Olya Kuryschuk: I wanted to start this interview with the cutest picture: your kid was at your last show. Seeing them making circles around the space made me think of being a woman in fashion and having a family. In this industry, big creative directors have kids, sometimes more than one, while the team “underneath” them rarely has any. I assume it is really hard, but I want to know how you feel as a woman running her own brand. How has motherhood changed the process of how you work or structure your team?
Molly Goddard: I obviously think it’s hard. I’m in a very lucky position, as I run my own business and I can choose when to work and how. The AW22 season has been amazing because my baby is only 10 months old and I was able to come just 2 days a week, except for the week before the show when I was in every day. As a mother, I do want to spend time with my son; I don’t want to go straight back to work after 3 months. It’s really about finding a balance. COVID made working from home much more acceptable. However, I wouldn’t say that in my company there’s a problem with people not feeling they’re able to have children. So far, I have two people on maternity leave. I employ 95% women in their late 20s or early 30s, and potentially in long-term relationships, so the fact that many people will go on maternity leave is a reality for us. Our maternity policy works really well. Even though it’s not easy to get covers, people come back as freelancers or work part-time and they can be very flexible. I think that comes from your company values, and mine is that everyone enjoys their life as much as they enjoy their work.
“Taking care of everyone is really high on our priority list, along with creating a nice environment to work in. If you’re not happy and the atmosphere is tense, there’s no point in working there. ” – Molly Goddard
Molly Goddard is a family affair. Do you think this impacted your way of thinking within the company, considering that the majority of big brands don’t care much about livelihood and the notion of enjoying life while working?
That’s a massive priority for us. However, people say it’s a family affair. I’d say it used to be one, even though I started this on my own. I worked with my mum [set designer Sarah Edwards] on sets, which has been amazing but also very legitimate, as I paid her for her time. My boyfriend used to work for me when we started, and I still work closely with my sister who styles all my shows. But it’s not a family affair in the sense that everyone joined for free. Tessa Griffith is my Managing Director and a friend of mine from primary school. She also deals with welfare, and how to do things fairly and be sustainable from a staff perspective. Taking care of everyone is really high on our priority list, along with creating a nice environment to work in. Making everyone happy is very important to me. If you’re not happy and the atmosphere is tense, there’s no point in working there.
You mentioned that when you started it was you and your boyfriend. Did you have a plan of how to do things? Was it spontaneous? Any chance you can walk me through those first moments of your company?
I failed my master’s at Central Saint Martins. It was the same year Louise Wilson passed away. Louise was the main reason why I wanted to go to Saint Martin’s for my foundation, BA and MA. Her death changed it massively for me. I was very depressed and I was having the worst time ever. I felt like I had all this hard work done and nowhere to show it. I wanted to have some sort of portfolio, so I made some clothes in my living room. Then we had a party in Mayfair in a church hall. That might sound fancy, but it was actually £150 to rent it for the afternoon and my friends wore the dresses so I didn’t have to pay for the models. I didn’t really have an understanding of showrooms and sales at all when we did the presentation. I was doing it to get a job. I remember that at Saint Martin’s it wasn’t very cool at the time to say you wanted to do your own thing, so I didn’t even consider that as an option. Louise used to get people amazing jobs in fashion houses. And that was my main goal. But the next day we got a call from I.T. Hong Kong; they wanted to meet and see the collection and eventually, they placed an order. I didn’t realise what was happening.
Do you mind me asking how big was your very first order?
I think it was 30 pieces. I can’t remember how much money it was.
“[When I got my first order] I rented the spare bedroom at my mum’s flat. It was a very tiny room. As big as a pattern cutting table. I worked there every day from 7 am to 10 pm.” – Molly Goddard
I do a lot of mentoring and have been there at the beginning of many designer journeys. It always surprised me how many of them didn’t have a plan to start a brand but did so because a big retailer placed an order. Most designers don’t realise that the same retailer has placed a micro order with almost everyone, to make sure they don’t miss out on “newness”. I am curious to hear if this was what motivated you to start your business.
