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