When getting acquainted with Palava‘s collection of whimsical dresses (and cardigans, and coordinating girls’ dresses!), a passion for creativity with a sense of humor is evident. What’s not so obvious is a captivating tale of revival, persistence, and passion, woven into each piece from this noteworthy designer. Below, we highlight what makes Palava such an inspiring force in the world of ethical and sustainable fashion, with insights from Bryony, the woman that makes it all possible!
Where the Heritage Begins
In 1974, Stephanie Holt and Michael Richardson created Poppy — a children’s bedding collection with prints designed by local artists — to help save the Strickland and Holt department store. The shop had been kept in the family since 1854, offering a variety of services with each passing generation. It wasn’t long before the Stephanie and Michael’s iteration of the business garnered success. They eventually ventured into clothing, and continued crafting collections until 2000.
A decline in UK manufacturing and prints slipping out of fashion put the company on pause for a decade, until Bryony, the youngest of Stephanie and Michael’s children, moved back to the family shop. Determined to revive Poppy and to give meaning to the clothing we wear, she introduced whimsical narratives to every fabric through her illustrative prints and accompanying storybooks.
Setting a Legacy
Responsible sourcing, ethical manufacturing, environmental obligation, and high-quality craftsmanship are the foundational elements on which Bryony revitalized the brand. Durability is key to each design, so years of wearing, machine washing (yes, you read that right!), and sharing with generations to come are possible. The use of organic cotton eliminates the need for pesticides, and cares for the earth. Keeping manufacturing in Europe allows for regular factory visits, to ensure all involved in production are healthy, happy, and paid fairly. While these commitments are unwavering, one major thing needed to change for Poppy to continue on: the name.
In Bryony’s Words
In addition to describing the pivotal shift from Poppy to Palava, Bryony shares her narrative inspiration, creative insights, and thoughtful career advice.
What does the word “Palava” mean to you? How have you co-opted it as your own?
When we had to change our name last year due to copyright issues with our previous name, I thought it would end us at the time. I felt it was an impossible task to find a name that could sum us up. I don’t know if you have the same expression in the USA, “what a palaver.” It’s a very English saying from my childhood. It’s a fun way of saying, “Oh dear! What a mess, but it worked out okay in the end.” Which is exactly what happened to us, so it seemed fitting.
I think one of the lovely things about our brand is that we don’t take ourselves so seriously; we like staying on the fun side of life and we like to see the world in full colour, so I think we have settled into our name like we’ve never been called anything else.
Do you have a favorite part in the design process, anywhere from inception to completed production?
As it happens, I’m working on the most exciting part right now! I’ve just started working on the designs for summer 2019. The part I like the most is starting to put little ideas together. Quite often, I start off drawing and just playing around. It’s fun; you never know quite where a drawing is going to take you. Then, when I start scanning the work into the computer and adding colour, things really start to come to life! That’s the best part.
How were you inspired to include storybooks with your garments?
When I first began, I was making only childrenswear. I think I saw a very transient way of shopping for children; they grow up quickly, and so there seemed little amount of care put into the clothing that they wore. I wanted to slow down fashion a little and add a little bit of meaning to our clothing. Having been brought up with lots of lovely children’s books, I never forgot their lovely illustrations and stories, so for me, it was a way of combining the two: my love of prints and stories.
Now the brand has grown up, I think it’s an opportunity for us grown ups to dream a little; a chance to escape from the mundane world and enter the nostalgic world of our own childhood.
What’s the most rewarding part about being a independent business owner?
Oh, there are so many …
I think feeling in control of the future destiny of your own company and the choices that you make is a powerful thing. For example, being able to make it top of my agenda to become more and more sustainable as a company in the next 5 years makes me feel like we can do something to help the environment.
Being able to choose the team and people that I work with has its own rewards. I have a team who feels the same passions for Palava as I do, so we are all striving for the same things.
For me, choosing the team I have around me is very important. Not only does it mean that work is more fun, but also, my team shares the same values and goals as me, so they understand where I am trying to get to, and there is a big team effort to get there.
You never know what is coming around the corner. When it’s your baby, your creation, it’s hard not to feel the highs and the lows. Life can feel like a roller coaster, but it means even little successes can make you feel fuzzy inside, and be very rewarding.
There’s a lot of hard work involved in running your own business, and along the way I’ve often felt like giving up. But once you get through the difficult periods, the sense of achievement for not giving up always outweighs the bad times.
Do you have any advice for fellow females exploring slow fashion or looking to get their start in the sustainable fashion world?
The challenge is staying true to what you believe in. Having a small business is a lot about compromise; sometimes those compromises are big and pressures are put upon you, but don’t lose sight of what you are aiming for. It’s not easy to get all the things you want to achieve in place right from the beginning, so don’t beat yourself up for not achieving everything you want to achieve straight away.
As long as you are aiming in that direction, you will get there. Believing that you are helping find a better way to produce fashion without it costing the earth, even if it’s tiny, is a great place to start.
Even though you are starting out small and may not feel you have an impact on the world, those little things matter, so don’t lose sight of where you want to get to.
Is there any fun trivia about the brand you’d like to share?
We have a lot of fun writing our story books. When I’m putting the stories together, we always have storytime when we will get together and I read the story book. There’s often a hidden comedy value in them for adults as well, so they’re not just for children.
Sometimes prints take longer than others, and some prints just appear to me. Last summer towards the end of the collection, we all stopped for an ice cream break, and it just so happened after discussing our favorite childhood ice creams, we decided we just had to make an ice cream dress!
We have our favourite characters and lots of the prints and stories have been based around them. From time to time, you will see these characters reappear. Here’s a little introduction to 4 of our favourite characters:
Poppy is a keen adventurer who is ready at any moment to go anywhere.
Mr. Giraffe likes sandwiches, and if you find him when you come to London, he will give you a lift around the famous sights.
Mr. Rabbit’s favourite food is chocolate-dipped carrots.
Fred is always getting himself in a pickle and then having to be rescued.
We are small team here at Palava. Once a week, we get together and one member from the team cooks lunch. It’s a time to discuss what’s happening in everyone’s lives outside of work. We take our time and it’s always a delight to see what is on the menu that day.
+Which wondrous Palava style will be gracing your closet this spring — and for seasons to come?