Since launching in 2013, UK-based clothing brand Story MFG have stuck to a ‘slow made’ ethos, creating their distinctive unisex clothing at highly-skilled manufacturers in India and Thailand that employ time honoured techniques, natural dyes, recycled fabrics and renewable energy.
With production runs limited due to the laborious nature of the design process – and having only recently hired their first full-time staff – they’ve consciously kept operations small. Here founders Katy and Saeed Al-Rubeyi discuss the effects of their approach.
SAEED: ‘We learn and rise together. They [manufacturers Colours of Nature] make 90% of our stuff, and we’re 80% of their revenue. There’s a strong friendship and shared values, and an interest in what can be done with the outer limits of natural dyes and how we can develop the space. They didn’t know about making samples and fashion shows; we didn’t know how long it takes to do certain dyes and the implications of the seasons.’ ‘When you have a brand you’re told you need to hire all these people to manage. We thought, there’s all these people being themselves and that breeds an authenticity’
The Liberty of Limintations
SAEED: There are so many limits but actually it’s quite freeing. We’ve got five or six months to make a piece – and there’s the natural limit of colours and the weather. You have to innovate from within, working with the exact same toolbox as before. It can be really good.’ KATY: ‘If we had the options other brands had, it would look very different. now Everything is really slow. The only way to speed it up is to have more people. But we’ve grown slowly on purpose; we would get nervous if it grows too fast.’
SAEED: ‘Some of our practices would surprise people. They [CoN] set the prices, essentially. Normally you’d design a pair of trousers, give it to the factory and say this needs to be £12; they’d say, “Okay, we can’t achieve that, but we can take out this material and construct this pocket slightly differently and that will work.” For us, we have upwards of nine months to make a dress, for example, and the last day we find out how much it will cost us. There’s no wiggle room but it takes one struggle out. We rely on their honesty.’
KATY: ‘No one complains when wine tastes differently year to year. The problem we have is that occasionally we photograph something and it looks different when it’s actually made. We have control but only towards the later stages. I have a picture in my mind and then it might be completely different, but it’s always something quite lovely. In that sense, we do have to roll with it.’
Not Making Instant Hires
SAEED: ‘When you have a brand you’re told you need to hire all these people to manage. We thought, actually here’s all these people being themselves and that breeds authenticity. We need PR but we would have suffocated if we’d done it straight away. It’s the story that brings value to the item. Just knowing how something was put together – I’d choose that over something else every day.’
SAEED: ‘We always explain why we do what we do – why we fly or use recycled plastic. We’re part of the conversation – as much as it’s important for consumers to know, it’s more so for the next batch of designers to know and not compromise. Sustainability is a large word but it doesn’t mean anything in particular, it’s often a big red arrow pointed at anything. What we can do is have a positive impact on what we do.’