Anabel Calvo and Ben Bailey founded Studio British, an etailer focusing solely on UK brands, last September. It stocks 12 brands, including Private White VC, Gloverall and Johnstons of Elgin. They talk to Drapers about the potential of UK-made fashion and their ambitions for British luxury.
What inspired you to start Studio British?
Both of us love buying British brands, but found it strange that you couldn’t find them in one place. There’s also real transparency issues with British manufacturing, such as brands that trade off the British name but don’t actually manufacture here. We asked ourselves: “What if there was an etailer that sold just quality British-made brands?” After a bit too much wine and a bit of research, we decided to build an online store that celebrates the incredible British manufacturing industry.
Studio British focuses on bringing the absolute best of British manufacturing to a wider audience. All of our supplier relationships are based on a simple motto: “Quality. Timeless. British”. We have a heavy focus on curation, so before we decide to work with a brand, we test the product and find out about the manufacturing process.
Do either of you have a background in fashion? What drew you to the industry?
While neither of us have a professional background in the fashion industry, British fashion is something that we are both very passionate about. I [Ben] have a background in disruptive startups, which at it’s heart is about helping people to make positive behaviour changes to their habits using technology. Anabel meanwhile has always dreamed of starting a business and our shared interest got us interested in what problems we saw with the industry. With the seemingly unstoppable force of fast fashion and its associated pitfalls we saw an opportunity to help online buyers see the value in high-quality, British-made clothing.
Why do you think there is interest in British-made products?
Whether you are talking about cars or clothing, British products have always been highly regarded. We’ve found that that there is huge demand for British products around the world, in particular from growth economies such as China, who trust British brands to be authentic and of a superior quality.
We have always been a creative country – you only have to look to our history in music and screen for evidence of that. In London, where we’re both from, there is so much cultural diversity and I think that contributes massively to the creativity we see on the catwalks.
Finally, with the currently unclear implications of Brexit, it’s essential that we start to consider manufacturing more in the UK. Not too long ago we were much more reliant on the local eco-system, but with potential trade tariffs, we should really consider the economic benefits of manufacturing closer to home – not least that buying British helps to create more work in interesting vocations.
Where does the future lie for British manufacturing?
We have to ask ourselves: as a society, are we happy to continue consuming clothing in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed? I don’t think anybody truly believes that you can buy a pair of jeans on the high street for £6 without there being a human or environmental cost.
British manufacturing, in the main, offers an alternative future whereby there is a focus on quality over quantity, which could literally last you a lifetime, and was made by a skilled worker being paid a fair wage. I draw the comparison with the food industry, which has had similar revelations that has led to the rejection of imported food of questionable quality and instead opting for local food with provenance. People are much more conscious of what they put into their bodies, so I think perhaps we can be more conscious about what we put on our bodies.
Why are British brands so important?
British brands have given so much to the world of fashion, like Charles Macintosh inventing the eponymous raincoat, or Gloverall and its ubiquitous duffle coat. At a time where we are veering too far towards cheap, disposable fashion, British brands have maintained their standards and this is recognised across the world. It may well be that in years to come we will regret the ecological and social cost of fast fashion, so that’s why it’s so important to us that British brands thrive.
How will you keep the offer fresh?
Our ambition is to help British manufacturing to flourish, and if we achieve it then the offering will always be kept fresh with new designers entering the industry and bigger brands able to take more risks with their collections.
As well as the bigger, heritage brands that need our support to keep operating, we also want to create a space for those offering luxury clothing made in the UK. Up-and-coming brands can find it hard to break into the luxury market, but we want to throw the doors open to anybody who proudly manufactures in the UK and offers a quality product.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt when launching Studio British?
You can’t compromise on quality! When you start a business, every penny counts so you are always looking for ways to keep a tight ship. But quality is at the core of our offering, so we have to exude that in every sense. We can only build trust with our clients by ensuring their experience is as smooth as possible: from great photography, to accurate descriptions through to timely delivery and, of course, a high-quality British-made garment.
Favourite clothing brand
Ben: Fred Perry M12, Private White VC and NN07 – all excellent quality and subtle styling
Anabel: Mulberry. I still remember getting my first job at 16 at Halfords and buying my first Mulberry bag, the Roxy. The love affair continues …
Favourite places to shop
B: Mr Porter, Marks & Spencer
A: Other/Shop in Soho always has great timeless pieces and is full of unknown labels
Last fashion purchase
B: Private White VC pilot’s jacket with shearling collar
A: Cambridge Satchel Company Black Cloud Bag
Last book you read
B: The collected writings of Martin Luther King.
A: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I’m a hopeless romantic
Last film you watched
B: Dog Day Afternoon. Classic Al Pacino
A: Jumanji. Massive Kevin Hart fan
B: Working with offenders and the disadvantaged to get them into meaningful employment
A: Food critic. I’m a huge a fan of Anthony Bourdain and would absolutely love to spend a day or a 100 samping authentic street eats in the depths of Asia and South America