A colourful fashion blog supporting independents & sustainable fashion in Bristol and beyond since 2011

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Indies in Lockdown - Has the pandemic inspired creativity?

We are all guilty pf putting a smiley face on our social media profiles, keeping calm and carrying on but what has life really been like for creatives and small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic?? 

As a creative, I have had my own experiences and became very interested in how other indie creatives, including designers, artists and makers, have coped during their time in lockdown. 

We have all had to change the way we work but has the pandemic actually helped inspire creativity for some of us or left us overwhelmed with no focus or drive?

Have we got so used to the new normal that we want to stay in lockdown? What have we enjoyed about this (slightly unorthodox) time out? Has it made us rethink the way we work? 

As lockdown eases, we are all considering our futures in this new world. For some of us the easing has caused a wave of great excitement, others are feeling more cautious and unsure of what is to come. However it has affected you, we can be sure we have all been in it together!

After reaching out to a few of my favourite independent makers, designers and artists to chat about their experiences,  I have been overwhelmed with a heartfelt and completely honest response. 

What was to be a blog post featuring indie creatives experiences, will now, I'm happy to say, become a blog mini series, showcasing many independent designers work, sharing their experiences during the pandemic and their hopes and inspirations for the future. 

Today we will look at comparisons in the experiences discussed (so far) with these fabulous and courageous indie businesses who have kept going throughout the pandemic.

Gull Power! T-shirts by Hello Dodo

There have been mixed feelings from our indie businesses, each one putting positive spins on an overwhelming and life changing situation, that not only effects the way we live our lives, run our businesses but on a larger scale, our well-being and mental health too.

Whether they have been shielding, moved back to a family home, found themselves working in a house full of kids or continued working from home, lockdown has affected us all, albeit in different ways. 

"We’ve been pretty fortunate during lockdown," says Brighton based, indie t-shirt brand Hello Dodo. "We run Hello Dodo from home, screen printing and packing orders from our little studio at the end of our garden". 

This sounds peachy but Hello Dodo designers Ali and Jam confess. "Working this way has allowed us to pretty much become hermits though!  Now that lockdown is easing we have to overcome quite a lot of social anxiety or risk becoming total recluses!". 

Ali and Jam from Hello Dodo

Joking aside, the easing of lockdown does seem to fill many of us with dread rather than excitement, with the anxiety of what's to come being a predominant concern. 

Designer Lulu Harrison relocated from Bristol to her family home in London when it became quite clear that her super fun, upcycling fashion brand Balulu had to stop production from India during the pandemic. 

"It's been really tough on the business" confesses Lulu, "We haven’t been able to get any of our new stock as India went into even stricter lockdown than the UK, and particularly Varanasi which is where my clothes are made".

"I think this whole pandemic has not only had a hit on businesses, but also on people’s mental health which I can say from first hand experience".

Lulu Harrison designer at Balulu 

With many makers, especially in the fashion industry relying on markets, shops and festivals to provide much of their annual profit, we have seen a severe drop in morale as makers and traders loose their motivation to create and sell. 

"I rely heavily on markets, festivals and in person selling to spread awareness of my work", says festival jewellery maker and upcycler Bec Denton from Dakota Rae Dust.

"When the reality of a summer without any events first dawned on me, I have to admit, I felt pretty panic stricken and I'm missing all the contact with fellow makers and my customers! I've definitely found it tricky to stay motivated without the regular deadlines that trading at markets provides". 

On a positive side to the closure of the shops and markets, every business has noticed and taken advantage of the shift from customers popping to the shops to a rise in online shopping. Weekly virtual markets have also been popping up on Instagram over the past few months and gaining many followers. 

Dakota Rae Dust designer and maker Bec Denton

"Lots of amazing event organisers and fellow makers sprung into action with virtual alternatives which have been a real help" explains Bec Denton.  

