10 Questions With Traditionally Crafted Menswear Designer Sarah Hellen

Menswear designer Sarah Hellen has a passion for producing high-quality garments using long-lost production methods and hard-to-find natural materials. She may be doing it the hard way, but it’s certainly paying off – last year Sarah was chose by the NEWGEN Men sponsored by TOPMAN Panel and the British Fashion Council  as ‘One to Watch’ at LC:M. We caught up with her to find out how – and why – she does it.

 

Tell us how you ended up starting your own brand?

I studied Fashion Design at both BA and MA level, and it was really during my masters that my brand began to form. During my time at University I spent a year out in industry, where I interned and assisted a few designers in both New York and Berlin. I think it was then I realised I want to do what they’re doing.

 

You pride yourself on your unique materials and production methods. Can you tell us a bit more about the products you make?

All of my products are made in Great Britain. The main focus of my brand is to source local fabrics and yarns, as well as working with independent craftspeople across Wales to incorporate traditional crafts into a contemporary context. So far I have worked with hand knitters, a slate artist, a basket weaver, shoemaker, silk painter and I source materials from Mills in the UK and Welsh Mill when possible.

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Who were your biggest inspirations in the design world?

Whilst living in Berlin I worked for a designer called Hien Le, I was fascinated by the amount of hard work he put into his brand and this has inspired me ever since. He is a super talented designer and also one of the nicest people I have ever met, I was really lucky to have the experience of working with him and have ever since wanted to work towards my own brand.

 

What’s been your favourite project to date?

I loved working with the Dull Men’s Club for SS16, we had real fun shooting the video and had a really fantastic team working on it. Saying that, every season becomes my favourite one each time!

SARAH HELLEN // dull men’s club SS16 from Matthew P. Smith on Vimeo.

 

Has there been something you really wanted to try but it just wasn’t commercially viable?

I am in my third season now and each time I am becoming more aware of being commercially viable. This is something I am definitely learning along the way. I have also been working for a high street brand for the last year which has really helped me to be more aware of what customers want and expect from your product, and also what buyers look for. It’s important to have a balance though and have pieces that are commercial and some that are representative of the creative concept behind my brand.

 

How big is your team?

At the moment, it’s just me! I’m really lucky to have people around me I can ask for advice and guidance along the way relating to different elements of the business, and a very reliable bunch of friends who will tell me if they think what I’m doing is any good or not! When it comes to shooting lookbooks and campaigns I have always had a great team of friends and professionals around me, and this is always the fun bit. But throughout most of the season it’s me in my studio pattern-cutting and preparing the collection. When my brand grows, so will my team.

 

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What do you love most about running your own business?

Due to the nature of my brand concept working with lots of different craftspeople and sourcing local products means I have met so many fantastic people along the way. This is by far my favourite part of running my business, going to meet the people I work with and finding out more about their craft and their own stories and backgrounds. It also means I get to take a few days out in Wales each season which is such a refreshing change from being in London – nothing beats it. I’m a country girl at heart so I need a dose of fresh air and green fields every so often!

 

Is that how you relax and maintain a work/life balance?

When I’m not working I often feel guilty, because the growth of my brand is solely reliant on me and how much work I put into it.  But I’ve come to realise that it is important to take time out and relax, to re-boost your energy and not to burn out, and mostly just to spend time with your mates! I would say I work the majority of the time, but I love what I do so I can’t really complain.

 

What’s on your work playlist?

My favourite time to work is Sunday in my studio, for two reasons – usually I have the place to myself and I can listen to Cerys Matthews on Radio 6, I love her. Otherwise it can totally vary as to how much work I have to do, if it’s a lot and it’s getting late I’m not ashamed to say it’ll be Kiss FM or if I’m pretty chilled it’ll be Carole King, or most likely to have the Eastenders omnibus playing in the background!

 

What advice would you give to anyone else looking to start their own brand?

If you find something different that you love doing and are willing to put all of your effort into making a business from, then you can’t go wrong. Also, don’t be scared to reach out and ask for advice – it’s best to get as much feedback as possible, especially when working on your own.

  • Sarah Hellen is one of the eight emerging designers that UKTI and Spindle are proudly bringing to New York for the Liberty Trade Show. Find out more here