In 2021 the British fashion industry was estimated to be worth a whopping £62.2 million. For context, that’s almost three times more than our native pharmaceutical industry. We may not have the historical trend-setting lineage of, say, the French, but for well over 50 years, Britain has been synonymous with cool and setting the trends. While there are some big players who contribute the largest portion to this enormous sector of our nation’s economy, I’ve noticed that there are more small and independent brands thriving than I’ve ever seen during my time working in publishing.
The step change could be down to multiple factors. Firstly, the way many of us consume fashion is changing and has been gradually shifting for some time now. We’ve been through the whirlwind of fashion fashion and come out wiser, dissatisfied and determined to improve our ways: yes, we’re left with an excess of clothes we didn’t wear and feel terribly guilty about but at least there are ways we can now increase a garment’s lifespan (hello, Depop and Vinted!) and the course can henceforth be corrected.
Secondly, the wider industry’s timelines and focuses have also updated. Although trends and microtrends do still exist, an emphasis on personal style, designer signatures and wardrobe investments that you can rewear time and again has come to the fore. In fact, it’s been at the core of what we do at Who What Wear for many years.
Diversity, inclusivity and conscious and sustainable practices are now non-negotiable: We want our clothes to be fairly, slowly and carefully produced, to be marketed on people who look like us and to be created by those who have equal chances to “make it”.
Social media platforms have allowed new and more innovative brands to break through and not be dependent on a buyer from a big store giving you a chance. Made-to-order models are now commonplace and, if you’re crafting a product people want, they can—and will—wait. Shoppers are keen to understand sustainable fabrics and, in response, a level of transparency is now woven into many a start-up label’s offering.
All of these elements combined with a passion many fashion lovers have for looking truly unique means that it’s a good time to be an indie brand. However, even with a keen audience, it’s never easy to set up your own business, so that’s why we wanted to shine a light on the names we’re cheering on from the sidelines. The brands we would rather spend our hard-earned cash on than some standard item you’ll see everywhere. Below are the British brands we really want you to know about—enjoy!
“It may have only launched in 2018, but Colville has already secured its place in the cult London fashion brands line-up. The creation of former British Vogue fashion director and stylist Lucinda Chambers and ex-Marni designer Molly Molloy, the brand is characterised by its vibrant use of colour and print that manages to feel definitively fresh yet still timeless. It’s personality-packed designs are essentially everything I want my wardrobe to be in 2022. Here, I’m wearing a midi dress from Colville’s SS22 collection, which boasts a glorious graphic print and dramatic asymmetric silhouette. I can tell it’s the sort of piece that I would happily wear now as a 30-year old, but would continue to treasure for another 20 or 30 years. Now that’s what I call a classic.” — Joy Montgomery, shopping editor
“Palmer//Harding is a brand I’ve only recently come across but I love their flair for refreshing and reinterpreting essential everyday pieces.
I love a two-piece suit situation, so I decided to style these denim pieces which lean into the ’70s era in a modern way. As the denim suit is dark, I decided to pair it with a basic white shirt and white heeled boots to show off the gorgeous split details. Palmer//Harding’s inspiration behind the creation of these are from the ‘chasm in society caused by covid, a literal separation from our familiarities’, which I find very fascinating!” — Remi Afolabi, video content creator
“I’m currently obsessed with Aligne for affordable, elevated wardrobe staples. The British brand is only just over a year old but it’s already making big waves in fashion circles. They’re also an ethical brand, committed to sustainability and full transparency in their processes— which is always a plus. The collection is full of chic workwear and everyday classics from tailoring like this, to denim, coats and great dresses too.” — Emily Dawes, affiliates editor
“Every item you buy from Franks London is designed and made-to-order by the founder Frankie in her studio in Hackney. I actually asked if I could borrow a dress for this shoot, and she quickly stitched up this beautiful sample for me. Frankie sources the fabric herself, designs the cut and fit of each item, and then all pieces are hand sewn—making them really special. The square-neck dresses are now a Franks signature (Holly Willoughby has worn them)—and I love how this dress falls just above the ankle, the statement puff sleeves and how soft this lemon shade is. It’s perfect for weddings, or for me to wear more casually around London with a trench coat.” — Emma Spedding, editor
“You will have no doubt seen a range of Hades‘ fun slogan-fronted knits all over Instagram in the past few years. I’ve finally joined the gang with this fun Bowie tank, and now I know what all the fuss is about. Not only are the brand’s knits very unique but they have a great story to tell too: The British brand’s jumpers are hand-knitted from pure fibres (that come from a mill in Yorkshire) in Scotland. I’d recommend sizing down if you want quite a snug, retro fit.
