Fashion and Empowerment: The Morv London Story
We spoke to Morvarid Sahafi (below), founder of Morv London about her inspirational fashion journey
Here at Hire That Look, we love giving you the chance to get to know our favourite brands a little better. So, when we had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Morvarid Sahafi, the awesomely talented founder of Morv London, we couldn’t wait. We visited Morv at home in London, to discuss sustainable fashion, what inspires her unique designs and her amazing personal story.
Morv was so much fun to speak with - inspirational, warm and never afraid to tackle the difficult issues that fashion faces. We love the values of sustainability and empowerment that she puts at the heart of her brand. They are values we share and we are incredibly proud to showcase Morv London designs here at Hire That Look. Her Suffragettes Collection (editorial of some of the pieces below) celebrates women and the beginnings of their right to vote in the UK. Morv has already made a huge contribution to the fashion world and we can’t wait to see what the future brings for this ground-breaking designer.
Read on to discover the Morv London story.
A lot of your inspiration and design is derived from the power and majesty of women. Is this what inspired you to become a fashion designer in the first place?
God, yes, that's so true! It's one of those things I never really think about myself unless somebody asks it. What inspires me, in terms of actually creating and building the brand, has a lot to do with trying to create awareness for women and sharing stories about empowerment.
My actual journey into fashion design was a much more complicated route than just setting out to be a designer! I have a fine arts background; I studied painting for my bachelors and I did contemporary art theory as a masters degree at Goldsmiths, followed by working as an art consultant for about eight years. For over 5 years of that, I was an expert focusing on contemporary Middle Eastern art and many of the artists I worked with were doing incredibly meaningful and inspiring work exploring women’s issues.
Through my work with other artists, I was exposed to creative genius, which was incredible. I was good at copying... as a fine artist I was actually a painter specializing in photo-realism and, despite my commercial success, that allowed me to finance my brand later, I realised that I wasn’t good enough to ever achieve creative fulfillment with that line of work.
I’d been making my own clothes, since, I was, what, 10 years old? Fashion was already an outlet for me, so it seemed like a natural move to launch my own brand. I couldn’t even tell you that it was a conscious decision! It just made sense. I’ve also always been outspoken, especially in relation to female empowerment, so I brought those ideas and beliefs with me as a designer
Silk trousers with metallic embroidery and detachable salopette straps are definitely one of our faves at HTL
What type of brand did you want Morv London to be?
I started this brand and I thought:
Well, what's a better billboard for ideas than people’s clothes?
I wanted to create a brand that reflected the times we live in. It’s a playful way to tell women’s stories and to spread messages about topics that are important to us. For me clothes are a time capsule of the moment we live in and it’s fun that you can pass them on to your children with those stories and messages still intact.
It was also really important for me to be responsible with my production. Fashion can be incredibly toxic, both for the environment and ethically. Sustainability is a journey and we are constantly learning.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I was growing the brand whilst pregnant and that was really quite difficult to juggle. But I think pretty much every new major hurdle is a challenge when you’re at the beginning of a new company! Getting the right team and investors around you is very important and is a steep learning curve, that you have to spend a lot of energy on in order to stabilise your growth at a very insecure time. You need an investor who is going to bring something more than just money to the table. Someone who believes in you and supports you in difficult times.
How has your work and business evolved since you started Morv London?
Enormously! I first started after a series of conversations about my future with my former boss, who we joke is my artistic godmother. In the end, in a great show of support, she wrote me a cheque for seven thousand pounds and told me to do something creative with it. I knew the money wouldn’t last for very long with London's expenses, so I packed my bags and moved to India. In India, i tried to find a factory through networking but quickly discovered that nobody in the fashion world shares their production contacts - which still, to me, is absolutely crazy! I had to actually bribe the shopkeepers who worked with designers and say, 'Where do you guys produce your clothes?!'
After months of research, I went to all these factories. The next hurdle is that, when you first start out and have small orders, most factories won't take you on. If they did offer it would be to squeeze you onto the end of their production schedule (which is a nonstarter)... So, it is safe to say that nobody really took me on.
I did not relent and became very close with a pattern cutter at one of the factories and said To him, ‘If I give you extra money would you do my patterns after your work?’ I hired a small space, got a cutting table and equipment and he helped to bring in a couple of seamstresses. That’s how the first collection was made and things really grew from there!
I fortunately managed to sell my first collection to Selfridges, which meant I was able to return to India and set up proper production. I decided to offer wages at multiple times the local standard, I now provide an air-conditioned factory with air-cleaning plants and I try to ensure that my employees work reasonable hours. Being vertically integrated gives me great control over the quality and processes that go into my clothes.
We are now in more retailers and have grown a lot. But it feels like a very organic growth at the same time!
Your designs are very unique. Can you describe your creative process?
