Talking slow fashion, the North East and the trials of launching a brand, we sat down with Sophie from Handmade By Sophie Rodgers

2020 really is the year of the indie brand. One of the positives of lockdown and furlough is the absolute abundance of time, giving creatives the space they need to birth the brain babies they’d been thinking up for ages. Working from dining room tables and makeshift studios, the fashion conversation is switching its focus to independent makers and one-man efforts, taking sustainability into their own hands with homemade to measure brands. One of these designers sewing away from the corner of her bedroom in the North of England, is Sophie Rodgers who launched her own brand Handmade by Sophie Rodgers 2 months ago.

Born out of her fashion studies and observations on the efforts of other brands, Handmade by Sophie Rodgers puts sustainability first as they’ve carving out a clear aesthetic place in the market, making beautifully and endlessly wearable pieces. Talking what it takes to develop a brand, fashion in the North East and sustainability commitments, we (virtually) sat down with Sophie.

#1 Can you tell us a little bit about your first experiences with fashion? What was the first thing/person you saw where you were like yep, this is what I want to be doing?

Well I actually didn’t have the usual approach to fashion as a young girl. I only actually started to care about fashion and styling once I got to college and I realised how fun it could be. It was designers like Molly Goddard and Hannah Weiland that made me go “wow, I want to do that”.

#2 And where have you gone since then? I know you’re currently at uni so what made you pick that course, and what do you imagine might be next?

After doing creative a-levels I followed it by doing a foundation diploma at the same college, because it gave me the year to solidify what exactly I wanted to do in fashion. It was Leeds Arts University that stood out to me because of how personal the course felt, like they’d push you to do whatever you wanted, whereas other places felt very moulding and like there was a criteria in what you have to produce at the end. Once my degree is done I hope to spend my time working towards building my own brand to be a full time business, but I’m still open minded.

#3 You’re in the middle of launching that brand which is super exciting, what made you decide to do this now?

It’s super exciting yet also very nerve wracking to launch a brand. I’ve been planning it for a few months, following a really motivated period during lockdown where I started using all that spare time to work on myself. I knew I wanted to start a brand eventually and thought it would be really insightful for people to watch along as I grow throughout uni rather than just seeing the final product.

#4 Sustainability is the big topic in fashion as more slow, independent fashion brands are popping up. What’s been your process for planning out the brand with sustainability in mind?

My interest and determination to promote being sustainable has always went gone in hand with my involvement in fashion, right from the start. When it came to making my own brand, it was almost a subconscious thing I had that was looking out for sustainable materials. Most of my fabrics are second hand from designer off cuts, meaning they’re also of a high quality. Anything else will be fabrics that I know are durable and long lasting, yet also aren’t hazardous to the environment. I’ve also tried to opt for eco friendly packaging whilst avoiding any plastic, so overall I’m trying to be as cautious as possible.

#5 And inspiration-wise. Who’s been on the brand mood board, and what eras have you been looking to for inspiration?

Oh I love a good mood board. There’s a few women that make frequent appearances on it, especially princess Diana. She had a very eclectic wardrobe that didn’t necessarily mould into one style. I’m also a huge lover of anything from the 60’s because of how versatile it was. You had some women in pvc mini dresses with some sexy boots, and others still clinging onto their midi skirts and Mary Janes from the decade prior. It’s a decade where everyone can find something they love in it.

#6 We both come from the north east which isn’t the most fashionable place, especially when it comes to moving away from fast fashion. What’s your thoughts or experiences with the northern fashion scene after moving away from the north-east and basing yourself in Leeds? Do you think it’s becoming less the case that London is the place to be? Or does the north still have some catching up to do with sustainable brands?

The fashion of the North East definitely has character, I’ll say that. It was very strange coming from a place where sustainability isn’t a regular discussion to then seeing people my age cramming into the charity shops in Leeds. I’d definitely say that fashion is developing in these areas a lot quicker than what it would be if we didn’t have things like the influence of Instagram, but I still think there’s a lot of catching up to do. The main gap between the north east and being sustainable is mainly down to how expensive it can be. We still need to develop processes to make sustainable fabric production more affordable and accessible, without causing the same issues as fast fashion does with cheap fabrics.

#7 What are some brands you’re loving at the minute?

I’ve 100% got my eyes on Jacquemus at the minute. Although they might not be huge ball-gowns or look that impressive to the average person, some of those ‘simple’ pieces would actually take quite a lot of effort to make. I’m also a huge fan of his colour palette, it’s not that common that you’ll see designers blend ‘summer’ colours with ‘winter’ colours, but I think it shows a lot more wearability to his designs besides the season they’re dedicated to, which is quite admirable for today’s standards.

#8 So far in the process of building your brand, what’s been the most rewarding thing?

For myself as a designer, it was seeing people still support me after months of uncertainty as to whether I’d launch the brand or not. Although my Instagram might give off the illusion that I’m a confident person, my main flaw that all my tutors have picked up on is that I didn’t have confidence in myself to believe that I could do these things. Now when I see that I actually have my own work out there and people have paid to own it for themselves, it’s so heartwarming and I can’t describe how much it’s boosted my confidence now.

#9 And the most difficult?

The hardest part was definitely having to deal with the ‘failure’ feeling whilst delaying the launch for personal stuff going on. For a long time I was feeling like I’d let people down that believed in me, but it was so relieving to see people still being excited and understanding. I knew that I wanted to make good things for good people, so it was much better for them and for myself to accept that things didn’t go as planned and work towards a new plan, which is how I’ve managed to launch confidently now.

#10 Would you be able to talk us through the branding a bit? How did you decide on your logo and the brand vibe?

For my branding, a friend had recommended this graphic designer called Simon who made my logo exactly how I wanted it from a very specific Pinterest board I’d been working on, and that was the basis of all the packaging details. As for the designs, I was wanting to make pieces that I could see myself and others wearing for anything and making use out of how versatile it can be. I’d love to see a girl take the Florence bag out for her uni lecture and then stop by the Tesco express on the way back to pick up some things, then maybe later on someone will ask her if she wants to go to the pub. Next thing you know that bag is housing all the snacks to keep her and her mates going on the dance floor before it’s time for a McDonald’s. The zipper is the perfect way to keep them safe.

#11 What would you say is the ethos behind the brand?

In summary, I guess the brand ethos is to make sustainable fashion more attainable for younger people. I want it to be affordable, customisable, and personal to the individual in both sizing and preferences. Sustainability can be more than just the basics, and everyone should have the opportunity to find something they love that suits them.

#12  And finally, what does a day in your life look like currently while you’re developing the line?

My days depend on how I’m feeling most of the time. I’ve learnt the hard way that forcing creativity often leads to a bad state of mind, so now I let it come naturally, then suddenly I’m on my sewing machine for three days straight again. So in my usual week I can spend a few days straight gathering some ideas together, then I’ll spend a day mocking up a toile or prototype of the design, and then a final day making the finished product with some minor adjustments being made in that time too. Then it’s all ready for any orders to be made! I’m currently working on the prototype stage of some pieces that I’ll be launching soon, so keep a close eye on my Instagram for updates.