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My Fashion Life: Debra Hepburn, founder of Young British Designers

Ecommerce platform Young British Designers focuses on showcasing the very best of the UK’s new design talent. The site’s founder, Debra Hepburn, spoke to Drapers about the hunt for new talent and the importance of gut instinct.

Debra hepburn

Debra hepburn

Debra Hepburn

Debra Hepburn founded ecommerce site Young British Designers (YBD) in 2010, inspired by her passion for the UK’s burgeoning design talent, and an increasing appetite for the new and unique. She talks to Drapers about her role as mentor, the pursuit of new talent and her proudest discoveries.

Kelly love at ybd

Kelly love at ybd

Kelly Love, one of the YBD brands

How did you get into a career in fashion?

From the age of 12, I always thought I’d be a fashion designer, but quickly discovered I was dire at the practical side! After university, a career in marketing followed – I ultimately started my own advertising agency working with many fashion and retail brands.


What inspired you to set up Young British Designers?

I was fascinated with online fashion and could see the move towards people seeking out the new and unique – brands where the makers and creators were very much at the heart. I also couldn’t believe no-one was actually focusing on the incredible design talent we have here in the UK. It is, without doubt, the best in the world.

How do you go about finding new designers? 

We visit graduate shows, Graduate Fashion Week, London and Paris fashion weeks, and so on. But more than this, we now have a reputation for finding the very best new talent, so every day we receive 10 to 15 approaches by emerging designers. We also go out looking at markets, on social media and at friends’ recommendations because some designers don’t actually know how great they are.

Teija at ybd

Teija at ybd

Teija, one of the YBD brands

Who was the last new designer that you added to the site?

Mairi McDonald. We have been chatting with Mairi for a few years now since meeting at [London Fashion Week showcase] Fashion Scout. Her new “Off Duty” collection is a 1960s-inspired delight of rock ’n’ roll dark romance.

What are some of the challenges you face day to day?

Time. We are a small team and we try to mentor and guide wherever our designers and future designers need it. Brexit, for example, is causing designers no end of trauma. This is as well as all of the usual retail and ecommerce challenges. It’s exhausting, but incredibly rewarding, too.

What’s been the highlight to date?

To know that we have showcased, loved, promoted and supported some brilliant brands, behind which are people we are now proud to call friends: Eudon Choi, Charlie May, Lily Kamper, Rejina Pyo, Renli Su, Teija Eilola, Dear Frances, Simeon Farrar, Felicity Brown, Joe Richards, Kelly Love, Kate Sheridan, and so many more. We’ve launched 250 designers since 2010.

Klements at young british designers 02

Klements at young british designers 02

Klements, one of the YBD brands

Who do you admire most in the fashion industry and why?

The All Woman Project [@allwomanproject on Instagram]. They rejoice in truly showing how each and every one of us – girls and women of all ages, shapes and colours – is beautifully imperfect, and that it’s more than okay to celebrate that and get on with living as good and happy a life as you are able.

What’s the best business advice that you’ve ever been given?

If you’re not 100% sure in your gut, heart and brain, don’t do it.

How do you keep yourself motivated day to day?

Our designers do it for me. I can be falling asleep over my laptop and the latest collection from Charlie May or a brand-new designer I didn’t even know existed will pop onto my screen and light me up with the thrill of the new and unexpected.

What advice would you give to young designers?

Take advice, but stay true to yourself. Too much advice can dilute your creativity to a safe trickle instead of the torrent you began with.



Favourite clothing brand

Aries, Klements, Simeon Farrar, Teija

Favourite places to shop

Apart from YBD? Anywhere I find the unique. New designer pop-ups, Vestiaire Collective for pieces I longed for over the years, but didn’t buy.

Last fashion purchase

A boho handmade lace dress by Ziiga to take to Ibiza later this summer

Last holiday

I’m working on YBD right now sitting by the sea in St Ives. Does that count?

Last book you read

Academy Street by Mary Costello

Last film you watched

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

First job?

Working in an off licence, serving sticky sherry from a barrel to ladies called Ida and Mavis

Dream job?

Writing. By the sea

What would we find you doing at the weekend?

Family. Food. Music. Coffee. Garden. Gin

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