Growing up, I took to thrifting as an Olympic sport, prying resale sites and rails of vintage and charity shops for inspired one-off pieces. As I journeyed further into conscious shopping (and technology caught up), I discovered an array of labels beyond the high-street names I was accustomed to and became enamoured with independent brands. I have gradually built up a mental directory of designers and artisans with sustainability at the core of their brand philosophies.
Chances are if I’m talking fashion IRL, I’m chatting away about a small brand I recently discovered, marvelling at its artistry and attention to detail. (It’s one of my favourite things to talk about.) This year, in particular, I’ve added discovered more independent brands than ever before. They’re fast becoming my worst-kept secrets and for good reason.
With made-to-measure models, scrupulous methods and designers boasting fashion expertise, it’s a refreshing approach to shopping that should be celebrated as an exhilarating foray into mindful consumerism. The pre-loved, small-brand market has become an antidote to overconsumption, as it encourages a mindful approach. With the emergence of fresh talent and the typical shopper becoming increasingly discerning about where to part with their hard-earned cash, there’s been a rise in the popularity of independent brands over the last few years.
If you’re wanting to shop small and don’t quite know where to start, or simply want to add some new names to your roster, here are some lesser-known brands I think deserve to be on your radar in 2022.
1. Sunshine Living
Behind Sunshine Living is a one-woman production. British designer Sakara sources fabrics, hand-designs, darns and packages all pieces in her quaint home studio. Her collection is intimate, which reflects her brand philosophy: long-standing, wardrobe staples that can be effortlessly interchanged. You’ll find pieces from the classic white shirt (with coconut-shell buttons) to linen totes and wide-leg culottes, made from organic cotton. You needn’t worry if you’re tall, petite or in between sizes, as she also offers bespoke customisation. The Lovina trousers have become part of my everyday WFH uniform and fit just right. Recently introduced is the bamboo slip dress, which looks soft to the touch.
2. Black to Grey
Mariona and Hannah debuted their S/S 22 collection at Paris Fashion Week earlier this year. Their ethos is simple and reflects the brand's name: timeless, minimalist staples with sharp tailoring and made-to-measure pieces. Their mindful approach extends to their business model, in which they have small production runs on a limited basis to avoid waste. They also offer a take-back scheme to encourage circularity when your garment has come to the end of its life. Black to Grey reflects the modern Scandi aesthetic and draws inspiration from nature, spanning from geology to cosmology. Look out for bold injections of colour if you’re wanting to level up the bones of your wardrobe for something a little more striking.
3. Three Graces London
You may have seen Three Graces make its way onto luxury retailer sites, and it’s no surprise that buyers are gravitating toward its offerings. Catherine Johnson’s UK-based brand boasts conscientious styles that I can guarantee will remain in your wardrobe for years to come. Although its USP pertains to warm-weather dressing, its polished, classic silhouettes and wrap styles are also appropriate for formal occasions. This season’s collection is playful with a slight nod to S/S 22 trends, featuring asymmetric styles and exposed-back detailing, yet it’s still in keeping with the brand ethos. You may know that dresses are my kryptonite, but two-pieces are a close second, and the Benjamin skirt-and-top duo has piqued my interest.
4. Lora Gene
This B Corp–certified brand is founded by designer and sustainability advocate Lora Nikolaeva. In addition to overseeing the production-and-manufacturing process of Lora Gene, Nikolaeva educates her customers on how to best make informed decisions and the nuance of textiles and fabrics. The latest collection is centred around the expression of womanhood and includes pieces that will transcend seasons. From timeless trench coats to slip dresses (in naturally dyed fabrics, no less), there’s something for everyone, and best of all, it’s made to last. The brand honours the importance of inclusivity, with most styles ranging from UK 8 to 28, with the added benefit of custom sizing.
5. LRD Studios
Sustainability is at the forefront of Lily Rose Dambelli's brand. The entire collection is made from deadstock, recycled and organic materials, and there’s an expert level of diligence about the entire garment composition, from fastenings to threads. The limited collection encapsulates ease of comfort paired with gilded opulence through the use of rich tones of bronze, terracotta, cream and black. The pieces wouldn’t look out of place at formal or casual events, as they teeter between whimsical summer dressing and occasion-appropriate attire. Think Great Gatsby but 2022. I’m particularly impressed by the innovation of the Annabel dress. It’s a classic tier-style midi with shirring, made from 100% Naia, an Oeko-Tex–certified, regenerated cellulose fibre. It’s also a convertible design, meaning the dress can also be worn as a top and skirt. Absolute genius if you’re wanting your wardrobe to work even harder!
Jamaican native Rachel Scott founded Diotima in her hometown, Kingston. The collection comprises artisanal ready-to-wear pieces that ooze exuberance. At the brand's heart is the implicit homage to Scott’s roots, portrayed through handcrafted techniques and nods to Dancehall and Carnival, both of which are synonymous with Jamaican culture. The emphasis is on crochet weaves and tailored pieces with a twist, with enhanced shaping and tawny shades.
If, like I am, you’re taken with all things Parisian, you’ll be pleased to know that style maven Sabina Socol has taken a foray into fashion design with the release of her very own label, Pujka. Pujka reflects the highly sought-after Parisian aesthetic from a woman who embodies the soul and spirit of Paris. You’ll find classic micro floral prints, slim-line fits and wrap and midi dresses with saccharine pops of colour. The brand is still in its infancy and released an extended collection just last month. The standout piece has to be the green ensemble. It's reminiscent of the iconic Gwyneth Paltrow look from Great Expectations.
8. Realms London
A brand that breathes new life into deadstock is always magic in my eyes. Realms London's visuals conjure imagery of folklore and wonderment. Its pieces carry an air of fantasy into the real world. You'll most likely agree that its dresses in rose and lavender hues were made for frolicking in tufty fields and romance. To add to the intimate sentiment, each piece is made to order, just for you.