We are emerging from the feral cocoons we’ve spent much of the last year in, and all of a sudden the predicament of ‘What the hell do I wear?’ is hitting us like a slap in the face.
Anybody else struggling to remember how to get dressed in anything other than swaddling sweats? Join the club.
One brand making it easier to hit that fashion sweet spot after a year of non-dressing is London label Barbara Studio, which was launched by best friends Mollie and Liv in June 2020. The brand, which draws inspiration from the duo’s shared love of using fashion as a vessel for escapism, isn’t just your average run-of-the-mill fashion label: having cut their teeth post-university at fast fashion brands, both Mollie and Liv spotted a gap in the market for handmade pieces that are custom-fitted but don’t leave bank balances weeping with their sky-high prices.
The result is the nostalgia-infused Barbara Studio whose first collection was oozing with nods to the midriff-baring of the noughties and retro colours, swirls, and patterns. All pieces are handmade by the pair and they make only a limited number of each item to keep waste to a minimum. For those wanting a piece to be made with custom sizing, all you have to do is buy it and email the girls with your precise sizing, and they will custom make the piece according to your proportions.
For those itching for wares that have that je ne sais quoi ahead of their reappearance into the world, Barbara Studio is a wonderful, female-owned, London-based place to start. We caught up with Liv and Mollie to find out a little bit more.
What inspired you to start Barbara Studio?
We were both working at a fashion brand together after Uni, it was a small brand but even so we felt uneasy about the ‘fast fashion’ business model. We knew we had something more authentic to offer. We wanted to get back to where our real passion lies, pattern cutting and sewing and being free to be as creative as possible.
Are both of you trained in fashion design?
We met at Nottingham Trent Uni where we studied Fashion Design. We were instant BFFs and decided very early on that we wanted to start a fashion brand; we always knew we would. We love pattern cutting and making clothes and have learned so much more after hours spent at the sewing machine working on Barbara pieces.
What did you feel was missing from the market that you feel Barbara Studio fits?
An authentic brand that is more affordable than the high-end designer prices, we wanted to offer quality pieces that are handmade in London for the people who (like us) were interested in something more original and with more longevity than what was available from fast fashion brands.
How has lockdown been for you?
It was the lockdown that gave us the time to do this which (despite how hard it has been) we are both really grateful for. We designed and made the first range remotely, sewing in our bedrooms and sending images and then we brought our ideas together to form a collection. When we decided to start sharing images of our pieces on Instagram in June we were so happy to get such a positive reaction! After lockdown, we organised a photo shoot and it was amazing to see it all come to life. We are excited to finally see people wearing our clothes out in nightclubs and festivals and we can’t wait to go out dancing in head-to-toe Barbara outfits. It is long overdue!
Tell me about your business model of custom-making orders – why was that important for you?
Women’s bodies are all so different, some women are 3 different sizes from bust to waist to hips - so it can be hard to find clothes that fit well when buying standard sizing from stores. Body image is such an issue for a lot of women and we want our Barbs girls to look and feel confident in our pieces. We found custom sizing and adjustable detailing are a great way to achieve this. It is really special to own a piece of clothing that fits you perfectly and we like the idea of our clothing being treasured forever.
Although you definitely could, I notice that you don’t list Barbara Studio as ‘sustainable’ on your website – is there a reason for that?
Sustainability is so important to us and we definitely agree that there’s a lot of greenwashing going on - which is why we felt it was important to really refine our processes and make sure we are doing everything as consciously as possible before shouting about it.
We already make high-quality pieces that will be kept for a long time which is a key sustainable element, but we’ve also looked further into the fabrics we’re using. Our new range will feature fabrics manufactured in the UK and an organic cotton and recycled polyester mix for our sweats. We’re really excited to release these pieces!
Who is the Barbara Studio customer?
We design things that we want to wear and that we feel are different from anything else you can get. The Barbara customer is fashion-forward and wants to wear one-of-a-kind pieces. We love to have fun with what we make and since we’re making the pieces ourselves (rather than committing to big orders from factories) we can really experiment. We often say to each other ‘This would be my dream outfit when I was 12’, and it’s true; we are definitely living out our 12-year-old fantasy.
What or who inspires you?
Everything! A lifelong love of dressing up and all the escapism that comes with that. Our biggest muses are probably Tracy Emin, Gloria Steinem, Dolly Parton, and most importantly our mums, Barbara & Gillian.
What does the future hold?
More menswear! We definitely want to make some more fun Barbara pieces for our male customers. We are also planning some exciting pop-up events, when the restrictions are lifted keep your eyes peeled for a night of all-female DJs where our customers can come and try on the pieces and get measured up.