Former fashion buyer Ronke Fashola is the creative genius and founder of Love ur Look, one of Great Britain’s most popular reproduction fashion labels. Her stylish creations emulate the glamourous designs of the 1940’s and 1950’s. It is a label that I love to wear and my rationale behind supporting this forward-thinking brand is not just restricted to the adorable asthetics, but also in admiration for their ethical and sustainable approach.
Our vintage and repro-wearing writer Emma Harrison spoke to Ronke about her designs, her vision and why sustainability is such a priority to her.
What was the inspiration and vision behind Love ur Look?
I wanted to create a brand which was fun, unique and gave people confidence. Having worked in fashion for many years as a fashion buyer I was aware of trends and the ‘must-have’ item that appears each season. Love ur Look isn’t about conforming to what’s in fashion – it’s about creating your own sense of style. A style which is reflected by embracing and enhancing the female body.
This is expressed through the nostalgic influence of the 1950s and 40s fashion. The cuts, prints and trims are all carefully considered when creating a Love ur Look design. I take time to read, watch and understand what customers want and need each season to ensure the brand continues to grow.
Was it a ‘lightbulb’ moment or was it more of a slow burning process?
I have always loved vintage. I remember going to Camden before its remodel to walk through the old stables, the back roads of Victoria station and Covent Garden to enter some of the most magical vintage shops. Sadly, these hallmarks no longer exist, but I knew my love for vintage was to continue. It was only a matter of how and what I would focus on. I organically grew the business into the era of the 40s and 50s and this is a much bigger industry people then people are aware of.
This was then fused with vintage and a commercial vintage influence to create Love Ur Look. So, for me it was more of a fairy organic progression from buying vintage pieces to creating my own collection.
Did you have any fears or worries when launching your business and how did you overcome them?
I had fears. I think thats totally normal. Anyone who has their own business has fear implanted within them, but it’s an excitement fear – a risk-taking fear of what could materialise from nothing.
I knew there was a gap in the market and a clear demand for what I was doing. I also do not follow catwalk trends. Love ur Look designs are created for longevity and to create a sense of uniqueness.
Cath Kidston also launched with a similar concept. I know we are very far apart brand wise, but I do consider it a brand which I aspire and compete with. Many of my customers wear Cath Kidston bags and dresses, so I know i’m on the right path.
I had successfully launched and run a company for over 10 years – Stylizers Style Consultancy. I knew if I could style over 500 people that I could create a collection and clothing brand which could be loved internationally.
I handle everyday business worries with lots of meditation and exercise and I also believe in surrounding yourself with strong women and supportive people helped. Negative people create negative energy. When you run a business, you need a daily plan and goals to stay focused.
How did you come up with the designs and patterns for your products?
Lots of research. I never switch off! Looking at what people wear, screenshots with social media – everything inspires me.
I even stop people in the streets if there is something I love. As the business has grown I now have a history of designs to work from, learn from and build upon.
The shapes of your dresses are very much reminiscent of the 50s and 40s – have you always gravitated towards those eras and a fan of vintage and vintage style?
Yes. I love the style and shapes. They are so flattering for the female body. I find inspiration from everywhere. There is no one process I use. Next year we have some more designs which have a nod to vintage. So those who are not into vintage can also find designs that they love.
Do you have a particular design process – where do you find your inspiration from?
No more than any other designer. I use my background knowledge from working as a fashion buyer. So, in that sense I work more from a business level and then implement design ideas. For example, I think about how I will promote a particular idea then come up with the design based around that.
How would you describe your brand personality?
Approachable. Fun. Colourful. Unique and influenced by nostalgic elements.
Looking back to when you were first coming up with the initial business concept, what advice would you give to yourself (knowing what you know now) and would you change anything?
Don’t rush into doing too many things. When I first started I wanted to do everything; dresses, tops, skirts, bags, homeware… I realised that’s not how you become successful. I’ve seen companies dive into areas which are total opposite to fashion. Such as homeware… To me that’s a whole other industry that requires another team to focus on it.
My focus was to master great prints and great vintage dress shapes. That is how I hope the brand is now known. Now I am more confident we have expanded into Menswear (shirts) and jewellery. We also have skirts coming back next summer.
Sustainability is a key element of Love ur Look – how important is having a sustainable business and using ethically-sourced products to you?
