Last week I had the fabulous opportunity of doing a live Instagram interview with the equally fabulous and inspiring Hayley Thomas, founder of the gorgeous clothing brand Love Sweat + Tees. With sustainability a key part of her ideology, Hayley believes that all we need in our wardrobes are a few select and effortlessly stylish pieces that can be dressed up or down to suit any occasion. Here she chats to me about her drive and passion behind the brand and surviving the ups and downs of a lockdown working parent.
Tell us a little about Love Sweat + Tees – the motivation and path that led to developing your brand?
As a working mum of two with many years’ experience working for high street fashion retailers, I love the power of a good outfit as a confidence-giving, mood-changing expression of self-worth. However, when I returned to work after my second child, I increasingly found that I ended up with three very different wardrobes. Work (smart and stylish), ‘every day’ (a couple of pairs of jeans and plain hoodies for racing around after the kids) and ‘rare night out’ (attempting to tread the line between the two). Throw in the seasons and that’s a lot of different wardrobes!! It was unsustainable! I wanted great quality ‘forever’ pieces that worked for all occasions. Pieces that were effortlessly stylish and worked hard in my wardrobe.
I dreamt of one day creating my own independent brand, and as my day job involved strategy and planning you can imagine how many business plans I had! The issue was that it never felt like quite the right time to make that jump.
It took the diagnosis of my husband with Stage 3 Bowel Cancer and the realisation that life is short and none of us can afford to put our dreams on hold to give me the push I needed. Throwing out the rule book around ‘different clothes for different seasons’, a ‘daytime’ and a ‘going out’ wardrobe, mass production and reams of packaging, I set up Love Sweat + Tees to offer the busy, stylish woman something different.
What would you say is the overriding ethos that drives Love Sweat + Tees?
Love Sweat + Tees is centred around three things:
Effortless style with a playful edge
- Grown-up, fuss-free, beautifully made garments
- ‘Forever’ sweats and tees that work as perfectly on the school run with jeans and a biker jacket as they do on a night out dressed up with heels, or even under a blazer for work
- Clever, playful prints to make you smile and put a bounce in your step
Ethically and sustainable production
- We only use sustainable fabrics. Our current range is produced from 100% organic ring-spun cotton (occasionally mixed with 15% recycled polyester for stretch)
- Everything is Fair Wear certified and printed in the UK with environmentally friendly inks
- We produce small runs to minimise waste and our garments are trans-seasonal so you can love and style them throughout the year giving you maximum cost per wear
- We send orders out in minimal packaging using Forestry Commission Certified paper
- We offset the carbon footprint of our workforce through monthly tree planting
- We love to give back. Over the past few years we’ve used the business to support a number of cancer and health-related charities, including Bowel Cancer UK, NHS Charities Together and Wigs for Heroes
Do you think the fashion industry is becoming more conscious of the need for sustainability and protecting the global environment?
I love the fact that sustainability is becoming such a big trend within the fashion industry, however I am concerned that the industry is moving too slowly and that sustainability is still a token gesture for some retailers. A ‘sustainable’ line doesn’t go far enough for me. If a retailer has the resources to create a sustainable line, then I see no reason why it can’t make the full range sustainable. Too many retailers are creating sustainable lines to tick a box yet continuing to act in an unethical way across the rest of their business, from sending returns to landfill to failing to adequately audit their factories and suppliers. I love that customers are asking questions and challenging the retail industry on sustainability and really do believe that if customers continue to raise their expectations and voice them, then the industry will need be make changes on a wider scale.
I set up Love Sweat + Tees having spent many years working in the fashion retail industry and I knew I wanted to do things differently. Having so many totally different garments for different seasons, huge production runs, massive ‘end of season’ sales to deal with unwanted stock – none of that sat well with me. I knew that if I were to set up a fashion retail business I wanted to find a way of working in a more sustainable, sensible way. We’re not perfect and I love learning from retailers who are leading the way – from Ninety Percent, who share 90% of their profits between charities and their producers, to Sheep Inc., who are carbon negative using wool that is traceable to the source.
An aspect of your work you love the most?
Without a doubt it’s the engagement with my customers. I firmly believe in listening to customers on everything from the design of our prints to our packaging and our website. That’s why social media is such an amazing channel for a small and predominantly digital business. I see it as more of a listening tool than a marketing tool – an opportunity to find out more about what our customers love, what they don’t, what they care about and how we can continue to grow.
Your proudest achievement?
There is no one single achievement that I could pick out. Seeing a celebrity choose Love Sweat + Tees is always a great thrill, especially when it’s someone who knows their sustainable fashion. Our sweats and tees have been worn by the likes of Myleene Klass, Kate Thornton, Irish TV presenter Anna Daley and Country File presenter Julia Bradbury. However, it’s the customer messages and reviews that we receive every day that really make us proud. When someone takes the time to send a message of thanks, when someone tells their friends about us, when we’re told their Love Sweat + Tees sweater is their favourite sweater ever – that gives us the biggest boost.
The pandemic has completely changed the way we live our lives – how have you managed the work/family/downtime balance during these lockdowns?
As with most working parents – with great difficulty! I’ve tried to structure my day to carve out time for the business (early mornings and late evenings), time to help the children with school work and time to get outside as a family. As I’m sure lots of us are experiencing, there are days where things run smoothly and days that feel like a total disaster. On those days it helps to remember that this is not a normal situation, that it’s largely out of our control and that things are not going to be perfect, but that they be will be alright in the end. “One day at a time” (as one of my slogans says!).
Feeling good on the outside can be key to feeling good on the inside – what advice would you give to mid-life women who are beginning to feel invisible, undervalued and unattractive – particularly when it comes to fashion and beauty?
It’s something that I (and I know many of my customers) have come up against and there is no one-size-fits all response. For some, it may be about going back to basics. Focusing on great skincare, stripping back their makeup and investing in good quality denim, cashmere and jerseywear. There is something quite freeing about not feeling that you have to chase fashion trends, but instead invest in good quality basics. For others it may be about experimenting with something new – going for it with the pink hair, for example! The main thing is to work out what makes you happy and attractive, go with that and forget about whether you’re visible, invisible or what anyone else may think.
The one wardrobe staple no women should be without?
Aaargh – so tricky!
With my business hat on I’d say a good quality tee. Never tight-fitting, but with enough shape to flatter all figures. You can dress it up with a blazer or suit, down with denim or go for something in between with a maxi skirt and trainers. It works in summer with shorts and in winter under a chunky knit.
Top beauty ‘must have’ in your makeup bag?
Concealer! I gave up foundation a few years ago, but I have dark circles under my eyes, not helped by late night working, so if I could only use one item of makeup it would have to be that. I love the Studio10 Age Defy Skin Perfector - it's the ultimate concealer!
Desert island disc, book and luxury item?
Disc: The Miseducation of Lauren Hill
Book: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – I studied English Literature at University
Luxury Item: Can I take my phone?
And finally, your favourite quote?
I love a good quote. At the moment what’s getting me through is: “Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.” (Words of wisdom from John Lennon).
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