PRINTS CHARM­ING

Bry­ony Richard­son is the owner of Palava, a vin­tage-in­spired fash­ion com­pany, grown from a fam­ily busi­ness dat­ing back decades

The Simple Things - - LIVING | LIFE SKILLS - Words: SIAN MEADES

There’s in­spi­ra­tion to be found in the past When I was grow­ing up, my par­ents owned a shop, Strick­land & Holt, in Yarm in North York­shire, which opened in 1854. It was go­ing to go bank­rupt and my par­ents moved back to Yarm to save it. They started a new com­pany, called Poppy, to help with sales, de­vel­op­ing their own fab­rics and prints for chil­dren’s bed­ding, and then cloth­ing. Sadly, prints started go­ing out of fash­ion in the 90s, man­u­fac­tur­ing in the UK started to dwin­dle and the busi­ness even­tu­ally be­came dor­mant. I fin­ished my de­sign de­gree and was work­ing at Cath Kid­ston. I got an in­sight into her busi­ness, how she worked with lots of prints and vin­tage in­spi­ra­tions and thought that it might be pos­si­ble to re­launch my par­ents’ busi­ness.

Our name re­flects our story A com­pany raised an is­sue with the name Poppy – they’d reg­is­tered their trade­mark just a year ear­lier than my par­ents. It felt like a tonne of bricks had landed on my head; le­gal costs mount up quickly, and I didn’t know if we would lose our busi­ness. We changed our name to Bry­ony but an­other com­pany op­posed our new name. We were a bit wiser af­ter the first time. We made a plan to deal with it and tried to turn it into a pos­i­tive mes­sage. The name Palava came from the palaver that we went through. The things we wear should have mean­ing I started with some of my par­ents’ old prints and ad­justed those to make them a bit more mod­ern, work­ing with a seam­stress who had worked with my par­ents. We started on a small scale. I was try­ing to suss out the world of chil­dren’s clothes. At the time, peo­ple were buy­ing re­ally cheap chil­dren’s cloth­ing that didn’t last long. It had no mean­ing. When I was a child I had one or two favourite dresses

and items that were passed down – I’m the youngest of four. It made me think about our con­nec­tion with cloth­ing.

Be pre­pared to try new things I wanted to give more mean­ing to the clothes so that chil­dren could re­late to what they were wear­ing. I re­ally loved some of the 1950s il­lus­tra­tors and won­dered about tak­ing those in­spi­ra­tions to cre­ate sto­ries. Now, we write a new sto­ry­book for ev­ery col­lec­tion – I draw them my­self – chron­i­cling the es­capades of our Palava char­ac­ters Poppy and Fred.

When I was mak­ing the chil­dren’s dresses, I’d al­ways make one dress just for me. Then I made a few more adult sizes as a bit of a test. To­day, we sell more adult cloth­ing than chil­dren’s. My back­ground isn’t in fash­ion, so it’s been a mas­sive learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Kids don’t have curves. It’s a dif­fer­ent ball­game.

Stick to your guns I wanted to use Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ers and print­ers wher­ever pos­si­ble. A lot of peo­ple in the in­dus­try thought I was naïve to try. It isn’t al­ways pos­si­ble – our new knitwear range is made in Ro­ma­nia – but our dresses are made in Bark­ing by a fac­tory that’s been in the busi­ness over 20 years. The owner has such a wealth of knowl­edge.

It’s all in the de­tail We cre­ate all our prints by hand and have a lot of fun mak­ing them. We love build­ing in hid­den lit­tle de­sign el­e­ments. Our lob­ster de­sign is, as you’d ex­pect, cov­ered in lob­sters, ex­cept for one crab. I’d for­got­ten about it un­til a cus­tomer men­tioned it! It’s lovely when we get that kind of feed­back, to know that peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the work that goes in.

Build in sup­port I felt re­ally alone when I started. I didn’t have busi­ness skills or feel like I had a cir­cle around me that I could ask for ad­vice. I wish I’d had more con­fi­dence to ask about things I didn’t know when I started out. I now have a lovely team that are mas­sively sup­port­ive and it’s about build­ing on that.

Cel­e­brate the small wins A busi­ness never stops feel­ing like hard work. As soon as you’re over one hur­dle, there’s an­other. Sell­ing out of a dress is the suc­cess for us. There are al­ways new chal­lenges but – if you’re a cre­ative per­son, and you man­age to put that into your job – then that’s a mas­sive suc­cess.

Putting vin­tage styles and play­ful pat­terns to good use, Bry­ony’s busi­ness now makes women’s as well as chil­drenswear

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