As the ’70s punk feels were already in place, I decided to pair this with a classic kilt-style skirt from up-and-coming designer, Laura Pitharas. Her range of minimal, cool tailoring is not only full of items you’ll wear forever because of their classic styles, but they have all been produced to impeccable standards, and will last in a different sense too. This particular kilt was made by one of the last hand pleaters in London. Kyri, the pleater, has over 47 years experience working with various established British luxury brand and the woolen fabric used for the kilt is woven in Yorkshire by a family run mill. Also, I just love that giant bobby pin!” — Hannah Almassi, editor-in-chief
“I’ve been familiar with Aspiga for a while now, but I always associate it most with summery wares. Floaty linen frocks and embroidered beauty blouses were what I thought it did best. As such, it would inevitably fall off my radar during the colder months when warmth becomes my priority. That was until I realised that I could trace every dress I saw (and loved) on social media back to Aspiga. I found myself especially taken with the brand’s Victoria dress; a midi with a flounced hem, 3/4 sleeves complete with double ruffles, and rendered in a corduroy fabric with just the right amount of thickness to wear now until summer. An Aspiga bestseller, my contact at the brand has told me that I can expect the Victoria dress to be reimagined in new fabrics and colourways for the season ahead. Until then, I’ll gladly wait it out in this gorgeous sapphire shade. What I also love about Aspiga is that it is committed to working only with ethnically a suppliers and sustainable materials to create its pieces.” — Maxine Eggenberger, acting assistant editor
“I’m wearing some of my preferred British brands here —Jimmy Choo shoes are one of the most comfortable out there and I’ve paired it with a recycled tulle skirt from Raey. Wanting a more sustainable wardrobe doesn’t mean compromising on your aesthetic, there are always “better” options out there and this ballerina-esque number is just that. I went with a statement pearl and velvet clutch from Mae Cassidy, a mother daughter team that creates hand-crafted bags. And of course, a cosy cashmere jumper from Chinti and Parker. They’re one of the most reliable knitwear brands I’ve come across for quality and price. I’ve owned a handful of their pieces and they’re always luxurious and slow to pill.” — Andrea Cheong, contributing editor
“Every fashion editor has their favourite London Fashion Week show, and Eudon Choi has always been in my top 5. As someone with a penchant for tailoring, I love the wearable polish that Choi infuses into his collections, whether it’s via a classic suit or elevated trench coat—it figures that the designer started out in menswear design. This season, I have particularly fallen for the brand’s tonal separates, which are so easy to layer-up: The textured waistcoat will look great with a ribbed knit now, then over a white tee come summer. All it needs is a neutral tote and platform loafers and I’m ready to go. These exact pieces aren’t avaiable online yet, but a few more favourites are below.” — Joy Montgomery
“Glassworks definitely know how to strike a good balance between offering trendy pieces, and unique and essential basics that will stand the test of time.
Believe it or not, this was actually my first time styling a knitted vest (I know, very late to the party)! I think that the striped detail makes it easy to style over a pair of jeans for laid back casual look, or with tailored trousers for a more smart chic finish. The faux leather jacket thrown over adds a really nice great contrast with the mix of textures.” — Remi Afolabi
“L.F.Markey is another British brand which prides itself on sustainable practices and ethical manufacturing. Louise, the designer, graduated from Central Saint Martins and with her namesake brand, focuses on turning utility workwear into bright, bold yet wearable fashion pieces. I particularly love their boilersuits which are some of the best in the business.” — Emily Dawes
“I got a little bit greedy here and instead of profiling one small independent British brand I love… I chose three. Rixo will need no introduction to our readers, and although it now has several stores and an international following, it is an example of the power small London brands can hold. Rixo founded by Orlagh Mccloskey and Henrietta Rix in their 20s from the living room of their flat share, creating dresses inspired by retro prints they found on their weekend rummages at vintage fairs. These two are pretty much the reason why we’ve all been wearing printed midi dresses for the past few years—although florals will always be a Rixo signature, I love the graphic wavy print of this slip dress.
Next up, Hayley Menzies is another favourite of mine, thanks to her eclectic take on knitwear and prints. She set up her brand in 2011 from a stall in Portobello Market in Notting Hill sending vintage pieces and recycled fur scarves, and the vintage aesthetic is still at the heart of her designs. The wrap cardigans with bold motifs are a Menzies signature, but for this shoot I was drawn towards this black cardigan thanks to the dramatic fringing along the sleeves and back.
Then finally, I wore a pair of Dear Frances buttery leather boots which are quite simply heavenly. The London-based brand was launched by Jane Frances in 2016, and creates luxury footwear which is made in Italy, with a focus on classic styles rather than anything too trend led. That’s why you’ll find the perfect ankle boots or knee-highs that you’ll wear for years and years at Dear Frances.” — Emma Spedding
“If I look happy in this dress, it’s because I am! I spotted Coal and Candyfloss‘s retro printed pieces on Instagram and got in touch with founder Sally Jones to arrange for a sample to be sent to me. She didn’t have any of the Jackie dress to hand so she speedily whipped me up a version for this shoot. Smocked and form-fitting at the waist, a good statement sleeve, full in the skirt to feel swishy… this silhouette has everything I like from a dress but the fact it’s made-to-order (do allow 2-5 weeks on a normal basis!) and the cotton is OEKO-TEX certified 100% cotton poplin, well, I’m sold! You can even select a petite, regular or tall fit.” — Hannah Almassi
“Marcéla London proclaims itself to be the home of hardworking, premium, luxury basics, and, honestly, I have to agree. With a predominately neutral colour palette, Marcéla London doesn’t create pieces that scream for attention. Instead, its designs are quiet, but elevated—an astute representation the low-key luxury aesthetic that feels so prevalent right now. Not only that, but they’re made to the highest possible standard for lifelong wear. If you think the pieces are precisely the sort of thing Rosie Huntington-Whiteley would pose for a mirror selfie in (my ensemble was unashamedly inspired by her) then you wouldn’t be wrong—for she has worn the brand on multiple occasions. If that’s not a selling point, I don’t know what is.” — Maxine Eggenberger
“I’m a big fan of the work Ninety Percent does to give back to environmental and social justice issues. The best part is that it gives their customers the power to vote for themselves. All this would be amiss without great quality clothing and their wardrobe basics are made well in eco-friendly fabric, like organic cotton and lyocell. I am loving their knitwear in particular—it’s a win for the vegans too as none of it is plastic-based or animal-derived fibre! I wore this all-black look with a cute cashmere and wool scarf from Bamford. I love the hand-stitched elements of both the jumper and accessory that tie in so well together.” — Andrea Cheong
Next up, the best colour combinations for 2022.