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Chic chat #1

Chic chat #1

“Fashion really is the second most polluting industry after oil and I think what we’re trying to say with these actions is that we don’t all need to have these great big enormous supply chains.” (Heidy Rehman)

This week Lawfully Chic caught up Rose & Willard founder Heidy Rehman. After a successful couple of decades in investment banking – and before that in medical insurance litigation and at the Office of National Statistics – Rehman decided to establish her own women’s fashion brand. Not quite the standard career trajectory, so we decided to ask the lady herself about her thoughts on fashion, ethics and female body confidence.

LC: Let’s start with the inflammatory stuff. You made headlines earlier this year. Can you tell me a bit more about what was so newsworthy?*

HR: Oh yes that! We introduced a clause in our contract insisting that when models came to work for us, they needed to have a meal at some point during the day. It’s a full day’s shoot, which is physically demanding, and on two occasions in the past we’ve hired models and they wouldn’t eat. They’d been told they’d get more work if they lose weight but they were clearly starving.

LC: This is part of a much bigger issue isn’t it? It goes beyond the overt thinness of models and reflects on female self-esteem in general. I get the impression it’s something you feel strongly about?

HR: Of course. I suppose the question is how far can a brand be honest about women when people are so far seduced by what they see in the mainstream and social media where curated images are the norm and to some extent what’s expected. There are a lot of women who look at the tsunami of imagery available online and on social networking sites such as Instagram and think, ‘Oh don’t those women look so wonderful!’ But the women in the photographs don’t look that way in real life; they’ve had their hair and make-up done and then been photoshopped. I wonder if we should present a truer image of women and be fair to them – I feel responsible about this. I don’t want women to look at our imagery and feel bad about themselves.

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LC: Speaking of women feeling good about themselves, can you say a bit more about why you set up Rose & Willard?

HR: I think there’s very little appropriate office wear for women. A man can put on a suit, tie and shirt and he’s ready to go. Yet for women there are certain unwritten rules about what you can and can’t wear, particularly when you’re often pressed for time. Women don’t want to be frumpy – they don’t want cheap clothing that quickly falls apart, but on the other hand few people have the kind of disposable income that enables them to buy high-end pieces all the time. Rose & Willard buys the same fabrics used by Victoria Beckham, Stella McCartney and Paul Smith. Our craftsmanship is exceptional and our skilled seamstresses have 60 years’ experience between them.

LC: The world of fashion is fairly different to investment banking! How are you finding it?

HR: The fashion world is something of a rollercoaster. It’s such a competitive space, getting your voice heard above other brands is amongst the hardest thing. It’s also very fast moving – becoming faster all the time – because the consumer wants everything yesterday.

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LC: I know you’ve got a strong sense of ethical responsibility. Can you tell us about some of the ways you’ve put your principles into practice?

HR: Well one of the things we’ve specifically focussed on is keeping our carbon footprint as low as we can. It’s not easy – if you have something made overseas, you generally have a prototype made, then it goes back. In fact, it might go through two or three iterations before you’re happy with it. That’s why a lot of firms will send staff to the overseas factory. We wanted to avoid that, however, [for ecological reasons] so we sought our fabric from as close as possible, in Italy. We’ve never bought anything from emerging markets, like India or China, where we believe there’s risk of garment worker exploitation. Fashion really is the second most polluting industry after oil and I think what we’re trying to say with these actions is that we don’t all need to have these great big enormous supply chains. Over 90% of the product onsite is British-made; we did have some manufacturing in Portugal and Poland but we’ve pulled that back and now produce everything in-house ourselves. We are ‘fast’ but there’s no exploitation in our value chain (something the term ‘fast fashion’ seems to have become synonymous with). We can categorically confirm that.

LC: Where do you see Rose & Willard going in the future?

HR: In some ways I would love a ‘bricks and mortar’ store but I don’t want the additional fixed costs that brings because really it’s the customer who’s paying for these. Instead I’d like to have pop-ups all over the place – to have a business model I can take globally.

Rose & Willard founder Heidy Rehman is a regular speaker at events, including most recently at Standard & Poor’s women’s networking event where she discussed changing careers, being an entrepreneur, ethics and body positivity.

*You can read the news story in the Daily Mail and Cosmopolitan.