It started with a dressing up box I was given as a child by my Great Auntie Ivy, stashed full of chiffon nightgowns.
One was a violet piece with billowing sleeves, trimmed in satin ribbon that tied at the neck and cuffs. Another had a rainbow tie-dyed circle skirt with gold lurex stripes running from waist to the hem. Ruffles and frills spilled from my tattered cardboard box. They couldn’t have made me happier.
Auntie Ivy knew exactly what she loved, and when she saw me wearing her pieces, she lit up and praised my boldness. I can still hear her excited voice as she enthused about dressing up, about parties and colour, about her love for her signature pink bomber jacket.
She was an icon to me, fun and fearless, pushing creative boundaries in everyday life. She seemed to get a buzz from other’s sense of fun and difference. Looking back, I think she just loved people, and that connection she formed with them simply by sharing a space.
Recently, my Dad was reflecting on how Ivy would always listen to your opinion, even ask for it before giving hers. Sure, it could have been mere politeness. But what if Auntie Ivy found true pleasure in everyone’s individuality and, perhaps more, in the joy that would unfold once someone felt heard and valued?
In my late teens, I found myself drawn to designers like Alexander McQueen and Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garcons. I remember my first sighting of a McQueen dress covered in razor shells, and poring over a book on the Japanese techniques of dying fabrics with rust and indigo. What happened next wasn’t a surprise.
In 2008, I graduated in Printed Textile Design, my final project based on Edward Burtinsky`s photographs of industrial deconstruction of the land to create spaces such as huge quarries. His stunning imagery came from harrowing stories and I found the contrast captivating and inspiring. I painted huge pieces of lining paper, filled them with ink strokes like the landscape, then cut into them as a machine might do. I knew about industrial impact and the need for regeneration, but I didn’t have the tools yet to engage with the issue fully.
Afterwards, I began hand painting A1 silks for a textile agency. Then, in 2009, I set off for New York and a job as a printed scarf designer. Just over a year later, I returned to London, desperate to be at the epicentre of new fashion, and began working at McQ Alexander McQueen, the company I had long dreamt of working for.
The beginnings of collections there were story-rich – a patchwork of paintings or a collection of old textiles, deconstructed into modern and beautiful pieces. The office was my other family, a tribe of misfits who were some of the most interesting people I’d ever met. My only sadness was that in the process of reproducing, overproducing, these artistry-full original concepts, the soul was often lost.
In 2016, I was on maternity leave when the negative impacts of overproduction were truly brought home, while watching the film The True Cost, directed by Andrew Morgan. I saw a young garment worker, trying to support her four-year-old daughter, who was growing up at work with her underneath her sewing machine. As the movie progressed, the worker had to send her daughter away, only to see her once a year, a decision fuelled by the west’s demand for new fashion trends at cut-throat prices. It left me heartbroken.
I was waking up to the impacts of what I had once been seduced into buying and creating. I realised I’d found therapy in fast fashion and, what’s more, in consumption as a habit. But was the joy I found in new clothes really worth that sadness and scale of impact? What was the alternative?
In my post-viewing research, I was surprised I couldn’t find the beautiful pieces I craved in the sustainable fashion world as it was then. The beauty at McQueen was so desirable, and I knew that if I could make an ethical piece of clothing with the same artistry, it would become the most irresistible alternative.
Now was the perfect time to use the experience I had gained at one of the most renowned brands in the world. I had something to give and it was time to step up.
By that point in my career, I’d designed thousands of prints – but knowing a staggering 70 per cent of a garment’s environmental impact comes from fibre and fabric production alone, I was certain I didn’t want to produce new fabrics.
I was mulling over a plan when my eye was caught by my collection of silk scarves, the ones I had so often joyfully foraged for in vintage stores in London, New York and Paris. Beautiful, existing fabrics, often frayed around the edges, each a different unique print and weave. Could they work?
I found my seamstress locally – a bespoke bridal specialist used to working in silk who agreed to make my first dress for me. I wanted to do this differently, with real focus. I was sick of overdesigned, restrictive womanswear and loved the layered oversized freedom of menswear I’d experienced at McQ.
The voluminous slip dress we came up with was the perfect canvas, an effortless style that perfectly lent itself to a patchwork of pattern. Now, I see these styles as a means to empower a sensuality and femininity in their loose drape around the body. I also had to make the dresses iconic, with a strong look to balance the softness, to set them apart, to be noticed. Like a woman with a centre parting in her hair, I decided these silks would be patched at the centre front for an assertive look, pointing to the power of centring oneself, a cue for balance.
I’d initially called my brand We-Resonate to represent what I wanted it to achieve – a greater, ‘more than a dress’ impact. I sought to resonate like ripples through water, to be part of a tide of change. It wasn’t till a year later the name would call me to create another part of the brand.
Customers started to give me feedback, saying how amazing and empowered they felt in the dresses. I was curious what set them apart, and realised it was at least in part to do with the methods we used to custom make them. When we speak to a customer to discuss styles, measurements and prints – a nod to that old fashion service you can imagine happening at couture houses – I have the pleasure of building relationships. And whether the bond comes from a love of vintage, a passion for sustainability, through finding inspiration or just having a laugh, the result is that each dress has this certain something extra that you can’t simply buy pre-made from a store or website.
These dresses had a glow, a captured energy, almost like my Auntie Ivy’s chiffon gowns, so invigorated by that sense of her character. And a year on from launch, that spirit pulled me towards doing more to create change.
By then, I was having hundreds of conversations with people, sharing my story, the reason and the challenges it took to create We-Resonate, and my experience in the fashion industry. I started planning our first large event in Soho with Lone Design Club, The Rethink Gathering, and remember asking for sponsorship. These things felt completely out of my comfort zone, and I was astonished to hear people saying yes. The evening felt like a secret gathering of kindred spirits, trying to plot a new way out of our collective mess. Together, we jumped into the power of clothing but also, fundamentally, into our values, courage and curiosity.
Since then, I’ve run a series of Create your Intention workshops, helping customers to mind map and collage images, not dissimilar to how I work with the vintage scarves, to create artworks that beautifully celebrate their uniqueness and will to live with more balance and purpose.
Within a world where a beautiful life is too often presented as being dependent on buying beautiful things, I hope we’re helping people find joy in uniqueness, and in the items that we hold close to our hearts for so many reasons – a foraged scarf perhaps. Or even an old nightgown…