New Liverpool brand is a sustainable alternative to high street fast fashion
3 years ago
As a fashion consultant for the past 20 years, it’s been Joanne Watkinson’s job to discover new and exciting brands for big name retailers.
When lockdown hit, she decided to use the time to set up her own directory of independents, highlighting some of the best from around the world.
But featuring other people’s brands just focused what she really wanted – to create one which offered a slow contrast to the fast fashion of the high street.
“I was freelance and, like a lot of people, my contract ended once the pandemic started,” Joanne explains. “I was home schooling and then I started My Fashion Directory on Instagram.
“It was the first time in a long time that I’d really immersed myself in independent brands, and finding something different, and it reignited my excitement and made me think, there’s so many nice things out there, I want my own.”
Joanne, from Huyton, teamed up with stylist and friend Rachel Evans, who she met working on a shoot for an online designer retailer, and the pair decided the timing was right to collaborate on something new.
“For all its challenges, 2020 gave us the opportunity, or rather the kick, we needed to launch the brand we’d often talked about. We agreed it needed to be a collection we both wanted to wear, that we’d be happy to sell to a friend and one we could evolve as time goes on.”
Joanne and Rachel launched By Elleven, supporting the slow fashion movement and encouraging women to buy what they love and wear it time and time again, opting for quality over quantity rather than choosing fast fashion which is destined for landfill.
“We believe now, more than ever, women think before they make a purchase,” says Joanne. “They think, do I need it? How often will I wear it? Being wasteful is out of fashion.”
The name came first, then they agreed on what was most important and who inspired them.
“We looked at brands that we admired, that have managed to stand the test of time and never really veered away from their brand; names like Prada and Supreme – we want ours to be something you buy into and you’re happy to own it.
“With fast fashion brands saturating the market and designer brands’ prices spiralling out of reach, we wanted to create a collection with women aged 30-60 in mind; women with busy lifestyles who want ease of dressing, high quality fabrics and who want to work towards a more conscious way of shopping.”
The first By Elleven collection launched in November with 11 pieces – hoodies, sweatshirts, luxury tracksuits, totes, caps, and beanies. Everything is either recycled or organic, and it’s all fully sustainable. Joanne and Rachel, who’s from Aigburth, hand-picked vintage too, using their styling experience to bring carefully-chosen wardrobe classics to buyers who wouldn’t normally go into a vintage or charity shop.
“We want our clothes to be worn and worn, but just styled differently. The vintage is there to buy but it’s also to give people ideas so they look and think, ‘I’ve got something in my wardrobe like that’.”
With that in mind, they decided to use real women to model their first collection.
“We thought about who the By Elleven woman was and she basically looked like people we already knew so we got in touch with women we thought were cool, people we’d see on the school run and think ‘she’s got brilliant style’.
“We didn’t give them any styling instructions, we wanted to see what they did with our brand, and
as soon as the photos started coming in it felt right.”
Although By Elleven was born in 2020, and comfort does feature heavily in the first collection, Joanne stresses it’s not a loungewear brand to fill a gap in that market.
“It’s been about creating something that was a reflection of how we dressed, and something we could carry on and build upon,” she adds.
“It just happened that at the moment everyone’s more active, but they’re also looking for cosy as well, so the ‘uniform’ of lockdown tied in nicely with what we were doing.”
The debut collection has been well-received in the industry, by customers and the fashion media including featuring in Grazia.
The pair are now planning to add kidswear for spring and, after the green and orange of winter, they’ll bring in new seasonal colours alongside grey, black and beige essentials.
“We’re in talks about doing collaborations too, connecting with local creatives and illustrators to do limited edition pieces which is exciting,” says Joanne.
“The best thing for us so far has been seeing how the women who’ve bought our clothes love them and are wearing them.
“We’ve had an amazing reaction already but we’re happy to build it slowly. We want to develop By Elleven into a brand that women trust and come back to year after year.”