When did you officially launch WE.AR the Walk? How long was it in the making?
We only launched “officially” in January this year, as that was when my co-founder (tech whiz Hiren) and I quit our jobs and went full time. But the concept inception dates back about a year—but about nine months of that was spent drinking coffee and talking!
How did you first come up with the idea – was there a single eureka moment?
The idea stemmed from staring (as all women do) at my bulging wardrobe claiming, “I’ve got nothing to wear.” I don’t think it was one eureka moment per se, more just an accumulation of these feelings.
Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE clothes and shopping. I mean, I’ll spend two hours walking around Waitrose and come out with two huge bags, when I only went in for some garlic! But I remember rather poignantly, at Christmas last year, actually feeling quite suffocated by the amount of “stuff” I owned. So that was probably when I decided to do something about it.
How do you go about sourcing and choosing emerging designers?
EVERYWHERE! The amazing upside to being so globally and socially connected is the abundance of channels for finding these hidden gems. This said, it can be slightly overwhelming, so I try to stick to events like LFW or platforms such as Instagram, and—my favourite of all—Not Just a Label, a directory for designers.
When choosing designers, I always try and work with individuals that bring a fresh approach to fashion in both concept and collaborations, like Sadie Clayton, but a timelessness to their collections is key. The designers we’re working with are so spirited, passionate and driven. They’re the next generation.
How do you choose which items to offer from any designer?
So, in the beginning I was choosing all the showstopper pieces, but very quickly I realised I needed to put my commercial hat on!
Now I look at an item and will only showcase it if I can think of three occasions where this could be worn, by three separate women. You have to be able to give context to these amazing pieces, otherwise women feel too far removed to wear them.
Would you like to expand, or is part of the beauty how cherry-picked your selection is?
We want to grow of course, but we want to be smart about it. Currently we’re stocking 30 designers, and their styles range significantly. I love what we’ve got now, but we’ll always be on the lookout for new designers purely because fashion is extremely subjective, so different designers will appeal to different women.
We’ve noticed a strong focus on longevity, ethically sourced fabrics, production, sustainability, and upcycling with WE.AR The Walk – is it hard for designers to turn a profit without cutting corners ethically?
So you would think so, but no, not at all! I think five years ago when ethical and “sustainable” fashion initiatives were being introduced, either cost or style suffered. This was in part down to awareness of, and consumer demand for, sustainable fashion; consumers assumed (with good reason) that they’d have to become hemp wearing hippies in order to comply!
But now, ethical manufacturing has become so intrinsic to luxury fashion that consumers are willing to pay extra for it. As well as allowing customers to experiment with their wardrobe, our aim is to promote responsible and sustainable consumption.
Do you think there’s a place in the market for throwaway items alongside beautifully crafted and unique pieces?
Honestly? No. I really don’t. I know that sounds extreme.
But “fast fashion” retailers are mass-manufacturing items that are designed to last a maximum of seven washes. They’re literally creating clothes to be thrown away, and the problem is that they’re not being recycled. They’re ending up in a landfill.
Retailers are having to compromise on quality and labour conditions, due to the increasing customer demand to churn out new styles weekly. The whole sentiment of disposability could be extremely damaging to young girls, who are having to constantly reinvent themselves in accordance with the latest looks they see on social media.
I’m hopeful that in the future we will transition to owning a capsule wardrobe, and the rest we will rent—although I think we’re still quite a way off that!
What are the benefits for a designer showcased by WE.AR the Walk?
We help designers reach new audiences by initiating interaction and engagement with their “would be customers”. A lot of them use us not only for brand awareness, but also to gain insights on who their target customer is.
WE.AR the Walk is also a platform where they can get real time feedback on their collections, by experimenting with different styles and seeing what their customers are more receptive to.
There’s a real backlash against throwaway fashion and the rental model makes items accessible in a whole new way. How has this changed things for the consumer?
Hopefully, what the rental model will do is democratise fashion. Enabling consumers to try something different and experiment, it will serve the consumer’s demands of “see now and buy now” but mitigate having to over-consume or buy fast fashion. It provides discovery of something truly unique; access to luxury fashion without the guilt.
