International fashion designer and b.kinda’s e-commerce manager Victoria Lammie.
Discovering the increasingly fashionable side to sustainable clothing.
Victoria Lammie can still recall how her eight year old self was delighted when asked to model children’s clothing for Marks & Spencer. Interview by Bracken Jelier.
It was a defining moment for someone growing up in a family which worked in the fashion industry.
Unsurprisingly, she went on to became a fashion designer herself and is now bringing her years of global experience to the UK’s first pre-loved mystery-clothes box company, b.kinda.
Today, Victoria sees her role as giving back to the industry which she loves. She can see how b.kinda is the next big thing in sustainable fashion.
‘In 1993, I graduated from the De Montfort University with a degree in fashion and textiles and in my final year started applying for jobs,’ explains Victoria.
‘My final collection was based on the 1940s and it was all tailored suits and so tailoring was what I really wanted to do.’
At the time, the UK was gripped a recession when people tend to prefer not to spend money on expensive clothing items.
The industry found people started to ‘treat’ themselves to underwear, a beautiful pair of pants or a pretty bra. It meant Victoria’s first job was as a lingerie designer close to her Yorkshire roots.
‘I was working for a small business that had 100 machinists manufacturing the products that went onto the shop floor, which is absolutely unheard of now!’
‘Through that business I was working with Debenhams and Littlewoods who had large lingerie and sleepwear collections.’
‘The head office was in Liverpool at the Albert Docks so that was an absolute joy, to go and have meetings with the buyer there and as my first job, it was quite an exciting trip, to go and do that with my boss.’
‘Spreading my wings’
‘After working there for a year as a junior designer, I wanted to spread my wings and apply for other things.’
‘I then got a job working for an M&S supplier on a collection that M&S did, and still do, which is mix and match lingerie.’
‘I was based on the outskirts of Nottingham with a big team of girls, 25 of us, all young, and in our twenties, absolutely obsessed with what we did, just loving working as a designer and really living the fashion industry life.’
‘The Mix and Match sets were varied prints and shapes of knickers and because I loved embellishment and print, that’s the collection I worked on: sourcing the trims, designing the prints and designing the garment shapes.’
For Victoria, it was a really fun collection to work on and it meant she was able to travel around Europe. Today, she can recall her time in Milan and Paris. The experience provided her with a rich array of new skills.
‘After two years I decided I really wanted to be in London, so started applying for jobs and I got a job with Courtaulds Textiles, which again was another M&S supplier.’
Victoria Lammie’s design work. Imagery kindly supplied by Victoria Lammie.
‘This time I was still working on the mix and match lingerie and also sleepwear which I loved. I had a small team then working with me, three sample machinists and pattern cutters. Courtaulds did outer wear as well as lingerie.’
‘Marble Arch and seeing my dreams’
‘I spent time developing the Relax at Home range, which was a brand new concept for M&S.’
‘So I worked on the first set of Relax at Home range, that was my collection; a grey jersey marl, loose pants, tunic tops, gorgeous dressing gowns.’
‘I’d been to New York and got lots of ideas, the Americans were very into wearing loungewear, but it was quite a new concept over here.’
‘I always remember going into Marble Arch and seeing all the boardings with all the photographs of the things I’d designed, which was just amazing, because at the time that was their flagship store.’
‘Courtaulds were great and they gave me lots of opportunities, but I actually wanted to work for a real rag trade business.’
‘And the one I went to work for were actually a company from South Yorkshire that I’d grown up with, that my family had worked in. They were very fashion driven and gave me much more opportunity than where I was working.’
‘I started as a sleepwear designer and within six months I’d been promoted and I was heading up the sleepwear team, which was just a dream. I loved it.’
‘We also did glamour, lacy satin, really ornate, embellished stuff. I was able to travel all over, sourcing Swiss lace and embroidery to India developing woven fabrics for pyjamas – it was a very exciting time.’
‘I did do New York a few times with some of the buyers too, taking them and doing directional shopping – I really did have a wonderful time.’
