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Life of Alumni: sustainable designer Polly Reid on embracing slow fashion and natural faux fur fabrics

Images of models wearing designs by Polly Reid
Images of models wearing designs by Polly Reid

Written by
Alexandra R. Cifre
Published date
30 October 2019

What do you do when you have a family of sheep living in your land and a real drive to become a successful fashion designer? You create a natural faux fur fabric, a unique material in the industry, and launch your own brand. This is what LCF alumna Polly Reid did after graduating from BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Technology: Womenswear. In this interview she tells us all about her "woolly" family and how living in the beautiful countryside of Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, fuels the inspiration for her bridal designs.

Hi Polly! Tell us a bit about your creative journey. How did you end up studying at LCF?

After graduating with a degree in Chemistry I worked in that field for a few years, first as a scientist and then as a customer satisfaction manager.  However, I've always had an interest in fashion and I created my first dress for my own wedding, where I sketched my own design and made my gown. It was during that time that I realised that I wanted to study womenswear, and I found out about LCF when browsing the internet one night looking for courses that I might be interested in. I applied and was so pleased to be accepted!

What did you enjoy the most about your time at LCF?

I really loved my course. The atmosphere at LCF is really energising and positive — it was wonderful to be surrounded by so many hardworking, creative individuals with such a big passion for this industry and a real drive to succeed.

You now have your eponymous brand Polly Reid. Why did you decide to launch your own label?

After graduating, I started making bridal wear but was conscious of the amount of expensive fabric that was going to waste. I decided to launch an online bridal accessories business, turning clients and my own fabric off-cuts into buttons, loops, corset kits and bridal cover ups — today, I am lucky to supply to some of the world’s top designers. Looking back now this was probably the start of my journey into sustainable fashion.

So why did I decide to then start my own label? When I moved to north Aberdeenshire for my husband’s work a few years ago, our new home came with some land. I have always had a passion for being around animals, so I decided to keep rare and minority breeds as pets. Over the last few years, I have been caring for and raising pet Mohair goats and more recently Ouessant sheep — I soon discovered that in order to keep my flock in good health, a “haircut” is needed twice a year, which does not harm the animals. As the flock sizes increased, I was faced with the dilemma of what to do with the mohair, a by-product of my woolly family.

The fashion industry has been changing over the last few years and I noticed that the provenance of clothes was becoming more of a focus for consumers. As an animal lover, it was wonderful to see designers finally move away from real fur.

However, the alternative faux fur, although ethical, is made of plastic and cited as being bad for the environment. After researching the use of Mohair, I decided to channel my passion for my animals and the environment into creating a 100% natural faux fur fabric.

Would you say this innovative fabric is what differentiates your brand from others?

Yes, it does make my brand pretty unique! It’s really important to me as a sustainable designer that my customers know the provenance of every step. I do this so my customers don’t just feel good about wearing a beautiful garment, but they feel fantastic knowing it was made ethically and sustainably.

Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?

I am blessed to live in the Highlands, which are often portrayed as a romantic part of Scotland. I'm surrounded by unspoiled nature with rugged mountains, deep blue lochs and empty glens with majestic red deer and castles. My debut collection Nadarra (Scottish Gaelic for Natural) is a selection of vintage inspired, tailored, cropped jackets and capelets.

Each piece has been designed with a sense of timeless elegance and modern glamour. Supporting the slow fashion model, they are made to last a lifetime — ideal for weddings and special occasions, but also wearable beyond the big event.

They can be paired with jeans, top and heels for a city chic look, or add a cocktail dress for all out glam. To complete the look I have also created beautiful and exquisite hair vines. Each piece is inspired by the flowers, foliage and seasonal changes on my little farm.

Considering you're based in a beautiful country area in Scotland, what would you say to those who believe you can only succeed as a designer if you live in a big fashion capital like London?

I believe that you can succeed but it’s extremely hard work. It’s important to remember at all times that the fashion industry is fiercely competitive, so if you want to get noticed being away from a fashion capital, you have to become an active part of the industry, joining fashion events and networking to make contacts. Having a wide social media presence is also key; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a blog and LinkedIn are useful tools not only when promoting your own work but also keeping up to date with the industry.

What piece of advice would you give to LCF students thinking of starting their own businesses after graduating?

Fashion is amazing in the way it balances art and commerce, but it’s a business. I’ve learnt that being a business owner is like having the job of 20 different people — you need business, social, marketing, financial and management skills. So my advice would be: don’t start a brand because you want to design, start a brand because you want to start a business.

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