With the advent of e-commerce do you think consumers are more savvy and less susceptible to media influence than they were 10 years ago?
Definitely! I think we’re so aware of being marketed to now, mainly because there are numerous channels with so many brands shouting at us to “buy”. There is so much endless noise that we inherently distrust brands, and can instantly sniff out inauthenticity.
Nowadays, people follow people. Friends, family, bloggers and people we admire are the ones who influence us. They’re the ones that validate brands due to our shared values.
Some of your designers are so fresh they don’t have other outlets or e-shops—is this one of the ways that you ensure every item is one of a kind?
Yep! All our items are one of a kind, if customers would like to buy one it can be ordered on request. Our designers are then can prevent mass manufacturing.
While there are other companies offering big-name designer items to rent, WE.AR the Walk is unique in showcasing a brilliant edit of exclusively emerging designers. How did you identify this gap in the market?
I’ve always just thought emerging designers were cooler! And while there are a few stockists that work with the up and coming designers, much of their stock is past season or discounted… Despite not being beholden to trends at WE.AR the Walk, I knew we wanted to work with current season collections, stuff that customers wouldn’t be able to buy for a couple of months, as it adds to the exclusivity and the aspirational appeal.
Do you have an all-time favourite piece we can hire from WE.AR the Walk?
So it literally varies daily! Last week it was Cimone’s trench, but this week it’s Krasimra Stoyneva’s short hair jacket… I wore it to Tramp the other night and got so many comments, so I think it’s purely on that basis!
Could you describe your typical customer?
A woman who values quality, craft, and timelessness; a woman who wants to wear something amazing, unique and to feel empowered.
I think we cater for the woman who is fashion forward and wants to discover new designers. The woman who is on the go and wants a personal experience for events. And finally, the woman who wants style advice and validation on what to wear.
Do you have a fashion background or was fashion more of a burning passion you just had to make into a business?
So I started my career at Mulberry as an intern, which definitely gave me a good insight into the industry. I then spent three years working in predictive analytics, so very different! The goal now is to combine really innovative tech with my love of fashion.
Other than the designers you stock, who are your biggest fashion and design icons?
Vivienne Westwood for thinking outside the box. Alexander McQueen for his rebellious creativity.
Victoria Beckham for her determination.
How would you describe your personal style?
Androgynous and minimal.
If you could give one piece of fashion or style advice what would it be?
Clothes are empowering; they’ve got the ability to not just make you look great, but feel, and therefore be, great. So never dress for anyone else but yourselves.
What is your favourite way to spend a long weekend?
Countryside, long lunches, no cooking, great wine, amazing company.
Where is your favourite place in the world and why?
Marari Beach in Kerala, or Isla del Sol off the coast of San Paulo in Brazil. They’re both magical.
Do you have a favourite west London hangout?
Aaaaah so many! For food, West 36. For drinks: The Little Yellow Door and Beach Blanket Babylon. For a good experience: Evans and Peel Speakeasy in Earls Court.
If you could save one item from a burning building what would it be, and why?
I know this sounds silly but it would be an inflatable giraffe called “Stiffy” (acquired at the age of one—so excuse the name!). It was my first toy, bought at London Zoo. It was my dad’s first outing since coming out of hospital. It’s stayed with me ever since! I don’t remember the day, but the pictures remind me of the significance.
You’ve already done the legwork by choosing and curating an edit of great pieces. Do you ever second-guess yourself or wonder whether something might be too avant-garde, or, conversely, too plain for your customer?
All the time! I mentioned earlier that fashion is extremely subjective, and my choice would not necessarily be what someone else would choose. Luckily I’ve recruited a team of feisty ladies to give another opinion.
Where do you see WE.AR the Walk in five years’ time? Any plans for world domination?
Definitely! Right now our platform is a community of designers and appreciative people who find each other, and is mainly being used for events and parties.
But in five years I think we’ll see a complete shift in the way we consume fashion, to only owning the things we need or really love. Women will move to owning a capsule wardrobe, and the rest will be rented. I would love WE.AR the Walk to be the main platform women use for this.
I still believe there will be demand for physical retail, so we’ll definitely be opening stores. These will be filled with stylists, on hand to guide women through the process.