Interview in Lionheart Magazine
Photography by Sam Wright
Interview Helen Martin
What were your objectives when you started designing and then making your first swimsuit?
I grew up in Devon next to the sea, and have always loved being in water of whichever form possible, be it rivers, oceans or pools. I have an equal love for swimwear, but I could never find any good quality swimwear that was ethically made, and not over the £100 mark. On a holiday in Myanmar in 2016 (after struggling once again to find good swimwear, and pining for the whole holiday over an Alexander Wang suit I couldn't afford) I designed my first swimsuit, and made it when I got back to the UK.
So initially my objectives were just to make myself a nice well-fitting swimsuit! However, after lots of encouragement from friends, I started to design and make more. Stidston Swimwear grew quite organically from one swimsuit, to a hobby, and then to a business.
Have you always worked in design?
No. I used to work in Health and Social Care service redesign. I loved my job, but started to crave something more creative and less bureaucratic. I have always loved design and sewing, and have been making and repurposing my clothes since I was a kid.
How did growing up in Devon influence Stidston?
The English countryside and coastline are very nostalgic to me, and as such have influenced the brand in ways that I’m probably not even aware of. The core of the brand is very much centred around an English summer, be it in the Devon countryside, or sunbathing and swimming in the ponds and lidos of London. The latest collection has four main styles, with simple, but striking designs, all of which are named after coastal locations in Devon that are meaningful to me.
Love the velvet! What inspired you to choose this fabric?
I was at a party in Ibiza and there was a girl in the pool that had a vintage mustard swimsuit on, she looked great, I loved the way the velvet caught the sunlight, and it stuck with me. A few years later I was shopping for fabric on Goldhawk Road (the fabric Mecca of London – if you visit London and you’re into fabric – go). It was my boyfriend who said what about this? (holding up a piece of teal stretch velvet) I almost dismissed it, but remembering the girl in Ibiza thought ‘that could work’ and when I made my first swimsuit with it, I LOVED it. The velvet swimsuits I’ve made have also had a lot of wear at parties and festivals paired with jeans and jackets.
How do you ensure that your pieces are ethical?
All Stidston Swimwear is currently handmade in Peckham - every swimsuit is handcrafted by me so I don’t have to worry about issues with production in sweatshops. I also want to create a brand that is sustainable and better for the environment, so this year I will be starting to use eco-friendly fabrics and packaging developed from recycled materials.
What’s the main ethos behind Stidston and how would you like women to feel wearing your pieces?
The vision is to build an affordable and bold premium brand that represents, and celebrates, all body types, whilst being considerate of humanity and the environment. In an era where people are looking for handmade and sustainable products, quality over quantity, bespoke over mass produced, I want to create a conscious, but vibrant brand.
I want women to feel bold and beautiful when they wear my pieces. ‘I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself’ is a quote that I love by the actress Emma Stone. Beauty needs to be redefined so that the focus is on celebrating individuality, not striving for the same body ideals, and this is something that the swimwear industry is lacking.
I want my swimwear to be for everyone, and for people to know that the swimwear they are buying will fit them, not just the models who have been photographed in it. For people with longer torsos or bigger boobs it can be difficult to find a swimsuit or bikini in a standard size that fits properly. That’s why I also offer custom style sizing or a lower leg option.
Could you list your FIVE top tips for starting your own ethical business?
1. Start small.
By doing stuff in the evenings, testing concepts with friends, investing your spare time, you can ensure that when you are ready to properly invest (be that going full time or financial investment) you’ve already worked out the initial aspects of your business. On a basic level, you’ll know what works and what doesn’t – what ethical approaches and options are out there in terms of manufacture, materials to source from, and which are right and important for you.
2. Do your research.
There’s lots of information online about setting up ethical business – blogs, online magazines, websites – one I would really recommend is www.ethicalmadeeasy.com. When you sign up to their mailing list they send you regular updates with advice.
You need to look at every aspect of your business and identify how you can ensure that each part is ethically developed - from your products, to the fabrics they are made from, right up to the packaging. Research is the key, because there are lots of options out there and you need to find the right options for you.
3. You know more people than you think you do.
You don’t know who you know, and who they know, until you ask! The help, support, and contacts I’ve made from friends and family has been invaluable and surprising. Be it graphic designers, photographers, friends with fashion retail experience, who given me advice about selling to wholesale or how to source eco-friendly fabrics, or many of my friends who have modelled for me. Once you start speaking up about what you’re doing you’ll find ‘friends of friends’ that can help and advise you. This year I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with people on shoots for Stidston in LA, Thailand, and Australia. The person who shot my first swimwear campaign was a photographer I met at a party. It was her enthusiasm and drive to make something out of what was my hobby at the time, that kick started Stidston Swimwear into becoming a brand, and she is now a good friend.
4. Work out what your principles are and stick to them.
You need to define what ethical means for your brand. In the past people have suggested that I outsource the manufacture of my swimwear, and I have started to consider sharing manufacture with a wider team to meet wholesale interest (I’ll always offer custom hand made by me!). But I’m only looking at working with small UK based manufacturers. It’s important to me that my customers know that their swimwear has been made with love and care by people who are getting paid well, in a non-mass produced environment. I’m currently talking to a company that is based in Devon - they have about 10 seamstresses, and it is a lovely friendly environment which feels right for me to retain the ethos of brand.
5. You are never finished building an ethical brand.
There is always room for improvement - constant research and evolution is key.
What kind of summer do you have planned?!
Every year I go camping with my friends on the coast in East Prawle, South Devon, it is basic camping at its best. The village also happens to have one of Devon’s best pubs. I also will spend time enjoying London in the sunshine - making the most of Hampstead swimming ponds and the Lidos.