies, I spent around 14 months interning and got valuable first-hand experience in a variety of different luxury fashion brands. I graduated in the summer of 2018 and thought…. now what?

The fashion industry’s notorious reputation is well-deserved. The haughty attitudes in the Devil Wears Prada are one hundred per cent real, but there’s far less glamour. Sustainability is a hot topic in fashion right now, but I believe it is part of the bigger systematic problem of exploitation, which is present at every level of the supply chain. There’s growing awareness and intolerance of this in the industry, especially amongst designers of my generation, as we are the ones who have come of age with unparalleled direct access to brands via social media, coupled with the knowledge of impending climate doom.

Sooner or later, the current system will come crashing down, so we need to build alternative supply chains and business models that are sustainable both environmentally and socially. We need to redefine what fashion is from the inside out; first from within the industry, and then for the consumer.

For me, that meant deciding against working for big corporate companies in favour of working for myself by freelancing and starting a brand that I could be truly proud of. I was offered a permanent position at a previous job that I’d loved, but when an opportunity for my own brand came a-knocking straight after graduation, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I launched my brand, Manimekala, to combine aesthetics and ethics. We don’t compromise on either design or responsibility, which in practice means making exciting, contemporary clothing and accessories with fair pay to everyone involved (no unpaid interns), working only with ethical suppliers and using zero-waste design methods. Manimekala specialises in print design, combining traditional crafts and modern technologies to create bold and colourful abstract textiles. There are no white t-shirts or boring florals over here.

But I want to do more and have a real social impact. From next season we will be working in partnership with an NGO in northern India, employing rural women and supporting their community. I want to make beautiful clothes that have meaning and a story woven into them. Clothes that have lived and are for living in.

I adore designing and making clothes – it’s what I spent the last 5 years of my life training for. I currently juggle my own brand, freelance fashion and graphics work, and some part-time retail work. My brand is new and small enough for me to manage on my own – with a lot of support from a network of family, friends and advisors – and I enjoy working on multiple different projects at the same time. Collaboration with fellow artists and designers is key – to be successful in any creative industry, you rely a lot on inspiration and inspiration only comes when you go out and have experiences. For a long time, I thought I wasn’t a Real Fashion Designer™ unless I was working full time in my own studio for my own label, but I realised I was being ridiculous because most creative people have a day job or side hustle, and these often feed into your creative work in unexpected ways.

My advice to those considering a career in fashion design: it matters less what your aesthetic or vision is, but more that you truly believe in your work, that you convey that passion to others and that you keep working towards it.

And always carry masking tape in your bag.I swear you can identify fashion designers purely by how many different kinds of tape they own. You’d be amazed at how useful it is in almost every situation. 

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