Terrible Movement’s Tersha Willis On Accountable Fashion

  • Photography: Alexandra Waespi

Terrible Movement is the Hackney-based clothing label that’s at the forefront of a revolution in the fashion world. With a focus on accountable production and unique statement pieces, their streetwear-inspired aesthetic has caught the attention of celebs such as Cara Delevigne and Alana Haim. Earlier this year, they also collaborated with Kangol on a collection before launching band merchandise label Terrible Merch. We caught up with co-founder Tersha Willis to talk ethical business, the Berlin spirit and dog-friendly hotels. 

 

Where does your business name come from?

Ha! It’s a mistranslation from German that somehow stuck. Although, we feel like the business is growing into it’s name – we have definitely started a small movement.

 

Tell us a bit about your background – what led you to starting your own business?

I think you reach a point when you realise that you could be making a bigger contribution to the world and that you have some thing worth sharing that isn’t out there in the way you want it – yet. Then the rest is a bit of a mix of crazy and creativity carefully channelled into making something worthwhile. We wanted to change the world when we started out and we’re working towards this today. Our backgrounds don’t have much to do with what we do now. One of us is a musician and writer and one is a fine art graduate.

 

How big is your team?

We’re two, with a lot of help from our friends when things get a little out of control.

 

Each business is a brand  – what are the blocks to building a strong business in your opinion?

Diversity of experience at the top and a mix of skill sets, as well as transparency with your business partner. If you’re setting up on your own, make sure you have a trusted third party to act as a soundboard, because you will, inevitably, at some point find yourself with tunnel vision on a bad idea without one. Know your brand, too. Be clear from the beginning about what you stand for. Stick to your principles and trust your gut.

 

What’s your point of difference regarding what you do?

We use the expression “doing it right” to describe our point of difference, which sounds vague but really only refers to two things: quality and accountability. We provide a significantly higher quality product than the majority of our competition and we do it accountably, meaning that nobody in our supply chain is working in standards that we wouldn’t work in ourselves. It’s a question we’d often love to put to the decision makers at some of our competitors: “Would you work in the factory that manufactures your products?”

 

 Tell us about your production process?

We manufacture in the USA, because we can’t access a more accountable supply chain than that right now, and we finish in the UK. We’re currently working on all of our products being UK-made, but there isn’t wide-ranging availability for our product categories in the UK just yet. With an increasing number of high street and big box retailers manufacturing some of their product offerings over here, however, we’re expecting that to change in the near future.

 

How important is it for you to produce in the UK?

It’s something that – from day one – we’ve always aspired to. A lot of the principles that we aspire to are a melding of business practices which we admire from a theoretical standpoint, as well as what we see as being the most practical, long-term. Localisation of manufacturing is already on the rise (Under Armour and Adidas have made moves into this, among others) and that’s something we’ve been working towards for about three years now. More than anything, the development of a stronger, more diverse economy in the UK is crucial and manufacturing is something we have a rich heritage in. Made in the UK is a strong brand in itself, that denotes quality and companies have a responsibility to continue to propagate that reputation.

photo credit Alexandra Waespi

 

Tell us more about Terrible Merch – how did this come about?

We’ve got experience in the music industry and merchandise is a big money-spinner for bands. There are a number of very large, very boring merch companies that, I guess like major labels, throw a bit of cash at promising bands and take a huge amount of earning potential away from them. The bands that do well with merch simply wouldn’t give any of that away, so we want to give bands the opportunity to retain that potential, as an alternative to those big merch companies. We’re one of many other smaller, independent merch companies, but we have the addition experience when it comes to marketing the products for wider sale, which is an opportunity a lot of bands won’t necessarily get. There’s a lot in store with this, the scope to develop is great.

 

What bands are you working with? 

Puppy are the flagship band and they’re almost guinea pigs for how this will work. There are more lined up to start working with soon, so we’ll be announcing that as it works out.

 

What inspires your creativity?

Our environment, being in a major global capital, a crossroads between a lot of cultures, such as London is, is a constant source of inspiration. The expression of the self is very pronounced here, although there is an increasing degree of uniformity among the population. We took a lot of inspiration from living in Berlin. From the population, of course, but the spirit of the city. The overhanging sense of strife or triumph over decades of division and oppression is still evident and it’s difficult not to be inspired by that.

 

What’s been your most successful form of marketing and promotion for your business?

The products themselves. People wearing them out and about leads to word of mouth, which is what we believe to be the best type of promotion. Similarly, stocking with the right boutiques and independent retailers puts your product in front of shoppers that are more discerning and used to seeking out lesser-known brands and avoiding the high street. These are usually key influencers in their friendship and social groups, so their endorsement is always a boon, especially when it comes to sincerity and authenticity. I think social media users nowadays are particularly savvy about paid advertising.

 

What’s the best thing about running your business?

I think any business owner enjoys the degree of control that you can exert over your business, which isn’t something every one of them would admit to, necessarily. Guiding a company towards achievements and milestones is a satisfying experience. After that, the broad range of interesting and engaged people that you meet while running a business is inspiring and I think particularly unique to running a small business.

 

Running a business is tough – what do you do when you aren’t working, and how do you manage the work/life balance?

We’re guilty of having no balance these days. When we were in Berlin, we used to take Sundays off because everything was closed but since we came back to London we don’t take much time out. We do go on long walks with our dog Maude every day, we meditate, and every now again we take a one-night holiday at a dog-friendly hotel in London and order room service and take advantage of the black out blinds!

 

What’s on your work playlist?

Puppy, M. T. Hadley, Warpaint, George Benson, Chastity Belt, Neil Young, The Big Moon, The Magic Gang, Yuck, Air, Kendrick Lamar… Always changing.

 

What advice would you give to any budding entrepreneurs?

Do your research about your market and do it yourself. That sounds cruel, but the more that you become used to people handing you the keys to the gates, the less you’ll be able to pick the locks. If you want to be taken seriously, set yourself up professionally. Get to grips with your finances from the off and understand what your business’ key functions are. Spend wisely and only on what you have to, but don’t scrimp on the important things. Finally, never take disagreements and differences personally. It’s business, these things happen. If you’re not sure, take someone for a beer/burger/dance to make sure there’re no hard feelings.