It’s the sixth week that the UK has been in a government-enforced lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19. As living in this reality becomes the new norm and the government prepares to introduce long-term post-lockdown measures to minimise the chances of a second wave of the virus, companies across the country are adapting as best they can to the new changes.
British streetwear brand Quillattire is just one example of that. Priya Jangda founded her London-based label last year after working as a designer in London for over nine years across well-known brands such as Burberry, Topshop, Ted Baker and New Look. The genderless label - whose motto is 'I am who I am. Your approval is not needed’ - centres around slow-fashion, offering bespoke customized services, organic bamboo hoodies and sweatshirts, and up-cycled collections.
Quillattire’s prices range from face masks starting at 10 pounds, sweatshirts and hoodies from 85 pounds and bespoke pieces from 150 pounds.
The sustainable-focused label, like countless other fashion firms across the UK, saw a worrying downturn in sales when the country initially ground to a halt in March, as a panicked nation turned their backs on buying fashion and prioritised essentials instead. Since then, however, as consumers adapt to the new way of life, the brand has seen an uptick again, with newly-introduced face masks doing particularly well.
FashionUnited spoke with Jangda about how the company is coping with ‘the new normal’, the introduction of face masks to the website, and how the brand is continuing to engage its audience during lockdown.
To what degree are you still able to operate during lockdown? How is it working logistically?
Things are operating well. The only issue I faced is that my local post office closed due to Covid-19 but I have managed to find another one, and a few hidden ones just in case. Postal services are slower than usual due to the pandemic, but so far all my orders have been on time. Logistically, the business has been working fine, I have more time to create pieces that customers actually need and want and I have more time to communicate with my audience which is refreshing.
What has been the biggest challenge?
When the lockdown first started, the initial shock and slowdown in sales was both upsetting and stressful - there was a lot of worry about how long the pandemic would last for and what the worst-case scenario could be. But I had to remind myself why I set up the business in the first place, which was to evoke positivity, make people feel good, and create great quality sustainable streetwear.
I continue working on the brand, working on the website, blogging, and helping the customer with tips on how to work from home and how to avoid beating themselves up about what is happening as it's a particularly mentally challenging time, as I am sure we all can agree. I blogged about how to make a mask, so people can go away and create their own, which was popular. I've just been focusing on really helping rather than just working on making sales. Things have picked up again since then, which has been great.
Have you had to change any of the ways you do business, such as the sampling or sourcing process? How is this done during lockdown?
As a sustainable business I make all my products in-house so I am making do with the fabric I have in my home studio and I have a machine so I am sewing away. If I need more material I can order online. I also customise vintage clothes and up-cycle so I have been working on loads of painted pieces for customers. I am also learning how to embroider myself - so stay tuned for some more exciting bits on the website. I have a selection of products already on the site, so now is the time to focus and sell. To any small business out there, try to see this as a positive and adapt your business to what is happening - this 'new normal' will be around for a while.
You’ve started selling face masks? How have they been selling? Do you see them as a lasting trend?
In the beginning, masks were quite a sensitive subject - and in fact they still are to a degree - but looking at how other countries are phasing out lockdown, you see they are generally advising to wear masks. The sustainable masks I have been selling are doing well, I am fusing all streaks of life into them, so you have work wear masks made from end of line premium check fabric, urban masks using offcuts of a Nike basketball vest, plain ones made from offcuts of denim and jersey, and pretty ones made from all these amazing prints I work with - so each mask is really unique.
I am launching some more sports fusion face masks this week, so stay tuned. I have been keeping clear of using anything the NHS needs, as the whole point of making these masks is to ensure the front line gets their supply and we do not take this up. Also, the masks I create are lifestyle face masks, ones that have personality but shield germs from transferring. I know it's not necessarily considered by everyone as a pleasant thing to wear but if this is something that is going to stay, we as a brand want to make people feel good wearing them. That means demonstrating a variety of personalities and styles in each one.
A lot of brands have been focusing on new and engaging ways of selling and interacting with their audience? How have you approached this?
I think we all as humans should be asking each other if we are okay, and just checking in on eachother. We are all in the same boat, everyone manages with change differently, so we should be really showing love. Quillattire has definitely been checking in with our audience on social media. I have also been using TikTok which is really fun if you want a laugh - the energy is great! We’ve been using it to showcase our products and demonstrate how we create all of our custom pieces and even masks. It's basically a fun behind the scenes which in real-time consists of my husband next to me moaning about the noise from my sewing machine whilst he has his daily work calls.
I generally love tiger and leopard prints, which you can see on my website and I have also made a little write up about the Netflix show Tiger King. Naturally, I have loads of these prints in my studio so I started making masks out of them. It was great timing to launch the tiger masks as everyone was watching the show on Netflix - what a weird show but so entertaining!
Many think this pandemic will put even more pressure on sustainable and ethical fashion going forward. What do you think?
I really hope so and do believe it will. I mean look at how the world is redeveloping itself from all the wounds we as humans have inflicted. This time around humans have been put away and nature is being appreciated by us all, everything is slowing down which is beautiful. Fast fashion has time to rethink its models and return in a new way. This is the time for change, and it's so exciting - designers have to rethink.
Fast fashion brands need to slow down, I know they want money but we as humans do not need to consume that much and can make wiser choices with what we buy and how much we spend. I just think it starts from the top - constant fashion shows encourage fast fashion to churn out millions of clothes, and for what? For a one-hit-wonder for your Instagram post which you are nervous to wear again in case someone sees you wearing it more than once? For the latest influencers to show off their hurds of free clothes and somehow tune this energy into the watcher who then wants more. This whole concept of see now, want now needs to stop.
How has the pandemic affected the design process?
I design in small quantities and create as I go. I try to merge existing pieces with new ones and create collections in this way - it's challenging but that's what being a designer is all about. By doing this, there is always newness, customers can also request customised pieces and create a style or artwork for their clothes to express themselves - it's more personal, special, and means they’ll have pieces that will last longer and hold memories. Fashion, when I studied at London College of Fashion, was about stories, each piece evoked feelings. Fast fashion, I feel, has torn that away from the magic.
Have you been able to benefit from the government’s support packages?
In terms of government support, I am yet to hear if I am eligible. I definitely think small businesses should have received support at the same time as bigger ones as we suffer a hit too. The pressure of not making sales at a time like this impacts small business hard, we still have bills and need support but I am grateful for any support that I get. At the moment, I run Quillattire by myself but hopefully, in the future, I will be looking to employ a team.
Do you think the pandemic will affect your design process or the focus of the brand going forward?
As a fashion brand, it's my job to adapt to what's happening in the world and adapt to the customer's needs. Sometimes I could get wrapped up in the need to make sales which is the way for all businesses but actually slowing down and reminding myself of my brand values has re-invigorated the brand with new energy.
Quillattire is already a relaxed, chilled vibe style brand, which seems to be what people in lockdown are looking for. I sell unique luxe hoodies and sweatshirts made from organic bamboo and up-cycled vintage streetwear which is mostly genderless and relaxed if you want something different and something you will hold on to for a long time. I have been told by many people it leaves them feeling happy as it's colorful and unique. We also have safer colours for the more conservative customer too.
Photos 1, 2 + 3 courtesy of @pvdhstudio. Photos 4 + 5 courtesy of @soulrebelphotographer