I'm sure that there are many jobs where an influx of approximately 500 emails per day is totally normal. But rather than ever feeling confident enough to bulk-delete without regret, there are countless messages I need to check in on because staying ahead of trends, launches and, particularly, cool brands is something of a prerequisite for my role. I'm am contacted by countless designers, brand founders, PRs and marketing execs on a daily basis via every possible platform, and I try my best to support brands that show a point of difference, beautifully made products and interesting stories. Not every label makes the cut, and the task of literal "editing" between what I deem worthy of your attention or not can be a brutal one.
In this new monthly gallery, I'll be highlighting the best independent brands. They aren't all necessarily brand new, but they are small-scale enough that it's possible you haven't met them yet.
Photo:@hannahalmassi / WHO WHAT WEAR
I will forever have a desire to own a Prada handbag, buy a vintage blouse or find a long-lasting dress from Mango, but there's a whole world of truly unique creations from lesser-known names out there to be enjoyed, too. Many of them are establishing impressive sustainability credentials. Even more of them are actually starting big trends that you notice filtering into far bigger household brands and stores. So you can consider this list a peek into what everyone will be raving about/copying/wanting to own next. From clothing, shoes, bags and jewellery through to interiors and beauty, it's a one-stop shop to honing a home full of magical pieces that tell stories and spark joy!
London-based designer Ren creates romantic pieces that are as thoughtfully manufactured as they are beautiful. She uses natural fabrics, eco-conscious alternatives to synthetics, natural dyes and, wherever possible, end-of-bolt fabrics that would otherwise be wasted and go unused. Splitting the production process between London and Bangalore, the brand is very careful to use boutique, ethical manufacturers. Her pieces are timeless, artsy and comfortable, and they are definitely not driven by trends or a demand for endless deliveries.
Modelled on traditional Bulgarian dress but spliced and diced together in the true DIY, punk spirit of London, the English Bulgarian brand Chopova Lowena is about as unique as they come. Design duo Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena have seen their signature kilt become a street style favourite over the years, and due to their handmade nature, these are in short supply and rarely hang around for long. The range is expanding to include other separates, but I'm still hankering after a skirt.
You'll have, no doubt, encountered Yolke's beautiful PJs on social media thanks to the brand's set of #YolkeGirls, but it has been producing daywear as well as sleepwear for a while now, and its dreamy, easy, summer dresses are well worth checking out. I'm a big fan of anything that provides plenty of coverage without feeling oversized, so these demure midis are my jam.
Alexa Chung and I have very little in common—I would imagine—aside from our mutual love of navy knitwear. This seemingly simple cardigan is made from superfine lambswool (honestly, it feels like cashmere) and is the perfect thing to fling over jeans, leggings and dresses when I'm on a weekend walk or first thing on the nursery run! The idea behind Navygrey is that the founder Rachel wanted to recreate the feeling of a hand-me-down, perfect-fit jumper that's so elusive to find. She had one for 20 years that inspired her brand, and the hope is that each of these new pieces will live on just as long, if not longer. Additionally, for each of these cardigans bought, Navygrey pledges to plant a tree.
Pip Durell, a former British Vogue and Tatler staffer, has seen her perfect-fit shirts adopted by the likes of Meghan Markle. The founder started with a desire to create the ultimate "boyfriend shirt" but has since found success with a multitude of cuts and styles. These recent short-sleeve Cabana versions are a favourite of mine. Since 2020, WNU's shirts have been created with 100% organic fabrics.
I'm clearly in a bohemian mood right now, and no other contemporary designer sums up that global mishmash aesthetic quite like Celia Bernardo, the mastermind behind CeliaB. If you're looking for a standout, super-unique dress to swish about in, this Spanish label should be your first stop.
BrownsFashion.com is expanding its offering of sustainable brands, and Boteh, an Australian label by Amelia Mather, is the latest to join the gang. I was instantly drawn to the boho prints, and it turns out that the word "boteh" is the Persian term for paisley—being half-Persian myself, the allure now makes sense! I love the detail on this blouse with its contrasting-pattern sleeve hems. You can get the matching skirt, which would be perfect for a holiday, but the blouse is just as cool with high-waisted trousers for work.
I'm always keen on bags that deliver practicality without looking boring, and Scandinavian handbag brand Little Liffner certainly does that. Founder Paulina Liffner von Sydow has an ever-growing fan base, making these quirky styles an It brand that's still flying under the radar.
NYC-based label Khaore creates bags that are like little pieces of concept art. So when I don't want my bags to be über-useful, I like them to be extra-fabulous, and this little velvet number is sure to get people asking me where it is from.
Back to sensible leather goods, Dragon Diffusion is one of those in-the-know brands that I came to learn of a few years ago when I interviewed the ultimate French It girl, Jeanne Damas. These woven totes and shoppers are popular among the Parisian set because they're simple, classic and very easy to wear with many a look, from beachside ensembles to a workday uniform. J'adore.
I have been looking for a shoulder bag that feels neat and compact but is still big enough to carry all of the essentials, and the Agnes from Agneel does it, and very nicely, too. The German luxury brand's founder, Yesim Karaman, is all about creating pieces that are timeless and functional but also really tempting to tote! The rounded shape, chic cappuccino leather and quality finish on this really tick all the boxes for me.
And now for something frivolous again! Hai's ethically produced signature silk mini bags have been very popular on social media, and this ruched number looks like the ideal partner for a dinner date.
