Although the global pandemic has had a devastating impact on a number of brands and small businesses, not all hope is lost. As Covid-19 was spreading across the globe and country after country went into lockdown, local makers and designers started picking up their tools. For some, new launches had been in the works for quite some time, for others, a change in circumstances (job losses, relocating) meant they were able to switch their focus and start something new. What quickly became clear to these new brands was that they would have to pivot quickly to survive – an online presence would be key, and social media would have to be greatly utilised to create brand awareness in an over-crowded and difficult marketplace.
It’s always nerve-wracking launching something new and sending it out into the world. Add in a global pandemic and it can be downright terrifying. But the brands outlined in this series have started something new worth talking about. They have found their niche, listened to their audience, and are producing products that they feel people need right now, whether that’s a tie-dye loungewear set or comfortable yet stylish and efficient work from home clothes.
Here we speak to Irish-born Lia Quigley who launched her fashion label, made obvious, in Madrid this year, about sustainability, why comfort is key for her and how a made-to-order production model was essential for the brand.
Tell us a bit about your experience of launching a brand during the pandemic
The experience has had both pros and cons, on the positive side, it has helped me to have the space and time to fully concentrate on the brand, in March my freelance work came to an abrupt halt due to the outbreak, made obvious had been ticking along in the background for some months but I had been finding it hard to get the time to give it my full attention, so this has been a great chance to do just that.
On the downside, there were a lot of challenges, in Madrid where I live we had a very strict lockdown; for six to seven weeks we weren’t allowed to leave our apartment even for exercise so it was quite extreme. Obviously orders were delayed, suppliers were closed, and some things were just not possible like photoshoots or fittings. The rules have eased slightly and so the process has become easier and I’m so grateful for that.
What was important to you when designing your collection?
There are so many aspects that I am passionate about; primarily that it is sustainable and all our processes respect the natural world. I have spent a lot of time sourcing the most sustainable fabrics I could find. Every process of the brand had to be sustainable from packaging to shipping to production. I have become slightly obsessed with fabric waste and determined to use every scrap of fabric we print. In most brands/factories it is a given that around 15% of fabric will go to waste, I really didn’t want this to happen at made obvious, so I designed patterns and products that used up every single scrap – like our Labour of Love eye pillows. When designing the prints, I felt it was important that they could be worn all year round, so customers could get more wear out of them, the trend for seasonless clothing is growing and I think that can be only a good thing. So striking that balance was really key to the designs.
I also wanted to make the clothing comfortable, I have a chronic pain condition and struggle to find clothes that are comfortable yet elegant, I chose to have elastic backed waistbands and loose fitting shapes. I also decided not to use any zips or buttons, this was to make the garments more comfortable but also to make the brand more sustainable. Alongside the garments, I was determined to create a product that soothed and comforted, that might aid people with pain relief, this was the idea behind our pillows.
Why did you decide to focus on a made-to-order production model?
Made-to-order was a very easy decision for me, I don’t want to have stock left over, I want to do everything I can to avoid unnecessary waste, so it seemed like a very simple solution. It also means I can listen to my customers, have a two-way conversation about what they like about the products and make any changes or new designs accordingly.
What difficulties or challenges have you faced due to launching your brand during the pandemic?
I’ve mentioned some of these above, such as delayed orders, suppliers being shut and photoshoots or fittings being impossible. But the other side of made obvious is our Made Craft Community, it is a growing community based in Madrid, we meet once a month and keep in touch throughout the month via our Instagram page and Whatsapp. We create individual projects and help and inspire each other. Obviously meeting up has been impossible at times due to Covid-19 restrictions, so our community met on Zoom but now we are back to meeting in small groups outside in one of Madrid’s beautiful plazas. The feedback from the group has been that the crafting projects have really helped during this challenging time, that is the aim of the craft community; to promote wellbeing and mindfulness and to help people get creative and feel part of a larger community. It was a challenge to keep it going but I’m so happy that we’ve had each other for support.
What brought you to Madrid and how does the city inspire your designs?
I moved to Madrid two and a half years ago with my husband, Harry. It was a big decision for us, a leap of faith to be honest. I had been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2015 and the climate in Ireland aggravated my condition, we chose to move to a warmer and drier climate and it was a really great decision for us but a huge challenge also. Now we are settled here and we really love it so we are very lucky.
Madrid is so beautiful, the light is incredible and the weather makes it easy to get out and about in nature, so gathering inspiration from my favourite source – the natural world, has been great. We live right on the edge of a huge park called Casa de Campo, I go walking there everyday and some days I take photos, this is a huge source of inspiration. Madrid also has some amazing gardens – the botanical gardens for example is stunning, I love to visit there at least once each season to see all the changes.
Sign up to our MAILING LIST now for a roundup of the latest fashion, beauty, interiors and entertaining news from THE GLOSS MAGAZINE’s daily dispatches.