Never Fully Dressed founder Lucy Aylen has gained a following for her wrap dresses, cheeky illustrated “Boob Ts” and signature prints. She is now taking her brand to new audiences in the UK and overseas.
Essex native Lucy Aylen started womenswear brand Never Fully Dressed selling on London market stalls in 2009. Today, the 32-year-old’s company has more than 220,000 Instagram followers, and her team has grown from five people to 15 since December.
The label is adored by bloggers and celebrities alike, and Aylen’s repeats mean she can keep up with demand and stay ahead of trends.
The nine-year-old business has undergone dramatic growth in the last year. Although she declines to reveal numbers or profits, Aylen says sales have grown 1,100% between August 2017 and August 2018.
Never Fully Dressed launched its first TV advert during this summer’s series of Love Island on ITV2 to propel the brand into the mainstream. Aylen wants to do more TV advertising around shows such as Made in Chelsea to further raise awareness of the brand.
Aylen was a budding actor when she started making garments to sell at Portobello Road and Spitalfields markets while work was quiet.
“When I was growing up, my nan and great aunt worked as machinists, and my parents worked as market traders in the East End, so I think it’s just in my blood,” she tells Drapers.
“I made some things from scratch and customised some others. I was selling at the markets about three times a week and then I started selling online.
“I’ve always been creative and I understood the industry from my parents, but what they really taught me was how to work hard. I think making clothes is just another form of expression, like acting really.”
In 2014, she opened Never Fully Dressed’s first – and, so far, only – store, in Buckhurst Hill in Essex. However, at that point, the brand was still based in in her parents’ loft, “where three of our people were traipsing up the stairs each day”.
My cousin and my mum work in the shop, so it is like an extended family
Last year, she moved into a warehouse and office in Loughton and ran pop-ups in cities including Copenhagen, Barcelona and London to meet more of her customers face to face. Around 90% of sales come through the brand’s website, and are dispatched from the warehouse.
Aylen explains: “I don’t think we’ll do any more full-scale shops because of the overheads and leases but pop-ups work really well for us. We’re doing one in Chelsea later this year to create a bit of a buzz about the brand. We are doing another pop-up in LA next spring and, in the longer term, possibly we’d look to do something [permanent] in the US because maybe we’d need a base.”
She adds: “We do London Fashion Weekend and we meet a lot of international customers there, too.”
In addition to the planned pop-ups, Never Fully Dressed will debut leopard-print wrapround taxi advertising in London and Manchester in September to further raise awareness.
Nevertheless, the store is important, too, says Aylen: “We have customers who travel out from central London on a weekend for a chat and to see new collections. My cousin and my mum work in the shop, so it is like an extended family, and our customers are an extension of that.”
Alongside its direct-to-consumer offer and store, Never Fully Dressed wholesales, but Aylen has chosen to scale this back in the UK to gain more control over image and positioning. The brand still works with a few stores, such as AdHoc London on King’s Road, with which it has a longstanding relationship, and also has stockists in Europe and the US.
Close to home
The clothes were initially made by Aylen, and later by a local retired machinist, who lived close to her parents. Now she works with factories in the UK and China, depending on what fabrics she is using or lead times. She can get deliveries in two weeks from the UK and three to four from China but can also ship more quickly if required.
“For our leopard print wrap skirt, which sold out in 48 hours, we got it replenished in 10 days, which is really costly, but it makes sense because we have the demand,” she explains.
Aylen generally works on new drops every two months, which allows her to react to the latest trends. Design is a collaborative effort from the whole team, and even takes customer requests into consideration, but all styles are signed off by Aylen herself.
“We’re introducing sizes 18 to 20 in late autumn following customer demand. The range will initially be just bestsellers and pieces we think will work in those sizes,” she says. “Community and customer is really important – if you don’t have that, then you can’t sell your dress, can you?”
Social media is a big part of the business and Aylen says she thinks the “community feel” comes from being approachable and responsive: “Quite often we get people messaging on Instagram saying they bought something five years ago and can we do it again. Because they’ve been with us for a long time, they feel part of the growth and the journey.”
The label counts celebrities and reality TV stars such as Stacey Solomon and Megan McKenna as fans. Model Kendall Jenner stepped out in the brand’s signature Boob T last year – as the name suggests, it is printed with a cartoonish sketched pair of breasts.
Nonetheless, Aylen says her social media following feels authentic because it has grown organically over several years and she does not do big gifting campaigns to get celebrities and influencers into her clothes.
Beyond the pop-ups and advertising push, Aylen has expansion plans of her own to keep her busy over the next few months – she is pregnant with her second child.
“I like to keep busy – I’m always looking at the next thing. It’s what keeps me going,” she adds. “We’ve got a style that we’re known for, but our styling videos show all the different ways to wear it and that’s really inclusive. What I want is to just spread more of that message even further.”