Fashion careers: How to become an independent designer with Bella Singleton

Independent designer Bella Singleton is known for her silk scarves with colours that pop and prismatic patterns. Made in England, each digitally printed scarf features hand-drawn illustrations. A one-woman run brand, Bella Singleton’s design career took off in 2015 when Tate Modern placed an order for their Switch House gallery store. Bella Singleton’s collections are currently sold at selected stockists such as Anna boutiques, The Sainsbury Centre and also online at Young British Designers. The artist-designer tells FashionUnited how she built the Bella Singleton brand step by step and where she finds inspiration.

This interview was created in cooperation with Bella Singleton to promote working in fashion.

How did you become interested in fashion design?

I was always interested in fashion design from a really young age. I studied at Falmouth University and it was during the Art Foundation course that I realised I love colour and pattern. I didn’t even know print design really existed as a career path, but I went on to study Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design at Leeds College of Art.

How did you decide to focus on designing scarves?

Scarves seemed like the natural platform, as I wanted to go down the fashion route rather than interiors, they are a blank canvas and I can really show off my designs.

Fashion careers: How to become an independent designer with Bella Singleton

What inspires you and where are your designs produced?

The inspiration used to come easily, from days and days of drawing during the printed textiles course. Now that I am running a business, I have to make sure I keep staying inspired and not get lost in the administrative side. Looking at designers like Pucci, Peter Pilotto and Erdem set the bar high, and they inspire me to go back to the beginning and use pen and paper.

I usually begin drawing from still life, something from nature be it fungi or a bird’s wing, then the pattern evolves and takes on a life of its own. Once they’re ready the scarves are printed digitally. I produce the scarves in England because the digital printers I use are great, they make the colours pop. Also, I love being able to run off a small amount of something with ease. They currently get hemmed separately so the process is very slow, but that means that the quality control is very high. When I launch into clothing the fabric will still be printed in the UK but the CMT will be done elsewhere as I don't want to be trying to sell silk shirts for 500 pounds!

When and how did you start your own brand?

I started in 2015 and worked on it whilst working many part-time jobs in London. In 2017 I moved to Norwich and took the leap to focus on the brand full time alongside freelance work. I really wanted to get a job with a print design company after doing a paid internship, but they chose the other intern instead of me. I always figured maybe it was because I was pretty set in my ways and wasn't sure how to break from my very distinctive style, but I didn't want to stop designing. Because of that, I launched my brand organically and was exhibiting at my first trade show soon after.

What challenges do you face as an independent designer? What are the benefits?

Finance is the number one difficulty in any start-up business as you need to allow for those times that you have to process a big order with your suppliers before being paid by your stockist. It's only after a few years that it all starts to even out. There is so much I wish I could have learned by working for a company, but I have just made the mistakes on my own. It's taken me probably longer to figure out how things work, so that can frustrate me sometimes. I suppose the hardest challenge is not having anyone to bounce things off of, other than family and friends. Of course, no one else is as invested in this business as I am.

The benefits are being able to design what I like, structure my days how I like, the freedom is great!

Fashion careers: How to become an independent designer with Bella Singleton

Your collection is sold at the Tate Modern and you have shown at London Fashion Week. How did it all happen?

My first trade show was Top Drawer, where I met the product developer for the Tate Modern who commissioned me to design a range of scarves and they placed an order for 700 pieces. It was a bit mad as I was still working another job at the time for 4 days a week!

How did you finance taking part in Top Drawer and the production of your first order for the Tate Modern?

I first got a grant from the UKFT (UK Fashion and Textiles Association) which I was able to use to finance trade shows, so that was a really helpful start. For the Tate Modern order, I loaned money from my parents so I have been very lucky to have such a supportive network financially. Without this, I would have been struggling to pay back interest !

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The highlight at the beginning was the Tate Modern deal, I was over the moon! Since then it’s as simple as seeing the business grow in terms of its online sales month on month and customer feedback. May it continue, please!

What next projects or collections do you have coming up at Bella Singleton?

This spring sees the release of a new collection “Wildflower” – it’s very oriental in drawing style and pattern, something a little different but retains that hand-drawn element combined with bold colour and shapes that is synonymous with my brand. Some exciting new stockists will be carrying this line!

Next year, I hope to develop the brand and start focusing on clothing which feels like the right time having learnt so much with a simpler product.

Fashion careers: How to become an independent designer with Bella Singleton

Would you want your own stores one day?

I am not sure about my own store, we are so online now I think that's the way to go without the overheads. I hope to keep growing my stockists and attending high-end pop-ups and events where I can talk to my customers directly.

What do you love about being a designer working in fashion?

The best thing is seeing a customer trying something on and it looking amazing on them. There is always that one piece for that particular hair colour or complexion that looks incredible. As a designer, I love finding that piece for that person!

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Photos: courtesy of Bella Singleton

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