You all know how obsessed we are with discovering new and exciting designers. Well, we’re back with another one today: Lowie. This adorable, cute, fresh and eco friendly friend based in London is the stuff of dreams! We took some time to get to know Bronwyn Lowenthal, the brains and designer behind the brand, and chatted about her past, how she gets inspired, and who her favourite Instagrammers are. Enjoy!
Tell our readers about yourself. Where were you born?
I was born in the UK to Australian parents who had come to Europe after spending a year travelling overland from Indonesia to Israel. These were the days before Lonely Planet guides and global tourism. They were arrested in Iran for supposedly being spies because they didn’t usually see travellers in that part of the world. I suppose I got my sense of adventure from my parents!
When did you first become interested in clothes? Have they always been a part of your life?
I was always interested in design and aesthetics and took my first sewing class aged 10. I started to make little hair accessories for a local boutique when I was 12 and soon after began collecting second hand clothes from neighbours, reworking them and selling them at the local market. By the age of 16 I was working in that same boutique on the weekends and honing my selling skills. I used to spend hours in front of the mirror at night styling my clothes and trudging around all the clothes shops in my city. I didn’t find out until I was already set on studying fashion that my grandparents had a covered button and belt factory in Sydney, manufacturing for some of Australia’s top designer brands.
Were you very creative as a child?
I was never very good at art but I absolutely loved making things from textiles. I think my creativity came more from my entrepreneurial spirit rather from a particularly brilliant aesthetic.
How do you think that growing up in Australia has moulded you as a creative person?
I think it’s made me freer creatively. I tend not to follow the rules, especially when it comes to knitwear. Because it’s warmer in Australia and we didn’t wear a lot of knitwear I didn’t have many reference points to draw upon when designing knitwear. Over the years I’ve designed a lot of knit items that would ordinarily be made from woven fabrics such as tea dresses and dungarees.
You’ve travelled the world extensively. How has that influenced what you do?
I absolutely love travelling and if I go a few months without travel I feel so trapped. When I first travelled solo I met an aging American hippie who introduced to me traditional crafts, including weaving and embroidery and I’ve been hooked ever since. Now, every time I go travelling I’m always looking our for the local traditional craft and seeing if there’s any way to work it into my collections.
You worked for various big brands before embarking on creating your own. Do you feel that the experience you gained from these previous jobs have helped you to build Lowie?
I’m pleased that I had the experience working for big brands. Westfield in particular is such a well oiled machine and definitely the best in the world when it comes to creating incredible retail spaces. Whether you love big shopping malls or not, you have to give them cred for maintaining such high standards and pushing the boundaries of great design. Of course Lowie has a much more organic and homely feel to it but I appreciate the vision.
When did the idea to start your own brand first come about?
I had prepared a business plan for a new brand for someone else and thought that if they had faith that I could set up a brand for them then why not do it for myself. I’d always known I would have my own shop but never considered having my own brand until then. I gave my notice and the next week I was in Turkey look for some beautiful hand knit socks I’d found on a recent holiday. I started selling a whole range of traditional Turkish knitted accessories into House of Fraser and Top Shop in my first season but in order to keep the momentum of the sales I needed to design some new product to sell and it went from there. Now Lowie has a 50 piece collection every season.
What does “Lowie” mean and how did you come up with the name?
My surname is Lowenthal so after going through a few weird and silly names it just seemed logical to shorten my last name (Lowenthal) to Lowie and it’s stuck.
What did it feel like to start an entire business from scratch?
I’ve always been pretty bold and brave so I just jumped in. My job at the time wasn’t paying very well and I wasn’t enjoying it so I thought that if I’m going to be poor, I may as well work for myself. The learning curve was steep and certainly the first few years were financially difficult but I’m so glad I did it and couldn’t imagine a different life.
Did you always know you wanted to be a fashion designer?
In my early teenage years I wanted to be an architect but was put off by studying for 5 years. When I found out that fashion was only three years of study instead of five, I changed tack. I’m now very interested in architecture again and love well designed spaces. I could happily do both!
Why do you think that there are so many more women starting up their own businesses today?
