In Conversation with Bethany Rowntree
Having worked at Mulberry, Matchesfashion.com and Anya Hinchmarch means Bethany Rowntree is no fool to the British Fashion Industry. Using this knowledge as her base along with her desire to bring attainable luxury brands together in one destination, unleashed Bethany's inner entrepreneur to create Studio B.
Striving on the ethos of buy less love more, it has blossomed into a one stop online fashion retailer for niche independent brands. It is in stark constraint to the consumer driven society in which we live that the ethos beyond the brand is built on, acting as a platform for those who wish to steer clear of the big brand names and the heavy price tags that come with them. Colourful, stylish and fashion conscious, now this is a retailer we can all afford to shop from.
We sat down with Bethany to discuss all things Studio B and why she chose Paradise Row to be part of it.
Here is our 10 Questions With: Bethany Rowntree
You have worked in fashion for many years, what keeps you motivated to work in this industry?
I just love product! Who doesn’t love new shiny things? I get so excited seeing something I absolutely fall in love with and start thinking of the outfits I could style together - my dream is just to be surrounded by lovely unique things all the time! In all seriousness, I also love how fashion is always evolving and how you can interpret this into your own personal style. It’s never an industry I’d get bored of as there’ll always be new brands, new trends, new techniques, new stylists, new stores etc. I also am so interested in the whole process, from creation, production techniques, styling, marketing, curation, range planning and of course customer and sales analysis. Especially now I have my own business and am doing it all myself!
What pushed you to stop working for brands and set up your own?
I’d been thinking (and thinking) about Studio B for years! I actually bought the domain name over 2 years ago… but still remained in my job at the time. I’d worked for Mulberry where I started and loved at the time, then Matchesfashion.com and then lastly Anya Hindmarch. Each company was different but also similar and the roles began to blend into one. Even as you moved higher up I still felt I wasn’t making the most of my skills; I’d always wanted to work in fashion but just felt I still wasn’t doing what I loved. Most people who work at big brands will probably tell you it’s not always what it seems from the outside and I just began to feel a bit disillusioned and kept thinking there must be more!
I loved ‘stuff’ and finding something new or special things, but began to not really enjoy shopping (shock horror!). Especially working in luxury fashion as I couldn’t actually afford anything I was surrounded by! I kept finding smaller more independent brands or newer brands I didn’t know so well on Instagram and started thinking wouldn’t it be amazing to put them all into one edited place that looks amazing, that tells people more about them, and is easy to shop. Where everything is at the same level of premium, but attainable, so you know what you’re expecting price wise (by attainable I mean I’ll eat tinned tuna for a week, not half the year, to buy an amazing dress!). I just kept asking myself if you didn’t want fast fashion, premium high street or super luxury, and wanted something a bit more unique, where did you go?
Why did you choose to set up an online store instead of bricks and mortar?
I originally wanted a studio space that acted as a showroom/shop/office for us and our brands, that’s where the name of Studio B came from, but looking into London rents, locations and the costs involved when initially starting a business altered this plan slightly! Without being somewhere with high footfall and relevant adjacencies how would people find us, and make an effort to physically come to us, if they didn’t know the business?
I mostly shop online because it’s easier, but do love going into a beautiful well curated store and think both online and bricks and mortar support one another for a brand. I wanted to build the brands Studio B stocks and build even a small size following and customer base before committing to a space that relies on consistent sales to stay afloat. In the meantime, we’re focusing on events, collaborations, and planning pop up stores next year as a trial. But when we do one day have a physical space it will of course be a little pink, a little different and a lot fabulous!
What philosophy is driving Studio B?
I’m looking for brands that offer something a little bit different, whether that’s represented in the aesthetic of the product or the way they are made, but mostly these seem to go hand in hand. I want the products to be a little bit more special and unique; something different to what you’d find on the high street and products that are more a style choice rather than a generic trend.
