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For our next edition of Mode Meets we spoke with Lucy Aylen the founder of  iconic womenswear label Never Fully Dressed. She has built the brand from a one-woman band to the Instagram favourite and thriving online business that is it today.

Coming from market trading parents from the East End it was natural for Lucy to start sewing and customising a small amount of samples to sell at Portobello and Spitalfield markets.  Five years later Never Fully Dressed’s first store opened in Buckhurst Hill, Essex with their online business growing rapidly.

Never Fully Dressed’s social presence with multi wear styling tips has become a big hit staying true to the brand ethos of ‘our customer being our influencer’. The brand continues to strive to do better with sustainability driving their new ventures and future plans.

Please tell us the story behind launching ‘Never Fully Dressed’ back in 2014? 

From a young age I always wanted to be an actress, however, this never really took off. I always made clothes and my parents had market stalls in the Eastend so I had that in my blood it felt natural to make clothing and sell the products at the markets as a bit of an income and without any crazy business plan or big goals.  I really enjoyed it and I had so many great friends at the market and it was a really fun couple of years.

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The brand has had multiple international pop-ups, as well as the original boutique in Buckhurst hill, Essex. Are you planning to open any further permanent stores/pop ups or focus on your other channels such as wholesale or online?

We have launched wholesale and online - online is our main channel. The shop in Buckhurst Hill we originally opened as our office and the aim was for the shop front to cover the cost of the office rental and anything above that was a bonus - its just such a great little shop and its an amazing way to connect with our customers and if we didn't have that we would lose that if we were just online - I know our social customer is very vocal but that interaction is really valuable.
The pop ups are a great way to try out a new market or if we have the market there already connect with that community that we have.  Obviously they have been on hold during Covid - We had planned to be in LA the whole month of April but this was cancelled due to Covid and I cant really see us doing any this side of Christmas unless we can do one in London which would be fun - so no plans!

Again we really miss our customers!  The next one if we were to do a permanent store would probably be in America so either New York or LA - if we were to expand with dispatch over there that would be good to  build those roots  up a bit stronger as that is our second best territory after the UK and where we are growing .  It would be good to have a little base and making a home but no plans at the minute.

How much of an impact has social media had on the success of your brand? 

When we started there was no Instagram - we did have Facebook but it was me at the start running our own small ads and posts back then. When Instagram started looking back on it you didn't really have views it was more of a documentation of what we used to do we never looked at it to drive sales it was more of a shop window in a sense because you didn't have the following or you didn't have any tactics or way to promote on there it was just an extension. It was quite nice because before you had any results on it I suppose it was used more as creative as there was no pressure on it being successful or driving traffic it was more fun!

Obviously, now its such a massive marketing tool for us and during lockdown we launch Feel Good Friday because we have such a strong community spirit on there which I think people then looked to during lockdown as a bit of light relief and and out reach to other people when you are stuck in your home - we have really grown from that and appreciated that voice from our customer and really focused on that aspect of our business and emphasised that even more so during lockdown.

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How do you identify the right influencers to work with as a brand? 

We don't really work with many influencers, obviously its changed over Covid because we couldn't shoot ourselves so a lot of companies had to adapt and arrange for content to be shot from home by other people.

Again we like it if someone is a customer already that happens to be aware and like the brand and their content becomes more naturally - anyones voice who seems honest and anyone who would relate to our customer who would be in that community anyway that always seems the most natural and resinates the best - rather than big paid campaigns who our customer wouldn’t relate to or it doesn’t fit as well or work.

You launched the Feel Good Friday Instagram Lives during lockdown, how did this come about and what was the reaction from your followers? 

We launched Feel Good Friday as a bit of a relief for our customers - non fashion related just other activities that would lighten the mood of  lockdown - it worked really well - it also got the Never Fully Dressed Team involved in different aspects and our customers felt more aware of the team as a whole - it was just fun if anything and was needed at that time.

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As a business does a large percentage of your sales come via click through on social media or shoppable posts ?

Half of our business comes from social media.

How has Covid19 impacted your brand and how to you think it will change retail as an industry going forward? How has your brand adapted?

I think our agility as a company worked in our favour during and after lockdown - I think with bigger teams/operations it takes much longer to adapt and I think how great our team/employees work as a team and the flexibility - everyone pulled together to help out and new relationships formed within the team which may not have crossed previously - I think we have come out of this as a must stronger team which is great - everyones voice is valuable!
Also during lockdown we launched our curve range because a lot of wholesale companies cancelled orders and wouldn't have any intake and we decided to absorb the stock and we launched curve which has been amazing for us and something we are going to continue with and its now a large part of our business and were we see our growth.
Obviously the whole industry has had to move online but we had ahead start as that's where our focus was - international sales have been slower because global world trade has been a strange place.

You have been experimenting with reducing your entry point price to £50-60 to draw in a younger consumer and expanding the plus size range, how has this impacted sales?

We have actually just had the first product that gone live which is a lower price point for a dress so we are yet to see any results but it is something  again we are looking to explore more so.

How important is sustainability and what measures are you taking as a brand? 

Sustainability is massive for us it is a focus for us we did want all fabrics to be sustainable by autumn/winter 2020 as we are unable to travel/source everything has been put back so we are now looking at spring/summer 2021 for that to be the case.

We are launching imminently our new packaging which is all biodegradable.  We do not really have any wastage in our design process any in-production process any waste fabric is then used for face protective masks or jewellery bags so we really don't have any land-fields or wastage there either.  Our factories so far are all small family run businesses which are great - as we are expanding we are looking into the ethics of every new factories we take on board - but sustainability is massive for us - we have launched a few more sustainable fabrics but again we would like them all to be that by next year.

As a business owner and mother of three, how do you prioritise your time and remain present as the face of your own brand?

Covid was a weird one as you are with your family more but there is no break to the day as much - 7 days a week every waking hour you are working even though you are with your family more so that was a weird one to have that difference between those two times.

Now, to be honest I feel like its been really busy since that so we are just all working really hard.  It been hard again that we cant travel or have a family holiday - it's been tough to be honest.  I’m lucky I have help - I have a nanny who helps with the kids - apart from that I don't think there is a right answer - I think you are just tired for a few years whilst you bring up your kids!

What advice would you give to anyone hoping to launch their own fashion brand or business? Do you have any top tips to share?

Sometimes two many systems and over thinking can get in the way - you just have to do it and learn from them mistakes.

I started out when I was living at home so I didn't have a mortgage or kids to look after so that makes the stakes a bit higher especially if its your first venture  - don't put all your life savings into it - start smaller test it out and then grow with it.  I started with a few hundred pounds and each piece that was sold went back into the business.  I would say just get on and do it and sometimes think more with a commercial mind when you are so passionate about something its harder to think commercially about it - don't be to precious and don't worry about failing a few times.

Be open to learning - I’m still learning now! You are never an expert and there is always room to improve/learn so think about where you want to be and put practical steps in place to achieve that.


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