Festival fashion is the juggernaut taking over summer at present. Whether it is about getting together your fancy dress costume or working out how to look good in the unpredictable climate, festival goers are as fashion savvy as they come. However, despite UK festivals showcasing the best of the best in terms of music and the arts, fashion remains relatively unrepresented on official festival programmes.
Secret Emporium, is the clear exception. They curate a platform for start-up designers to sell their items at festivals and events around the country and aim to support them beyond the festival season. Here I speak to founders, Lucy Peacock and Tess Acheson about this fantastic venture and the impact it has been making.
What inspired you to set up Secret Emporium? Did you recognise a gap in the market?
The gap in the market was a glaring, ever present reality. Festivals were becoming more fashionable and the concept of fancy dress was moving to a far more sophisticated level. Both of us would go all out at festivals but we would construct our outfits at home, because all you could actually buy at the festivals was imported tat from India and the odd dodgy fairy wing.
Jim Whewell, one of the directors of The Secret Garden Party, challenged us to shake up retail at festivals and to curate something interesting. A combination of Tess’s experience as the art installations’ co-ordinator for SGP and Lucy’s experience as a jewellery designer, inspired us to curate a single platform of designers who could sell their work under one roof. From our very first Secret Emporium venture at SGP we realised we were kick-starting a collaborative and supportive community of cutting edge costume and fashion designers. In the first year, many were our friends – people we’d worked and studied with. Secret Emporium allowed everyone to expose their work to a hungry and receptive customer base, rather than the usual sterile experience of selling and promoting their work at a trade show in the city, people could access them in an exciting and immersive environment.
Beyond festivals being an immersive environment, what else do they offer new designers?
Well firstly, designers have access to sometimes up to 60,000 people throughout the weekend and it is customer-to-designer contact, its immediate and personal. That kind of feedback, sales and exposure is really hard for them to find anywhere else. Secondly, festivals promote openness, self expression and lack of inhibitions; festival goers will buy and wear something that they would not buy on the high street on a wet Winter Tuesday!
Thirdly, and bluntly, money! Designers who are mostly graduates, can come home with a substantial amount of money they can use to fund a new collection or a studio space and allow them to continue to be independent, and to produce in this country. For many of our designers we are a key part of their financial make up. From their first involvement with us many of them come back bigger and better the next time round.
Do you think festivals like the Secret Garden Party are having an influence on fashion?
Yes. People have got savvy. The days of packing your worst clothes and digging out the rain mac you last wore on an orienteering course when you were 15 are gone! At Secret Garden Party, in particular, which is a really young and fashionable crowd, people go in huge social groups. It is a time to get out your best outfits and look completely comfortable in a lobster headdress, spandex onesie and a face full of glitter! It’s like the Blitz Kids all over again. One major thing you cannot escape now is how much the press and media cover festival fashion. Every magazine you see has ‘festival must have buys’ etc.
It seems like it is incredibly hard for a designer starting out, what more could the fashion industry be doing?
This is kind of a never ending conversation! The main thing that hinders start up designers is trying to compete with the cheap, throwaway approach to design. If something is hand produced by one person it has to be more expensive. We support designers by having an online shop that sells the best of the best from their products, we also committed right at the conception of the business to offer two free scholarship places at every event we do. The fashion industry is a huge financial monster and we think that more funding should be provided to designers so they can survive in those early years. The industry should encourage music acts to wear young designers on stage at festivals and give them the much needed exposure. Essentially if the industry just pumped money into us we could do it all for them!
What will Secret Emporium be offering festival goers at Secret Garden Party this year?
They’ll see the return of Spangled, who last year stormed the season with stunning, hand-customised eyewear (which has since been featured in Time out, Sunday Times Style and picked up by the likes of Urban Outfitters); TAWN, a new fashion label from designer Ashleigh Downer, who graduated last year from LCF to huge acclaim with her collection, ‘Crystallography’. Ashleigh will be launching her first street-style ‘ready to wear’ collection inspired by her previous work; also Margaux Clavel, our scholarship winner from the Royal College of Art who blew us away with her ‘Festival’ collection at the RCA Graduate show this year. Look out for her deer horn headdresses and diffusion range cast silver jewellery pieces.
Are there any key trends or items being picked up on by festival goers?
It goes in waves but ultimately people love eccentricity; sunglasses with dinosaurs on them, glitter paneled catsuits they can roll around in, huge headdresses, big statement pendants to drape themselves in, bold prints, bomber jackets and printed tees. They also love customised accessories; caps, bum-bags, hoods, capes etc. Festival goers follow the fashion trends in the real world, they just always turn it up to 11 for the festivals so you see the trends just dipped in neon and glitter and without the inhibition of the everyday.
Finally what does Secret Emporium hope to achieve in the future?
We want to set up a social enterprise arm of the business which would distribute funding to start-up designers to support them to build their business, before they have even created their first complete collection. There seems to be considerable help for fashion designers already producing ‘ready to wear’ collections, looking for manufacturers and that next big step. We deal with many designers and creatives who are literally just starting to create their first winning ideas and need that leg-up to help them feel they can have a viable label, to then develop further to play serious ball in the fashion industry. We want to develop both the festival arm and the urban arm of the events we do and make them even better and more concentrated with talent – and take the talent global!