Moving to Devon: a new life and a new business
After five years, Victoria and her husband moved to Devon. Commutes to London continued and work began to grow with a Cornish surf brand.
‘I soon realised that there wasn’t much scope for a job in fashion in the South West. So, I decided I was going to do my own thing. I’d got lots of fabrics and always loved accessories. That was my thing. Shoes and accessories, it still is now.’
‘So I started making, and I’m not a maker at all. I mean, when I did my degree, I had to make.’
‘I had a little workroom and I started making handbags and I’d probably been making them only for a couple of weeks and did a local market with a dozen of them and was approached by so many local businesses to sell through them that I ended up having to employ the skills of some local ladies to sew.’
Victoria and her husband would spend endless evenings cutting out packages of fabric before she would drop them into her team which would put it altogether.
‘It was really good, but looking back, we didn’t have any kids then, so we were young, we just got on with it!’
‘A sponsorship from Devon Arts Council to do a trade show called Pulse at Earl’s Court really changed things for me.’
‘I went in the new designer section and it really took off. Suddenly I’d got all these orders and I thought: where am I going to make these products?’
‘I had to start looking for manufacturers and because I’d worked in the industry, I did have quite a lot of contacts and I found a UK manufacturer, that was willing to work with me and my initial small quantities and from there it just grew and grew.’
‘I started off with really simple handbags but then I ended up doing all sorts of lifestyle products based on really what was kind of in fashion then; sleep masks to beach bags to aprons and shower caps.’
‘The business just continued to grow. I then had agents working for me and I did many more shows, but then I had a baby, I had to rein it back again.’
‘And once I got into Fenwicks things got even busier and built some really good relationships with the buyers.’
‘But I very much worked around my little boy. I also kept being approached by Not on The High Street, it was when they were first launching.’
‘And in their first year, Holly and Sophie used to take it in turns to call me on alternate weeks. Holly would ring me then Sophie would ring me and just badger me, to go on their site.’
‘And I just didn’t feel confident enough to do that because I knew as soon as we went online, the volumes would really go up. And yes – once I did join Not On The High Street, it became my main income source.’
‘Online became really big then, so I then had my own e-commerce website as well as Not on The High Street and others as well.’
‘We’d also do all the shows. Looking back, it was really, really good. It was before things started to get difficult in terms of small businesses and before Brexit happened.’
Environmentally conscious: eco friendly clothing and ‘being green’
‘Then a few years ago I decided I was going to go back into apparel because I’d really missed it. So I started designing my own eco-friendly clothing. My business was, all the fabrics that I used were sustainable.’
‘Everything was always manufactured in the UK and a lot of the fabrics were recycled. Some of them were old textiles. I’d spent a lot of time browsing.’
‘I used to go to London a lot, to Portobello Market and buy old fabrics. I’d go to antique fairs and charity shops, buying pieces.’
‘So everything I used was all very thoughtful. So I decided that actually I was going to do something clothing wise that was the same. So I found a supplier and a printer and designed a range of hoodies and it was really around when Black Lives Matter came about.’
‘So, I started doing slogans and I did ‘Hope’ to start with, and they sold really well. It was before Covid. And as soon as we went into Covid, it was nigh on impossible to get the products.’
‘Online I did really, really well, but I couldn’t source the fabrics, the old textiles because nothing was open, so I couldn’t go to the second-hand markets.’
‘And so I was having to buy new things, but new old stuff. So although I had a good year, my overheads were massive compared to where they’d been.’
‘So, I decided last year to close my business and I was either going to go back into education or I wanted to work in vintage fashion.’
b.kinda clothing: “Oh wow! I just love this.”
Vintage fashion: pre-loved clothing
‘I actually wrote two ideal jobs that I’d like to do for myself before I closed the business and one of them magically appeared.’
‘The job advert really was so similar to the job description I’d written down of what I wanted to do, because I wanted to work in vintage fashion. And I thought actually, if I worked for a charity, I could really go in and give them the fashion angle of retail and pre-loved clothing.’