Our collection is made up of our own designed fabric and fabrics which are purchased from surplus markets. Surplus markets allow smaller businesses to buy fabric and which would otherwise end up in landfills. So much fabric which the big brands do not use is discarded for the smallest reasons. Such as a red not being bright enough. However, to another eye looking at that fabric, the red is red enough.
We also support a small animal rescue centre in India called Tofla who help hundreds of animals each year. Sadly, in India dogs, cats, cows, camels and donkeys can be very badly treated.
We produce our collection in a family-owned factory. Travelling to my factory twice a year allows me to meet my team, talk about concerns and ensure their working environments are all safe. Having a happy factory is very important for me. Hence why we have worked together from the start of the collection.
Where are your products made and how often do you change your collection?
We make the Love ur Look clothing in India. Knitwear will come either from Europe or UK and jewellery will comes from China. We change it each season. However, the Love ur Look seasonal calender lasts a little longer. Our SS collection finishes in September (whereas most high-street shops will start finish trading in July), so we end up with full on winter displays in sunny September!
Do you have any people that you personally look up to in business and have you been able to use this within your own business?
There are so many people I find inspirational. My mother who was and is still a lover of fashion. Jack MA; founder of Alibaba, Richard Branson, Patricia Field, Oprah, Jo Malone to name but a few business or public figures who have really inspired me.
What has been the most surprising thing that you have learnt about running your own business?
Running a business alone at the start can be lonely and very little people who are in a successful business reach out and give advice. I have been blessed to have some great women supporting me while the business grows.
My advice to people starting any business is that if you want help and support you have to knock on the right doors. That’s why I created a platform called Future of Fashion www.futureofashion.co.uk. (soon to be called the Future of Business).
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people, interviewing them and bringing more people together with businesses to network and work together. This October we are launching some workshops to facilitate this.
What do you feel has been the defining moment so far for Love ur Look?
Going into House of Fraser and launching into various stockists in Europe and America. Also launching our annual London pop up shop.
How would you describe the Love ur Look customer and who would be your dream celebrity customer?
Our customer is a lover of vintage. They are a lover or novelty prints and also a toe dipper. A toe dipper loves to get a bit of everything in life. They are a lover of vintage, high street and designer fashion.
Celebrity wise… There are elements I feel I would love to see on Katy Perry. But honestly, I design for anyone who wants a fun, stylish and unique look. Its never been about a celebrity for me, but if someone like Helena Bonham Carter decided to collaborate with a new brand, I wouldn’t say no!
You studied at the London College of Fashion and have also worked as a fashion buyer – how invaluable was that experience and what did it teach you?
Working for other brands before starting my own has been so invaluable. Its helped me understand so much from finance, costing, technical terms, factory issues, fabrics. The list goes on. It’s an extremely cut-throat industry, but well worth the experience and contacts you make and learn along the way.
What steps does the world of fashion need to make to become more sustainable and why is there such a ‘wear it, throw it’ culture in the UK?
When I was growing up there was still true vintage in second hand shops, second-hand shops are filled with high street brands.
Clothes which are designed by specific trend for that season. Once seen and worn shouldn’t be worn again. But why? If we created more unique designs and followed less trends this might start the ball rolling to a less fast fashion society. If brands which sell clothes very cheaply encouraged recycling. If we educated younger generations about vintage fashion and workmanship, maybe things could start to change.
I understand that you also work as a lecturer – please can you tell me a bit more about this and why you wanted to educate the next generation of designers?
I’ve been teaching for over four years. I started with a workshop on ‘How to become a Personal Stylist’. Which I still run under a brand called www.stylizers.co.uk. Through this experience and setting up my business I started to lecture on setting up a fashion business or business. Its been truly rewarding seeing so many people’s businesses take off.
These workshops can be found on www.futureofashion.co.uk site.
What’s next for you Ronke and for Love ur Look?
Expanding the label both product and on an international platform.
I also wish to build my platform up as a business expert offering more workshops and continue to inspire people who want to set up their own business.
I love teaching, supporting, lecturing and see a great deal in this area for me. If that’s online or with books maybe. I want to inspire more multiculturalism into the world of fashion.
I am the only Black women in the UK to own a reproduction vintage brand as my own. I want anyone and everyone to feel they can do what I have done.
Who knows what else could happen. Anything is possible. you just have to make it happen!