I’m also sticking to a price range of premium but attainable, the type of things you wouldn’t necessarily buy every day but are good materials and well made, without being outrageously priced. Of course, with well made, good quality products the prices are a little more expensive, especially for those who produce locally, but there’s so much more of a story behind these brands and you can really see that in the products.
I’m aiming to encourage people to buy less, buy better and love longer. For example, stop always buying five things in Zara everyone else will have and buy something different you’ll love season after season from us. Such as a Rixo dress with a unique colourful print I know I’ll love year after year or a really gorgeous quality faux fur coat that feels so soft I just won’t want to take it off! And of course, a Paradise Row bag, there’s so much heritage that goes into your story and that makes you extra special to me.
Was it hard to find brands that share the same philosophy as StudioB?
I find it pretty easy to find new brands I like, but finding new things to buy has never been a problem of mine! I find most the brands through Instagram (I think it would have been a lot harder without this) and there’s so many smaller makers and independents out there that fit perfectly with my ethos, and that’s just in the UK. There are more and more I keep seeing in Europe that fit the bill too and I’d like to expand to include these brands when I can. I’ve always looked for things that are a bit different, even when I was much younger, so I don’t find it hard to find brands that offer what I’m after for Studio B.
What attracted you to Paradise Row?
Well I’ve always been a bag lady having worked for British handbag brands and I loved the shape, leather and colours of the core collection instantly. Natural veg tan is one of my favourite leathers for an authentic, robust looking leather that’s not too precious but is still luxurious; I love it even more as it ages too. I also loved how unique the charms were and then when I read the stories behind each one, and learnt that they’re handmade in and inspired by East London, I was in! Not only do the bags all look amazing, they’re a great practical size and work with so many outfits (can you tell I want each one?). Paradise Row is different, local, supportive of British manufacture and I can see becoming one of the great heritage brands we all know and treasure.
What is the biggest issue facing fashion today in your opinion?
Maybe not the biggest issue, but stepping away from tradition, retail, and wholesale, is changing and businesses need to adapt. Retail stores need to offer more than just racks of product, they need to project a lifestyle and stand out. Really, how boring are our high-street stores!
Traditional wholesale buy methods also seem outdated now for some brands, especially for a lot of the brands I’m working with. Producing right is so important and the customer is more interested in knowing what they buy and where it comes from (another shift that will only grow I think), but producing better, locally, or in small quantities, often means cost prices are higher. Wholesale then doesn’t work financially for a lot of smaller brands and as an industry we need to support new and independent brands.
How has social media helped grow Studio B?
In terms of social media Instagram is definitely helping us grow, I’d say this is where most of our customers find and interact with us. It’s such a good tool to project your brand identity and personality and connect with your customers. We often get asked questions through here, meet other new brands or other potential partners to collaborate with.
How would you best describe your customer?
I think we appeal to women across a wide age range who are looking for something a bit more unique, and wanting under the radar brands that feel that bit special, but aren’t unaffordable. I myself love everything in my late twenties but so does my mum at sixty!
I’d say our customer is the kind of person who loves clothes, loves style, knows fashion but isn’t so focused on trends; they would rather invest in something they absolutely love and know they’ll love season after season. Think seasonless and ageless style. My aim is to curate pieces that are well made, good quality and more of a style rather than a trend. Studio B is about classic and long lasting pieces, this does not have to mean normcore. Our customer wants something different but doesn’t necessarily have time to find it; they like statement pieces, colour, prints and want somewhere more niche and individual to shop than the high-street.
What advice would you give to anyone venturing out on their own in 2017?
Be prepared!! Have people around you who can help, think about people you can outsource anything that’s not your biggest strength to. Time is my biggest challenge and I didn’t consider how much there would be to do on my own! Ask for friends of friends from people you trust and get out there and meet people face to face before committing to working with them. There’s always going to be economic factors that might impact your decision on when’s the best time to take the leap and do your own thing, but there’s never going to be an ideal time! You’ll learn so much and you never know where things could lead.
Words: Leah Haines