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Social Impact: Founder of Studio B, a truly unique retail platform that encourages the consumer to buy less, buy well and buy to love.
For the fashion industry, social sustainability is undeniably the hot topic, the consumer has become conscious and when they begin to take the power from the hands of fast fashion, brands like Studio B are ready with their hand-picked section of fashion made to last.
Although the fashion directory is in its infancy (just under two years old), Studio B is one of the most up-and-coming places for the savvy shopper to seek refuge from the relentless uniformity of the high-street. Stocking brands that champion the buy less movement such as RIXO, Baum und Pferdgarten and - yours truly - Paradise Row, we don’t quite know what to expect when we approach the terraced house in the sleepy London borough of Blackheath.
But, when we see the millennial pink door adorned with a golden pineapple knocker, we realise we shouldn’t have expected anything less from Bethany Rowntree, its founder, who respects design and colour over everything else:
“It’s so funny that you think the house looks put together, we have so much still left to do to the house! I feel like it looks like a mess!”
She descends in a cherry-print prairie dress and bright red Miista shoes; an outfit that doesn’t look amiss around our surroundings. A hand-woven tiger tapestry, vibrant walls and an assortment of design prints make the house unmistakably that of someone with a cunning eye for design. Indeed, all of Studio B’s brand are carefully curated by the eponymous B, signalling an expert eye for design and owing to its early successes, but it’s an eye earned over years of experience in the biggest names in fashion. With names like Mulberry, MATCHESFASHION.COM and Anya Hindmarch under her belt, we had to ask: how did she get to where she is?
“I went to uni in Manchester and studied Fashion Marketing, while I was there I worked at the Mulberry store, and that’s where I saw an internship was advertised, so I went down to London and pretty much never went back!
I was working in buying for about 8 years, and then when I was at Anya, I was starting to think about doing something that could be my thing; it was around the same time I had the realisation that although I love the brands I’ve worked for, I don’t shop there and neither does the average person! Where do you go when you want something a bit different, now we’re caring more and more about where everything is from?”
We’re led upstairs to her own closet and are blown away with its unique beauty: florals, linens, ginghams, and all in the unmistakable Studio B palette: bold, bright, and uncompromising luxury. Her Instagram is exactly the same that showcases all the brands we wears and works with, I wonder how the Studio B journey started:
“I initially started to find brands on Instagram, this was before it was huge but was still quite big, it was the point where people couldn’t believe I found clothing and inspiration on what to wear on Instagram when everything’s on there, you have the whole industry at your fingertips! That’s probably where I found Paradise Row as well.”
Do you think Instagram has been pivotal to Studio B’s success?
“It’s definitely where all our customers come from. I’ve built the Studio B name all organically, which has been so slow, but it means everyone is insanely loyal! I haven’t bought followers or promoted all of my posts and it shows. You’re not even necessarily getting the right people when you do that.”
You must be busy then!
“So busy. I want to do more content, it’s so busy trying to do the daily running and packing orders, customer questions, DMs through Instagram. There’s so many things that I want to do. Insta is a huge part of getting noticed but events and pop-ups are also so amazing, and press is important too!”
With such a vast and unique array of clothing, where is the average Studio B consumer from?
“Besides London, I would definitely say Ireland and America, at one point China were really interested too. On the whole that client base consists of really big spenders, but also they’re a community that really care about quality! That was definitely something I picked up from working at Mulberry!”
In the current industry climate, quality is absolutely pivotal over everything, with fast fashion occupying 5% of global landfill space, we’re increasingly buying to keep and our doing out part to fight back against the negative ecological impact, but social sustainability has recently become an industry obsession too. We wonder if becoming part of this movement been a conscious decision for Bethany. She nods excitedly:
“A bit of both, really; I wanted Studio B to be an independent place to shop, somewhere to find different brands, brands that have a story, something a bit more unique. I’m very print and colour focused so it’s what I started the brand with, I started with what I liked.
I thought at the time, and still now, that there were a lot of ‘basic’ brands on the high-street, but I wanted more of an independent stream. I suppose by default in seeking that kind of quality and uniqueness, I found myself getting involved with brands that are a lot more sustainable and a lot more handmade.”
“It’s definitely something I want to look more into, it’s a good time for bands to be promoting the fact, that they do care about their materials and their people, like Paradise Row does!”
We’re so glad that social sustainability is at the heart of everything we do, and it’s exciting to see that the future is in the hands of wonderful like-minded entrepreneurs like the Northern powerhouse we see sitting in front of us, and not with the big brands abandoning heritage and handicraft. It makes for a really terrible shopping experience as well:
“People are really losing interest in high street shops There's nothing, I can't find anything I want, I hardly ever go into central London shops anymore. I was around Soho the other day, and I couldn't find anything! So busy, massive queues, you’re so so tired and then you come home with nothing! That’s why everyone shops online now.”
She’s worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, and as we move to her golden-hour-lit kitchen, she tells us about the descisions that some of the bigger brands have had to make:
“I worked at MATCHESFASHION.COM and they have a massive website and massive turnover, and an uncountable amount of brands. When they first started they tried to champion the small brands, but now they’re so massive all of their budget is just going on super brands, sometimes millions on just one! Then it’s kind of cyclical, everything they’re then promoting is about those labels that can afford to spend more and not on the independents.”
We wonder the obvious, a passion for all things fashion, impeccable taste and the clear love of design and colour has us wondering if a Studio B collection on the cards anytime soon. She flashes a knowing smile:
“I have thought about it a little bit more, it’s becoming a very organic process that I’ve been playing with. I’ll look at brands and think oh I like that neckline, that shape etc. I’ve been working with Joanna Sands; she makes individually for each person herself, so that’s opened up a great collaboration where we get to have input. We’ll say ‘Can we try this design in this colour’ and little changes like that so perhaps these are the first baby steps for something Studio B owned!”
It’s exciting to hear that another brand is being inspired to do small-runs, working with grass-roots artisan workers to make product that lasts in the same way Paradise Row does.
“One thing I actually learned from this is how people are willing to wait! For different colours or styles, because having that small local factory like you guys do or having that sustainability aspect is really important to them.”
Now people know about the effects the fashion industry has on the planet after that Stacey Dooley documentary. I appreciate my clothes so much more than I used to; premium but attainable, not cheap but not luxury. Something that’s more special you won't buy every day but you have that emotional connection as well. Things that stay throughout your life, you can be sustainable in that way.”
Buying that one piece that you know you’ll cherish for the rest of your life that will never go out of style, that one item that' doesn’t follow any trend, that fits your personal style just so, is a truly special feeling, and it’s the building bricks of a wonderful movement that has ecological and social sustainability at its forefront. It’s something summed up beautifully by Beth as she imparts words amassed over years of fashion experience and a hope for the future:
“It’s like I always say, buy less buy better.”