I work in a creative studio in Brixton, South London where there are 4 fashion business, all run by amazing women. To me it just seems like the most natural and fun thing to do. I am drawn to other people who run their own businesses and there is a sense of achievement that I don’t think you can get when working for someone else.
What inspires you the most?
I’m most inspired by the people around me but for my designing I very often look to heritage and vintage styling and well as traditional handicrafts and ethinic pieces. I love western clothing from the 20’s through to the 60’s when most clothes were cut beautifully and made to last.
Lowie is an extremely environmentally conscious brand. Why is being environmentally aware so important to you?
Growing up in Tasmania with incredibly beautiful scenery, I learnt to appreciate the environment from an early age. Environmental issues such as damming virgin wilderness and logging virgin forests were part of my childhood political landscape. For this reason, I will always put the environment ahead of everything else. I am known as the office recycling bully and pull everyone up when they put their rubbish in the wrong bin. I (half) joke that when I retire I’m going to set up a recycling awareness charity to teach people what can be recycled and what can’t.
What steps have you taken as a brand to ensure that you remain ethically correct?
I think it’s impossible to run a business and be completely ethically correct so we do as much as we can do without jeopardising design. We use organic cotton when we can, and offer free repairs for life on all garments. One of my passions is recommending against dry cleaning and recycling and up-cycling as much as possible. We also value slow fashion and traditional handicrafts and manufacturing techniques which reduce carbon emissions. Of course, all our factories are vetted personally by me so I can be sure that their workers are treated fairly and work in a safe environment.
What advice could you give to our readers who are aiming to be more environmentally friendly?
The best thing you can do to be more environmentally friendly is to simply buy less! Buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a local green grocer or market that are not pre-packed and if you have to buy in plastic, make sure that you recycle all that you can. From a fashion point of view, buy products that are made to last so that they can be passed down the generations and repair and upcycle garments rather than relegating them to landfill. Dry cleaning chemical are extremely harmful to the environment and unnecessary when cleaning most clothing. Most items that have a dry cleaning label will actually clean better and have a more beautiful finish if washed with soap and water. Almost all silk and wool garments can be washed either by hand or on a gentle cycle in the washing machine on a low temperature. They will smell nice and feel softer too !
What steps did you take initially to grow your brand?
I started selling at Portobello and Spitalfield markets in London and had stalls there for 5 years until my new boyfriend (now my husband) threatened to break up with me unless I stopped working on the weekend. From that point on I had more trime during the week to grow the wholesale side of the business and over the years have sold to a number of really high profile stores such as Barney’s New York, Le Bon Marche in Paris and Isetan and Beams in Tokyo. I signed up to the Princes Trust Business help program which has been the single best thing I ever did. They helped by providing me with a mentor and through them I won a stand at London Fashion Week.
You studied fashion marketing. Has this been essential to you in the starting up of Lowie?
I think my business-based course gave me a great background for pushing the marketing and sales side of things and we’ve had some great press over the years however there were so many things I learnt on the job that no one ever taught me. I’ve just recently graduated with an MBA (Masters in Business) so now I’m even more qualified but time will tell how much of my MBA course I’ll be able to incorporate into the business.
What is your favourite piece from your current collection?
I really love the black spot culottes because they will take me from early spring work dressing with tights right through to holidays with flip flops – so versatile. My other favourite piece is the hand crocheted organic cotton knit top with black and white stripes. The organic cotton feels amazing on the skin and the shape is so modern.
Do you have a favourite photographer?
I really love the story telling aspect of Tim Walker’s photos and the ethereal fairy tale feel.
Who do you love to follow on Instagram?
I love symmetry breakfast, it’s so funny and I just found Allison Sadler (@allison_sadler_) who runs a lifestyle store called The People Shop in Birmingham. My friend and bag designer Kate Sheridan (@katesheridanbags) is a prolific “Instagrammer” and has the most amazing eye. We recently travelled to Portugal together on a buying trip and she spent 50% of the time taking photos for Instagram.
What aspirations do you have for yourself, and for Lowie?
I’m really enjoying the retail side of the business and making small runs to sell direct to customers and to a few selected boutiques. It means I can design more products and it’s so much fun to see how new stock sells in the shop. I’d love to open another Lowie boutique when I find the right location.
Where can our readers stay up to date with you and your business?