Did you know that former fashion designer Henry Holland has now shifted into homewares? This cool mug is from his debut collection, which has been picked up by Liberty—a pretty cracking start, I'd say.
Amsterdam-based designer Charles-Antoine Chappuis is all about handcrafting interiors items that could easily stand up as pieces of sculpture in their own right. This incredible vase is made of recycled glass, linen and other recycled fibers, and it is one of a kind.
I have just bought this for my bedroom, and it casts the most beautiful light in the evening. Lights & Lamps is a relatively new UK-based lighting site that offers directional designs at much friendlier prices than many other competitors.
In Casa by Payboy is an interiors brand that was founded during the pandemic last year in Naples by craftsman and designer Paboy Bojang. He's currently seeking asylum from Gambia in Italy, is only 28 years old, uses 100% locally sourced cotton and is already being picked up by international stockists, so all in all, this is a pretty brilliant brand to support.
These French-inspired checkered vases have been filling up my Instagram feed, and I'm not mad about it. Handmade and hand-painted in Spain, Vaisselle is another brand that was born during lockdown last year in London. Everything runs in small quantities, so they do sell out fast, and this is your warning!
London-based jewellery label Daphine has been doing a lot to shake up the idea that directional, quality jewellery has to cost a fortune. The brand's chunky, rounded rings became an Instagram sensation a while back (and spawned many a copycat), and now it's introducing more adventurous iterations, like this crystal-studded version.
Bea Bongiasca is the Italian jewellery designer spearheading a movement for super-fun, playful pieces like these enamel-covered earrings. Her signature vine tendril rings have been very popular, and A-listers such as Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid are counted within her ever-increasing fan base.
Otiumberg is the demi-fine London-based jewellery brand every influencer turns to when they're looking for dainty, elegant pieces to stack and layer. This rainbow ring is the kind of addition that people will notice, but you'll also be able to wear it for the rest of time. The brand, which was founded by sisters Christie and Rosanna Wollenberg, ethically sources its materials and works hard to create the kind of jewellery essentials you can easily wear every single day.
I probably don't need to introduce Alighieri to you, right? Launched in 2014 by Rosh Mahtani, this brand has become instantly recognisable on social media and in street style pictures thanks to its signature, antique-inspired gold coin pendants. But the brand has grown to become so much more than these lovely necklaces, and I'm particularly enamoured with the recent chunky chains and molten-looking sovereign rings.
Making her shoes in in Italy with ethical production methods, Dear Frances founder Jane Frances creates shoes that are the very best when it comes to quality and the very best when it comes to investment styles that somehow manage to still tick some trend boxes. These Bridge Slides have five-star reviews from shoppers, and I understand why. They are elegant, comfortable and full of chic design details IRL, and it's so rare to find great navy shoes, something I particularly appreciate!
When it comes to fun footwear, London-based label Miista is the brand I turn to each and every time. I particularly get a thrill out of the styles it creates with low heels, as this is the height I want to wear the most, but many midis are downright boring. The shoes are produced in Portugal, and the brand collaborates with many specialised craftspeople, but there's also a Spanish design flair thanks to founder Laura Villasenin being from Galicia.
If you're looking for sophisticated and minimalistic sandals, flats and/or handbags, then you need to know about Hereu. This is a Spanish brand that uses local artisans to craft its beautiful, pared-back pieces. These have to be some of my favourite fisherman sandals on the market. Be mine!
If you're still in the hiking-sandal zone (which I am because they're just bloody comfortable and useful), then may I draw your attention to Suicoke? This cult Japanese label came to the UK a couple of summers ago and has since become the option for many fashion insiders who want to elevate their sandal collections. I like that the brand offers more alternative colorways than black or tan, with shades like this deep teal or khaki still being versatile enough to wear with lots of looks but offering something a little different.
Yet another Spanish shoe brand you simply must know about is Alohas. It is locally produced in Alicante, but where the other labels above focus on more practical, everyday styles, you'll find that Alohas is a bit more adventurous and sassy. The brand's two-tone ankle boots have been all over my social feeds, but it's these chain-strapped sandals that caught my eye. Date night, here I come!
I've been very guilty in the past of not wearing SPF every day, but it's because I hadn't found one I liked. So when our beauty editor Mica Ricketts recommended this Australian brand on repeat, I had to pay attention. It's great. Just buy it.
Sister & Co's naturally sourced ingredients are crafted into the brand's products from a lab in London. Most of the products are vegan, and the majority of the ingredients are organic. This body oil is really invigorating after a shower, and I got through a bottle very quickly, so that's saying something!
One can never have enough candles—am I right? La Montaña's vibe is to basically re-create those scents you enjoy in the Mediterranean. As I'm obsessed with the night jasmine I love to smell when holidaying in Andalucia, this is the perfect stop-gap right now considering I haven't been able to visit for two summers in a row. The brand is now stocked on Net-a-Porter, and I'm not surprised.
So for full transparency, I haven't yet been able to try this perfume, but I'm already hooked just reading about it and seeing this mystical, magical bottle! Vyrao is a new brand that was recently launched by fashion insider Yasmin Sewell, and it's all about amplifying energy through scent. This particular fragrance has been dreamt up alongside British perfumer Lyn Harris and features notes of many of my favorites: bergamot, orange blossom and frankincense among others, which apparently is tapping into transformation and illumination. I can literally smell the freshness and sense the soul lift from here!
Next up, these are the affordable sustainable brands we adore.