Where I design a collection with a message that I am pushing, for example, our suffragette's collection, that comes from what is influencing the world around me and is not really a creative decision so much as an insight into what I am engaged with at the time. (So this year, for example, is the centennial of the suffragette's victory in the UK)
One of Morvs Suffragette designs below:
For the aesthetics and cuts, I am influenced a lot by my friends. I have a group of unbelievably cool girlfriends and I'm really lucky with that. I always get inspired by seeing what they wear or how they combine things. I like to challenge myself in my designs to work out what it is that they are looking for that they can't find?
I approach cuts from a quite pragmatic aspect, it may be because I don’t have an entirely fashion background and I try to avoid studying other designers. I try to look at what people, like my friends, want to wear and then how to make that a little bit playful. I also try to balance everything and not to go too extreme. You want to be able to peacock but not have people stare you down.
I do suppose that my international background has a big influence on who I am and what I design. My family were political exiles from Iran and that meant we moved around a lot. At times we had little money, and I used to alter my sister’s clothes to fit me. I became so good at tweaking that I started making things from scratch and at some point my mother bought me a sewing machine. I started making what I wanted to wear, where I couldn’t find it. I never stopped making clothes, all the way through my life, and that process of tweaking and altering fit still influences how I work.
What is your biggest achievement?
Well, my baby, obviously! But, in business terms, I would have to say my factory because I'm really proud of it. I had to spend two years of my life living in India, with no social life of which to speak:- I was at the factory from 9am to midnight every day. It’s been a staggering effort but as things progress and we overcome new hurdles everything seems worth it anew. We trained our seamstresses to a really high level, which means we can offer exceptionally high quality and I’m really proud of them.
What advice would you give to young designers starting out?
First, you should definitely start with a capsule collection, which is a piece of advice I wish I’d listened to, in hindsight. Some shops did tell me, even with a large collection, ‘your collection is too small, we need at least 70- 120 pieces to select from.’ At the end of the day, retailers tend to prefer a concise collection with a clear story and you are lucky if they buy 12 or so styles. It’s a better use of your time and resources to craft a smaller, more perfected collection than spread your energy over 100 styles.
Secondly, if a retailer starts telling you that they want to change your design, you must always say no. The moment you start giving in and they start getting involved you end up having something that doesn't represent your brand (not) selling under your name. I definitely made that mistake. I had a dress that looked great in white and black and they wanted it in orange. In the end it ended up looking awful. You have to stay true to who you are.
Also, once a designer has produced their first capsule collection, they absolutely have to ensure that they're ready for scaling up to production. You should know your factory, hash out your teething issues and be sure that not only the quality is good, but that they can deliver on time.You only have one chance with retailers, and if you send them something and it doesn't look right, or worse, it’s late, they will never work with you again.
You should also expect a lot of rejection! You will get rejected over and over again but you have to keep going. Every failure is an opportunity to refine your direction and learn from your mistakes.
Finally, remember to really choose your team carefully. They have to understand your character and work with it. I have a bit of a temper... I'm hot blooded and I'm from Iran where we are very expressive – but my team understand that and know how to work with me. I also try to surround myself with people who are talented, even if they don’t have a lot of experience, and people with a very strong sense of motivation. They should also challenge you; I don’t like to be surrounded by people who are constantly agreeing, it makes me nervous!
Finally, what are your thoughts on luxury fashion rental in the UK? How do you think this will impact the fashion industry?
I think it's genius. I think it's an incredibly clever idea because, to be honest, I have a lot of loyal clients who call and email me to borrow clothes! It’s also really great for killing the concept of fast fashion because you get to borrow and wear something a few times, without having to throw it away. A lot of times we wear dresses to big events and never wear them again... with borrowing someone else can enjoy it! And what's the point of spending that much money? It's so wasteful, especially if they just end up thrown away.
Let’s put it this way, if I was in charge I would support a big push away from fast fashion and towards borrowing because fast fashion’s impact is so bad for the environment and with hiring you get a similar thrill. In fact, one of the reasons we've strictly stuck to a higher pricing level is because we don't want to contribute to the fast fashion problem and want to make clothes that last.
We want our clients to think about their purchases. It’s true, sometimes with some pieces, you could force down the prices but it ends up devaluing the whole process. I’d rather pay my suppliers fairly and pay more to my workers, to produce clothes of the best quality, that last. When you invest in just a few good pieces it’s kinder to everyone and more sustainable. We offer one free alteration when people first buy our clothes so that they are encouraged to wear them longer. Hiring is another way of supporting that process and I think it’s fantastic.
You can hire some of Morvs awe-inspiring designs at Hire That Look and you can be sure they will make you feel like the queen you are. Tell a story in the Suffragete Print Dress, make a statement in Blue Velvet dress hire or dazzle in Emerald Green
Take a look at the rest of Morvs amazing collection for designs you won't find anywhere else.
Lots of Love xxx