When Dover Street Market contacted me and that made it more real. I rented the spare bedroom at my mum’s flat. It was a very tiny room. As big as a pattern cutting table. I worked there every day from 7 am to 10 pm. I did the whole collection myself for both Dover Street Market and I.T., which is crazy because I was good at sewing, but not experienced in industrial production.
“What helped me from the beginning because we didn’t have money or investments was to be strict on getting a deposit from everyone. That’s how we survived.” – Molly Goddard
I slowly started to understand more of the process… The first season I didn’t go to Paris, because I had just a few pieces on display. I still hadn’t figured out the production side of things. It has been really hard to get people to make your clothes in small quantities. It still is, but we are getting there.
When you went to Paris, was it part of a British Fashion Council Showroom or just on your own?
Yes, the BFC Showroom. Which was great, because you get to learn a lot from all the people around you, or don’t learn because some of them didn’t have their shit together. What helped me from the beginning, because we didn’t have money or investments, was to be strict on getting a deposit from everyone. That’s how we survived.
“It has always been a challenge to get the balance right between what is exciting for me, for the show, and the elements that allow people to buy and wear those pieces.” – Molly Goddard
You have such consistency in your work. Was that consistency at the beginning something instinctive? I admire it whenever someone is confident about their ideas. The problem with many designers is that it doesn’t matter how many times you tell them to stick to who they are, they will always try to reinvent themselves. It has to do with the press too: every time we speak to editors, they don’t care if the business works, if there are any sales, or if customers like it. It just becomes a selfish “entertain me” thing.
Well, I think it has never been conscious. We’ve been lucky that the clothes are interesting and wearable at the same time. I do find it difficult when I see collections that are “just for the show”. Part of me used to be so torn about that. It has always been a challenge to get the balance right between what is exciting for me, for the show, and the elements that allow people to buy and wear those pieces. And I know what you mean when you talk about the press. In the past, people were disappointed when the collection was more wearable or commercial. But the reality is that we have to make money and I have to pay my staff. Maybe that’s where we could improve. I don’t have a merchandising team, even if we are on the hunt for one, because that’s simply not how I think.
In fashion school, “commercial” sounds like a dirty word. But I think being commercial means that people crave your pieces. It can be a fun show to watch, but then you have to look at the orders. There is always a limit to how much you can achieve. We are not a massive company. Comme des Garçons, for example, has the Comme show, and then they have the showroom in Paris, which is so fascinating, almost from a merchandising perspective. They have pretty much unwearable pieces which don’t even allow you to move your arms, alongside more wearable ones.
Yes, it’s the balance that everyone wants to achieve, but you need to get to specific numbers in order to afford that.
That’s when you have a massive production with sidelines, that you can balance creativity.
“I love what I do and I wouldn’t stop doing it, but sometimes I think it would be nice to go home without having to worry about all the people you hired.” – Molly Goddard
There are so many new brands popping up every season. Whenever I see a new person, I am so stressed for them. Especially when they start straight away very big, with a show for example. We all want them to keep growing, but I am aware of all the obstacles they will have to face. What would be your advice for them?
I think saying “no” is a very important part of it. We said no a lot at the beginning, even though it can be hard. It was difficult to say no to Selfridges, for example, when they wanted too many pieces. You can get caught up in the excitement and the opportunities that come, but it’s always alright to say no. And one thing I didn’t realise until I started my own brand is how many exciting jobs in fashion there are. I love what I do and I wouldn’t stop doing it, but sometimes I think it would be nice to go home without having to worry about all the people you hired. The pressure is all on you. There are so many amazing jobs, creative and non-creative and I don’t think people teach the non-creative ones, at all. And then you need to work with a team that you really respect and take care of. They have to be really good, though. You won’t make it without their support. That’s the key to me and I consider myself very lucky.
When did Tessa [Griffith, Managing Director at Molly Goddard] join you?
4 years ago. She came and sorted everything out. Before her, money was a bit all over the place.