‘I started writing to a few and really selling myself as, I’ve been a designer, I’ve been in the industry all these years, I want to give something back.’
‘I love vintage clothing and saw the ad for b.kinda and I got it! I have to say I’m absolutely loving being back in ladieswear, it’s where my hearts at and I’m part of something that is really making a difference.’
‘The fact that all our profits go to the hospice, that’s huge. That is just incredible. And I think I’m doing something I love, but with a real purpose.’
Chatting with Victoria and it’s clear she has a real love for fashion. So, what are the key ingredients behind it which makes her so enthralled by it?
‘I think initially for me it was growing up in a family that have worked in the fashion industry.’
‘So, my grandma, way back when, she worked at the shirt factory, which was very close to where my parents live. She also worked at the handbag factory as well. Another family member worked as a methods analyst for a huge M&S manufacturer.’
Fashion shows and outstanding design work
‘As a child, I grew up doing the fashion shows. In fact, the irony of all of it is that I ended up being a sleepwear designer and for two years I was the sleepwear model for M&S when I was eight.’
‘I grew up surrounded by it and went into the manufacturers, saw the designers designing when I was very, very young and was absolutely in awe of them and just thought, “My God, that’s really, really what I want to do.”’
‘I like the thought of people going out and buying something that they love to wear that I’ve designed. But I think now more so than ever with the pre-loved clothes at b.kinda.’
‘A lot of people are struggling financially and a lot of people do want to not buy fast fashion, so I think it’s a really exciting time because people can afford to wear those great pieces if they go into a charity shop or if they buy a b.kinda box.’
‘They can have some great things that maybe they wouldn’t have had before.’
‘I’m a great believer that if you’re dressed well, you feel good about yourself in any walk of life, whether it’s at work or whether you’re just going out for the day or it just makes you feel better about you.’
So, the million dollar question: what does Victoria enjoy about seeing when the boxes come together at b.kinda?
‘I’ve spent a lot of time with my team, teaching them about different age groups and what people are wearing and what’s current for that season.’
‘When I’m thinking about the box, and obviously I don’t pack the boxes, the girls do, but I want the customer to open their box and be absolutely delighted with what’s in there.’
‘So for me, what’s in my head when I’m with the b.kinda team that are picking the mystery boxes, and I do from time to time when we are very busy with orders assist the fashion pickers with this task.’
‘When I’m putting an order together I think, now when this lady opens the box, I really want her to be like, “Oh wow! I just love this.” I want her to be delighted and keep returning to us time and time again.’
b.kinda clothing says: ‘Boho is the style of choice for summer festivals and gigs. You don’t have to spend a fortune on new clothes, preloved is the way to go! Check out our favourite boho rail finds.’
Mystery box: shop for your own wardrobe
There’s been one question which I’ve been pondering during the course of our chat. The idea of ‘pre-loved’ clothing, alongside the idea of a ‘mystery box’ can sometimes put people off. How would you reassure them about it?
‘Well, I would reassure them, to actually give us a go. And the good thing is, it’s only £15 and that money is going to charity. So worst case, if you got the box and you didn’t like it, you can think, well actually what I’ve done is I’ve donated £15 to charity.’
‘But I would say to people, just give it a go with what’s in the box and step out of your comfort zone and try those pieces that we’ve selected for you.’
‘Because actually you might be delighted when you put them on and they might be from brands that you would never dream of buying new.’
‘When customers are ordering, they can also leave us a little comment – things like “leave a little room around the tummy” or “anything for a party would be great.” That’s reassuring for them as well.’
‘I think it’s very much as well about the customers not expecting an outfit. That’s the thing. And I think that’s the fun of it, not having an outfit in the box, having pieces that actually you’ve got to ‘shop your wardrobe’ to pull it all together into an outfit.’
‘That’s what we want people to do. Everybody should be ‘shopping their wardrobe,’ hang the pieces up next to what you’ve got and see what you can make from it.’
Imagery kindly supplied by Victoria Lammie / b.kinda