Representing the creative future

ELLISS: Running an emerging sustainable business in 2020

Elliss Solomon talks about making a collection about the outdoors when everyone is indoors, and how it is to run a brand with a strict environmental ethic

elliss sustainable brand

Elliss Solomon launched her first collection in 2016, consisting of undergarments made from recycled and organic fabrics with fine art inspired prints – a core aesthetic element of the brand until today. ELLISS ’ modern designs, distinct visual identity, and diverse casting placed the brand into an unknown at the time, fashion category: one of the fashionable and wearable sustainable designs. In the last two years, we have become a bit more accustomed to the concept of ethical fashion that the audience wants to wear and ELLISS grew hand in hand with the increasing demand for an environmentally friendly wardrobe. The world of running your own brand though can be tough, especially today. Along with the release of her new collection and lookbook, Elliss discusses the development of the brand from underwear to clothes, why she produces her samples in limited quantities, and how she is dealing with stockists and factories as a starting brand.

Your new collection, named “The Beach Collection,” is about the outdoors. How did the theme come up? 

I wanted to capture a feeling of freedom in the outdoors. I always feel most myself when I’m out walking my dog or exploring a new exciting place. I get that feeling that the world is full of new possibilities. The lookbook was shot post lockdown in London so we were all imagining that feeling in a time when it wasn’t possible to be amongst nature. Using this theme, we shot the lookbook in a studio, creating snapshots of these moments in an unnatural environment. HMUA Emilie Louizides created the hair and makeup looks via tutorials with the two models Atlantis and Cherie the day before the shoot and was on facetime with them on the day. In the studio, it was just myself behind the camera, my sister Chloe Solomon, who I collaborated with on the jewellery, and my assistant Martha Ketcher. We worked in a new way, but I think we captured some magic in a difficult moment in time.

How did you find it, running a brand during lockdown? Especially since you were busy with the Scrubs for NHS initiative?  

Lockdown hasn’t made running a brand easy but I am lucky to have a platform to sell my pieces online. This did help to keep it ticking over! I put the brand to the side when working on Scrub Up as I wanted to focus on helping the NHS. I also didn’t feel right promoting in the midst of a pandemic. It has been a confusing time to create and release new work but I am really excited to release the new collection now.

ELLISS SUSTAINABLE BRAND
THE BEACH COLLECTION BY ELLISS
ELLISS SUSTAINABLE BRAND
ELLISS SUSTAINABLE BRAND
ELLISS SUSTAINABLE BRAND
ELLISS SUSTAINABLE BRAND
THE BEACH COLLECTION BY ELLISS
ELLISS SUSTAINABLE BRAND

“I never want to create a lot of waste and this way I’m not prototyping lots of new pieces every season that will never go into production or even be shown.” – Elliss Solomon

What kind of problems are you experiencing when it comes to running your brand within the current situation?

The delay in the release of our collection and a new production has been difficult for the brand as we have basically missed a season of orders. We were quite lucky that there were no cancelled orders as a result of lockdown as we delayed our release.

Your brand evolved from being mainly a lingerie label to clothes; Was this an organic decision or was it a response to the audience’s demand? 

It’s both really, I wanted to start small and evolve naturally. Each season I try and include something new and expand the range in a way that feels right. This may be because customers have asked for it or it’s just something I think will work well. I wanted to get really good at one thing and fulfill that niche rather than try and compete with larger brands. I never want to create a lot of waste and this way I’m not prototyping lots of new pieces every season that will never go into production or even be shown.

Elliss Sustainable brand

“As a small brand (without a huge budget) it is hard to make a quality product in mass.” – Elliss Solomon

You started your brand almost straight after your degree; What is the most important lesson you have learned as a business owner?

I did take a little time after the degree to work at an interior design practice where my role was to source and buy-in fabrics. This time allowed me the space to come up with my brand identity and prototypes. Since starting ELLISS I have learned so many lessons! The most important one is to try and overcome challenges and mistakes without it being the end of the world. I used to take every small mistake on and let it really weigh me down but now I take a minute and realise that you can’t control everything when you are making pieces with multiple stages to the production. For example, if a fabric is wrong or a factory is late, you can’t always change that so you have to adapt and not be too rigid.

Do you think it is harder to run a sustainable brand than a brand with no strict environmental ethic? If yes, why?

I think things take more time and there are more constraints, but I wouldn’t be able to do it any other way.