"I have traded with Bristol Markets and Makers Bazaar Fair on instagram, they have definitely proven to be an effective way to reach potential new customers!". 

Many makers have seen a rise in sales on their websites and through these virtual markets, which has been a real positive,  as many independent shops have also moved online sharing their virtual space with independent businesses. 

Since her production came to a sudden halt Balulu's, Lulu Harrison has had more time to work on her online presence, "So many people have turned to the internet to buy and we have benefited from that", admits says Lulu. 

"I had one box of Balulu clothes delivered before the world went into lockdown and, to be fair, everything sold out pretty quickly online, which was amazing!"

Many makers and businesses of all sizes have struggled to update their stock as their outside suppliers have been forced to close during lockdown; from sourcing plain t-shirts for printing to components for jewellery, to all your new stock being held back, like Balulu. 

This has been a time for many to begin to adapt the way they had previously worked, by making use of the stock they currently have available.

Elin Horgan Jewellery designer

Elin Horgan creates beautiful handmade silver jewellery pieces in Bristol and became inspired to design her new Shapes & Spheres collection after realising she couldn't get new stock from her regular suppliers. 

"I wanted to challenge myself to make some pieces by using materials I already had by re-purposing and recycling my scrap silver where possible". says Elin. 

"Shapes & Spheres is a collection of one-off pieces and is now available to buy on my website! I love the fact that each piece is totally unique and won't be made again!". 

Recycled silver jewellery from Elin Horgan's Shapes and Spheres collection

With the pros and cons of productivity changing from one business to the next, every business confesses it has not been easy to remain motivated. 

Some, like myself felt a drive to remain super productive at the start of lockdown only to see the enthusiasm come crashing down around them in a wall of anxiety and stress as reality sunk in. Whilst others, like Hello Dodo, felt overwhelmed from the beginning of lockdown and adapted to their new situation by using productivity as a distraction. 

"Being productive and creative has been the best distraction for us", say Hello Dodo. "Right now it feels like our inspiration is returning, like the stress was holding it back and now the floodgates have been opened!".

Struggling to find time to fit her business in whilst adapting to her new home life (spending every day with her WFH husband and two kids) Elin Horgan has found her new situation has made her more efficient. 

"Having less time actually makes me more productive as there are far fewer opportunities for faffing about.  There's definitely a lot of evening and weekend work (and not very much homeschooling) going on at the moment!", says Elin. 

Coral fringe handmade geometric earrings by Dakota Rae Dust

One thing that everyone in the fashion industry has missed is the face to face contact with their customers, fellow makers, suppliers and friends. 

Although we may not even be aware of it, venturing out and having regular contact and interactions with actual people, offers large quantities of inspiration and motivation. Lately, we have all been neglected of both!

"I can’t really say lockdown has helped my productivity". confesses Lulu Harrison. "I definitely started off trying to keep super motivated and coming up with new ideas, but as time has gone on the business has been hit harder and it’s been hard to stay positive about it.

"A friend inspired me to enter a competition, update the website and make a promo video for Balulu. I think I needed that push from someone else to keep me motivated and generate fresh ideas". 

It has been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone and as we begin to adapt to these waves of creativity and productivity, we can accept that we can adapt and start looking to the future. 

With all of our makers launching new collections and ranges in the upcoming months, collaborations are being made and even a masters at Central Saint Martins college on the cards for Balulu's Lulu Harrison, things are certainly looking up. Sometimes a change is good, even if we have to go through extreme hell to get there! You got this indie makers! 

The full interviews with all of our amazing indie business contributors will be popping up on the No Debutante blog over the next few weeks, with more indie businesses joining them! 

Thank you, big hugs and a masses of good luck to everyone involved in this blog post including the fabulous Ali and Jam from Hello Dodo, Lulu Harrison from Balulu, Bec Denton from Dakota Rae Dust and Elin Horgan Jewellery! You are all an inspiration! 

Main image courtesy of Balulu

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