The Interview: Lucy Greenwood, Co-Founder of Lucy & Yak
Lucy Greenwood is the co-founder of the ethical clothing brand Lucy & Yak, which is known for its quirky vintage-inspired dungaree designs.
Just before Fashion Revolution Week in April, Lucy sat down with TheIndustry.fashion to discuss how she built the thriving business while putting in a place a transparent and traceable supply chain.
Find out more about Lucy & Yak’s beginnings as a Depop store for vintage clothing and how it grew into the successful business that it is today while staying true to its ethical and sustainable supply chain – in this Q&A.
For the full story, where Lucy speaks about why sourcing organic cotton has become a lot more complicated in recent years and how the brand has built a loyal customer base - listen to our recent episode of the InConversation podcast.
Can you can you tell me about Lucy and Yak - in a nutshell what is it all about?
We're a UK clothing brand that started nearly five years ago. My partner and I started the brand after quitting our jobs to go travelling for a couple of years. When we came back to the UK, we lived in a camper van for a while and started selling vintage clothing on Depop. And then we went on a trip to India and thought, you know what, why don't we try and make our own clothes? And dungarees were something that we really struggled to find but every time we found a pair of vintage ones they sold instantly. And we thought why not try that?
So how did that turn into the business that it is today?
We weren't trying to start a business as such. When we first went to India, we just wanted to find a tailor, someone with a small business that could make as a few pieces and test them on Depop, to see if people were interested. And so we were buying deadstock fabric from the market and we'd just find a print that we liked. We might only be able to make three pairs of dungarees out of it and that’s kind of where the limited edition prints of today came from. Then as the brand started to blow up quite quickly, we were like okay, we're onto something.
How did you build a brand with such a transparent supply chain?
Well, it wasn't easy, but it was one of the really amazing things because we were on the ground in India. And we just said if we can find somebody we like, we might give them this design. And we wanted to really enjoy spending time with the people that were making the clothing with. We wanted somebody who we trusted, someone who we could build a really good relationship with. We had samples made of quite a few places and there was just always this element that just never sat right with us. So we were just about to give up and leave this town when the cook in our hotel told us about his brother. And this is the guy who we've ended up working with for the last five years. What was amazing about him was that he had two tailors working for him already, so he had a tiny little business. And he went out to find the fabrics from local markets, he would then do all the pattern making and then the two tailors would stitch the garment together. And we just grew with him.
And how did you scale the business from there?
The challenging bit was that as we started to grow his quality wasn't up to scratch. So the first few customers that came on board, they understood, it's handmade, it's not going to be as perfect as some other brands. And then as we started to grow, the customers expected more. So, we got to improve the quality. And this was a real challenge, because he wasn't used to making that quality. And he's grown a factory now in his village, and there's 100 people working with it. So we've kind of grown with him. The good thing is the struggles weren't about ethics, and they weren't about sustainability. We knew we could trust him 100% on that, whereas that's usually the problem.
You have a page on your website and it's about who made my clothes and you kind of introduce all the all the workers that that create the garments. Can you tell me about that?
I mean almost from day one actually when we found out about Fashion Revolution, I don't know if it was our first year or second year. Because with Ismail, our main supplier that we met in the early days, his ethics and his values - he's just incredible. He just wants to give people in his village a well-paid job. So we've always gone there every year and every time we turn up it's like meeting family. And so we we've done many little interviews with the workers and someone translates it. We tend to just do a little bio on them whenever we get out there.
Is there any advice that you have for other fashion businesses that might want to do the things that you are doing?
Well number one is you have to visit the country that you plan to make your clothing in. It's obviously always hard when there's a sea between you and it is thousands of miles away. But the more time you can spend there the better. You will build a more trusting relationship and then it will be less likely that something is going to surprise you.
And I would say don't try and be perfect at the beginning. People sometimes put together a big business plan and they judge their own work very harshly and just never put anything out there in the end. And I think, what the bigger brands can't do - that's the real key to win over your customers.