What is the thinking behind producing in limited quantities? Do you think that anything else would be impossible to control, sustainability wise?

The thought behind doing smaller runs is really ‘quality over quantity’. I wanted to create a really special, high-quality product. As a small brand (without a huge budget) it is hard to make a quality product in mass. Of course, it is also more environmentally friendly to produce less. As a brand grows you will have to produce more pieces to fulfill demand but you can choose to do it in the most sustainable way possible and starting small allows you to put the right processes in place. We create small runs of each item which means that the price isn’t as cheap as someone who is creating mass but a lot of care has gone into making every sample. There are some things that are harder to control, for example, what happens to the garment and packaging when it arrives at a shop or a customer. How the packaging is disposed of and how the garment is cared for. This is inevitable, but something that is important to talk about, so shops make sure to have the right processes in place also.

ELLISS - SS21 design development
ELLISS - SS21 design development
ELLISS - SS21 design development
ELLISS - SS21 design development
Elliss sustainable brand

What is the hardest part of running your own brand? 

Cash flow and the constant demand for something new. Especially if you run an e-commerce store it is important to keep it interesting, with new imagery and pieces on display. With limited resources, it can be difficult to keep up. Recently I bought myself a tripod and we have been doing more low key shoots in the studio, which I’ve actually really enjoyed!

You recently became part of Teen Vogue’s “Generation Next” Initiative, could you tell us about that? Do you believe that more support initiatives that are based on mentorships and advice for young designers take place or do you think financial support is more useful to emerging brands?

I think both are extremely useful. It’s great to have a feeling of support for your own productivity and to have advice from experts in the industry can be invaluable. I am so grateful to be part of “Generation Next”, the team at Teen Vogue have been so lovely, and really wanted to make the experience unique to the brand and as useful as possible. I really appreciate that. Financial support is, of course, also very useful and necessary, as there is a point where it is difficult to grow without a financial boost, but if an initiative can provide both, that is the dream!

ELLISS was recognised by the audience and buyers leading to your own online shop and several stockists; Many young designers struggle a lot with production as well as finding stockists and selling their designs. How did you do it; did you figure everything on your own? 

It is really difficult. It has been a long learning process with lots of questions for friends with brands. I share a studio with Daniel Fletcher, which has been amazing, as we’re constantly asking each other for advice. My brother, Theo, developed my website. I wouldn’t have been able to set up the e-commerce website without his help.  It is a constant process of reaching out to new people and introducing them to the brand. It has become easier but it hasn’t been quick.

ELLISS SUSTIANABLE BRAND
ELLISS SUSTAINABLE BRAND
ELLISS SUSTAINABLE BRAND

Do you think that fashion education prepared you sufficiently to run a business? Looking back, what would like to be taught differently? 

I think that my fashion education taught me a lot about creating something unique as a designer, but my course [Fashion Design Womenswear at Central St Martins] wasn’t geared towards business at all. I had to do a lot of research myself. I think that the course could teach more about pricing structures and cash flow as a brand but perhaps at the time, I wouldn’t have wanted to focus on that. Having such a creative and free course was invaluable to my development as a designer.

ELLISS has a very strong visual identity. Do you think that visual identity sometimes is as important as the designs for a brand? 

I think it’s really important, it’s something that I really enjoy creating. I do think the clothes need to stand up to the visual identity, but it should all be cohesive. The brand started off as a way for me to express myself, but now I think it’s a mixture of my own self-expression and newness that comes directly from the brand and its feeling. Sometimes, I would like to do something, but I soon realise that it is totally off-brand, so it won’t work. Other times, an idea comes from previous brand imagery.

“I would change the speed of the fashion industry. The demand for new and trend-driven fashion that changes so fast is really hard to keep up with and totally unsustainable.” – Elliss Solomon

ELLISS SUSTAINABLE BRAND
ELLISS SUSTAINABLE BRAND

If you could, what would you change in the fashion industry? Is there something that you don’t think makes sense, especially as a brand owner? 

I would change the speed of the fashion industry. The demand for new and trend-driven fashion that changes so fast is really hard to keep up with and totally unsustainable.

Is there something that you would like to do with ELLISS but you feel like you are not able to do so?

I would love to add knitwear to the range. This is something that I think will be possible at some point but is expensive to produce with imagery and using sustainable yarns on a smaller scale. I do have some exciting new plans for next year with bamboo silk and organic woven pieces, so watch this space!

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