Experiences of 2020

Siobhan - Zero Waste Fashion Designer

"Hello, I’m Siobhan, I run an independent fashion brand, called ReJean. A zero-waste denim brand specialising in one-off workwear style jackets and accessories. I design and handcraft my collections from discarded denim. With a focus on vintage workwear, the collections are designed to look good on everyone regardless of size, age, colour or gender.

Just in November there, I secured new, bigger, public facing premises in the Barras. December was a blur, I was working on so many different projects all while trying to setup the new space. I literally didn’t stop. After a few days respite I started 2020 with slightly renewed energy levels and lots of new ideas and ambitions; my second year in business was going to be bigger and better!

Then BAM, the world stopped. Everything now on hold indefinitely, and I’m trying hard to imagine what the new normal is going to be, and how my business will fit into it successfully. ‘Pivot’ your business they said.

With the economy crashing I’ve definitely had my days of blind panic, thinking what is the point? Who is going to have money to buy into my brand now, how am I going to grow the business now? That must sound so selfish given what’s going on, but I’m just petrified for the future! Trying to pivot my business, make some money and praying I am eligible for the small business grant, if not I’m basically done!

I have often found myself wishing I had trained in something else. Something less creative, something that would provide me with a stable a job… maybe I should’ve listened to my family when they advised me to train as a teacher all those years ago! It just feels like there’s never going to be a good time to build a business.

To make it in fashion you need money, the kind of money that I don’t have and don’t want, because money = greed, and greed has a lot to do with what’s wrong with this world, I mean doesn’t it?

So, I’ve kept myself busy plotting new projects and getting stuck into all the admin that takes a back seat when you’re a maker. I couldn’t remember the last time I had sat in front of a laptop for a full day and now it seems that’s all I have done for the last 4/5 weeks. In all honestly, I have really enjoyed ‘slowing down’ it was so needed. I was working every hour of every day, I needed to be to slowed down. I have been catching up on sleep, cooking meals from scratch, going for walks outside and actually appreciating my surroundings. But every now and then I find myself panicking and just applying frantically for jobs, any jobs.

My heart goes out to all the people that are truly affected; those on the front line, those with family members on the front line. So many people have parents or children who have been pushed to the forefront of this horrible virus without adequate protection! It’s ludicrous and just horrific. I’ve been helping out with the NHS Scrubs/PPE appeal, I was desperate to do something. It’s a small effort, and I’m not even sure if the fabric we sourced was good enough, but at least it’s something! I went back to my studio last week and have been cutting up 100s of metres of fabric to send out to our volunteers who are stitching them up as we speak.

It’s weird being in the midst of a pandemic but not being truly affected by it. People are dying but you don’t necessarily see it. Being so eager to help, I think I signed up to every Scrub appeal effort in the UK! As they all manage to get on top of the logistics and get stock distributed to volunteers, I wonder if I’m going to have to give up too much of my time - my ‘to do’ list for pivoting ReJean is now growing arms and legs!

At the end of the day I’m trying to find a way to somehow still have a business that is relevant and viable, i.e. making money, enough for me to keep going! I’m hoping to qualify for the small business grant. If I don’t get that then I will be pretty stuck for cash this year and will likely have to give up my new premises. I’m going to be 29 in a few months and its pretty scary to think I still won’t be earning a ‘decent’ salary and all my hard work building this business hasn’t paid off yet. It just the general what if’s? What next? What now and what then?

The whole situation feels a bit surreal, a few of my other freelancer friends have described it as, ‘the holiday we didn’t know we needed under the worst possible circumstances’. I personally have been lucky enough to stay healthy and those closest to me also have been fine. Anyone I know that has caught it has recovered and managed to avoid being hospitalized.

I believe the current situation is a wakeup call and I really hope more people will act, and realise that nothing will change unless we all actually take some real action. All of our words and anger and opinions mean nothing if we don’t do anything with them. It gives me hope when I see people going out their way to support local independent businesses. Near me, in the Southside of Glasgow, there was such a sense of regeneration with loads of exciting independent coffee shops, restaurants and makers all opening up over the last few years. Now they are sadly struggling to get through this pandemic. But if we all band together we can grasp this golden opportunity to challenge capitalism and promote localisation.

I hope that if we learn anything from this it is how important it is to really support our local businesses in every way we possibly can. It will directly boost our own local economy and maybe it could be the thing that starts to get us a back to our ‘new’ normal. We hold so much power in our wallets and we need to use it to support those ethical businesses who will help shape our new future. I think a lot of people are hopeful for a change in how we run as a society. We need to be kinder to each other and our planet.

Because of our ethos and our circular production practices I have been told a few times that ReJean is the type of business that can and should survive and bounce back stronger than before. I really hope its true. The last thing I want to do is give up!"