As someone who considered herself to be a finance person till recently, and resisted being in fashion because she felt like an outsider, founding a brand and being the designer says so much about passion, persistence and paving your own path.
Having been in finance and fashion, and having an understanding about both industries, today she writes and shares her insights on the business behind fashion.
Charlotte shares her inspiration and intriguing journey of how she made it in the industry that is notorious for being 'members only.'
It's not easy to leave a so-called 'stable' job, in finance, and plunge into starting on your own in a totally different industry. Especially fashion. What made you do it and not give up?
To this day I have no idea what made me do it, and I think to me it just felt like the right thing at the time. I wasn’t in love with my finance job, and I was spending all my time visiting tailors in Shenzhen, playing with fabrics, coming up with new designs, and reading business books at night. Honestly, I think it would have been crazy for me not to leave finance, I learned a lot but the industry just wasn’t the right fit for me looking back.
I wanted to be taken seriously. I made a plan, used my savings, took a loan, and I just kept going.
The fashion industry is notorious for being a ‘members-only club’, where one tends to feel like an outsider. Did you feel like it when you started the brand?
As a new brand I definitely felt that, and I also felt, that because I didn’t have a ‘background in fashion’ that somehow my creative expression was less valid. I think it just caused me to work harder, but I do think it would have been easier if I hadn’t felt that way. I was lucky to never have to face direct stigma, but as a new brand I really did have to push to prove my worth at first. I also never really thought of myself as a designer until recently, which I don’t think was fair. After 5 years of working in the industry, I finally have the confidence in myself and my place in the industry- but it took me a while to get here.
I also never really thought of myself as a designer until recently, which I don’t think was fair. After 5 years of working in the industry, I finally have the confidence in myself and my place in the industry- but it took me a while to get here.
In fashion more generally, there hasn’t always been a lot of trust for new brands or people that are not considered ‘insiders’, but I honestly think that’s changing. Social media and the rise of direct to consumer brands have been great for this. Consumers are more open to new brands, and sometimes even prefer them, then buyers, stores and magazines start to change their mindset too.
For sure fashion is still a members-only club in certain areas, and of course luxury brands will always have to cultivate a certain exclusivity, but I do think that the fashion ecosystem is opening up and there truly is room for everyone, now for sure more than ever.
Who do you draw inspiration from?
No one person really inspires me these days, but I do keep my eye on what is happening in the fashion industry at all times. Truly, I’ve found that you never know where inspiration is going to come from, which I think is part of the magic of the whole process.
At the start, my brand was very feminine and has become 'cool' over time. The style of the brand has developed with my own style, and of course my movements across the globe.
Now I mostly draw inspiration from street style, Pinterest, clothes I see on Instagram, and of course the places I visit. I keep a folder of images on my phone of things that I love, and then build the shapes, patterns, colours and cuts into a more coherent collection over time.
I really like working with fabrics, just sitting and looking at the fabric gives me ideas.
Truly, I’ve found that you never know where inspiration is going to come from, which I think is part of the magic of the whole process.
You love cities and have a city inspired collection. What do you find most endearing about them ?
I love taking a walk in whichever city I am in, and wandering and sometimes even getting lost. I only end up discovering something new. I love visiting museums, churches, historical sites, art exhibits, or anything really that will allow me to get new perspectives or just be around beautiful things. I love objects and I’ve always loved art, so getting lost in museum exhibits or something similar really relaxes me.
Fabrics and patterns remind me of places. Like tweed reminds me of London very obviously, velvet reminds me of Shanghai.
You started your brand in Hong Kong, so what made you name it Charlotte London?
The name was because I wanted to represent the elegant and polished nature of my home city and pay homage to it. I’ve always had a close connection to London, and growing up moving around, quite often it was truly the only place I could call home. It’s the only city where I’ve ever felt comfortable since I am half US/half UK. It has all of my childhood memories, and it’s a place where I feel calm and inspired and like I belong. London is a wonderful city – it is a huge and bustling metropolis, but it always had this beautiful understated elegance to it. The buildings and streets of my childhood served as the inspiration for the first collections, so the name was a natural flow from there.
London is a wonderful city – it is a huge and bustling metropolis, but it always had this beautiful understated elegance to it. The buildings and streets of my childhood served as the inspiration for the first collections, so the name was a natural flow from there.
What draws you to Asia?
I’ve always been drawn to Asia since I can remember. I grew up on a street in Kensington that is lined with cherry blossom trees. They were gifted by the Japanese emperor to the Queen back in the day. Also, my father used to travel to Japan and bring back little trinkets for me, so it’s always been a place that has been in the back of my mind. When I was 18, I went to Tokyo for the first time and I fell in love with the simplicity and elegance of the culture. Immediately, I knew I wanted to spend more time in the region. I moved to Hong Kong several years later only expecting to stay for a few months, but the dynamism and pure energy of the city kept me there for four years. I don’t think I would have started my business actually if I hadn’t been in Hong Kong. The place feels so full of opportunity and good energy, and to me it’s unlike anywhere else on earth. I’m back in London now, but I feel so lucky to have lived in that part of the world.
I grew up on a street in Kensington that is lined with cherry blossom trees. They were gifted by the Japanese emperor to the Queen back in the day. Also, my father used to travel to Japan and bring back little trinkets for me, so it’s always been a place that has been in the back of my mind.
Which city is the next inspiration?
At the moment my focus for the brand is to really play and do things that make myself and my customers happy. I have started to put together ideas for a new collection, and I think it’s going to be really special. I wanted to do something quite elegant and upmarket that’s inspired by the Middle East. I went for the first time this year (before the COVID outbreak) and felt more inspired than I have in years. It’s truly somewhere new to me, and there are so many themes, colours and elements that I want to explore for my next collections. I want to make something a little more high-end and decadent for the region so it might take me a little longer to put together- but watch this space!
Charlotte loves to travel, try new restaurants and spend time with her family and friends. London is her favourite city and home (if she isn't travelling, which she is more often than not). Tokyo is a close runner up.
For her, life is definitely about experiences, so she explores, wanders, and gets lost as much as she can. Her favourite movie is - Lost in Translation. No surprise there.
Find Charlotte on IG
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