THE OUTNET’S Content Editor, Jess Wood, spent some time with one of her favorite people in the fashion industry: sustainability queen and Creative Director at Mother of Pearl Amy Powney. In case you missed their live conversation, we made sure to save some of the best bits…
Jess: Amy Powney! Thank you so much for joining us when you’ve got a new baby.
Amy: Thanks for having me. She’s 7 ½ months now, so, sort of coming out the other side of baby haze, it’s much better.
Jess: Congratulations! I was just explaining that we’ve had lots of chats previously and you’re one of the most impressive fashion people I’ve ever met. You’ve been banging the drum for sustainable fashion for so long. I wouldn’t say you’re the first, but you were someone who was prepared to talk about it a long time ago. So, tell me a bit about, Fashion Our Future.
Amy: Obviously, before Covid hit, the industry was just getting faster and faster and faster and more stuff was being produced and the numbers in terms of the affect it was having on the planet. If you do the math, it’s like up in the top 5 of the most polluting industries on the planet and it’s just growing and growing and growing. So, I decided to launch a social media campaign to, just kind of explain it a little bit more and get everyone to take one pledge, one change. So, whether that was to buy vintage for a month, or, you know, just buy one…
Jess: I think it’s very important to A: break it down for people and B: make everyone accountable.
Amy: Our whole tagline was ‘no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.’ And it was kind of trying to rally up every single person using the platform of social media to just do one thing better. Then the idea was that it was a bit of a nomination challenge so you would nominate your mates to do it and then it meant if we all did one thing then it would make a massive change.
Jess: So, Amy, your background, I remember when we first met, you telling me about how you grew up off-grid in Lancashire and the fact that you weren’t really a fashion child and you weren’t reading Vogue from your mum’s coffee table. Would you tell us a bit about your childhood and how that impacted your career?
Amy: Yeah. I mean, definitely not a fashion household, mum and dad worked on the farm and dad lived in his boiler suit most of the time and mum was in leggings and a jumper. I mean, my passion for fashion came in with my creativity actually just at school, just loving it and you know, being good at it. I actually got very fascinated by fashion because of social status in a way, like, how people perceived you based on what you were wearing. That’s because we had nothing and I was wearing people’s hand-me-downs. It was definitely not very cool at school and I lived in a caravan and off-grid and had scruffy clothes and, just wanted to be a little bit more like the cool kids that wore their tracksuits and desperately wanted sort of adidas and Reebok and things. I think I got fascinated by this idea of like branding yourself. I think that’s where my creativity turned into fashion.
Jess: And did it bother you? Did you kind of feel very under-confident because you didn’t have the tracksuit and the blah blah blah or did you feel ‘oh, sorry, I don’t actually care’?
Amy: I fiercely cared about it; devastated I didn’t have it and you know I probably just desperately wanted to not be that and have my own tracksuit and fit in. Now, I pretty much wear a boiler suit every day! Growing up without stuff, especially electricity and water and basic things like that, that’s where it comes from, you know? And, I think it makes you really not take things for granted.
Jess: So, when you wanted a bath, just to be clear, you couldn’t just have a bath. Everything was more of an effort than it had to be if you were on-grid?
Amy: So, if you wanted a shower, this is how it worked. We had a gas hob and a well outside, my dad sunk a well himself and it had one of those hand pumps. So, you went outside, you pumped your water into a bucket and then went back to the stove and heated it up. Then, my dad would run around the back of the caravan with the hot water and the cold water, mix it, so it was the right temperature and basically pour it over the top of the caravan where the shower was. And, me and my sister would stand under it and we’d get sort of a bucket full of water through the shower and that was about it. But I still appreciate my central heating 5-years on. It’s still a real privilege.
Jess: So, Mother of Pearl existed before you joined it, didn’t it? So, how did you start there? Were you hired as Creative Director?
Amy: No, it started as literally tea girl and cutting out fabric and sweeping… yeah, went from sweeping the floor to Creative Director. And I’ve been there for 14 years now.
Jess: Whenever I think of Mother of Pearl, I’m so clear on what you’re about and the pearls and the ruched shoulders and the dark denim and the oversized silhouettes. And, I kind of think, it’s so clear to me what your visual identity is. So, how did that all emerge?
Amy: I started learning a lot more about the business and kind of thought ‘we really need to solidify who we are.’ We started collaborating with artists and that’s when I just sort of stamped my name on it. It took a few years to be honest, not because I didn’t have the vision, but because I was sort of nervous to. If you don’t get just appointed to that position straight away…
Jess: Yeah, of course. If you’re not a name, and you have to work your way up to the boss, I think it’s probably the same in any industry, it’s quite hard to suddenly start to act and behave and be in that big boss role, when everyone knows you were the tea girl or whatever.
Amy: Yeah, it was really hard for me to navigate my way through that, so it took me… I’d say maybe 4 or 5 years ago is when I went ‘ok, this is mine now, and this is what I’m doing,’ and sustainability and I said ‘well, if I’m doing my vision, and I am the Creative Director, why am I not doing the sustainability?’ Because, that’s what I believe in. I was sort of the black sheep, I was the black sheep at school and then I became the black sheep at uni and then, you know, sort of 15 years later everybody’s talking about it, which is great.
Jess: I guess, sort of any way that you find to help you kind of grow into that role and grow into that confidence, kind of owning it and being like ‘do you know what, I know I was the intern but now I am the boss. And I’m gonna assert myself without being a diva nightmare.’ How did you help yourself in that regard?
Amy: I’m probably… to be honest, I probably wasn’t the best role model, and maybe I’m good at giving advice now in hindsight, but… my confidence just came, actually my confidence started coming when the product started selling and the industry started responding more. Then, bit by but I was like ‘oh, actually people are liking this, this is going well.’
Jess: People were taking you seriously so you sort of took yourself more seriously and you were able to kind of, yeah…
Amy: I think once I launched sustainability, which was so authentic to me, I came into my own. Cause, I could talk so freely about it, I got to talk about things that meant so much to me and then it all just came flooding out and it was… I think actually, that’s the biggest piece of advice I can give anyone. Do what is completely authentic to you. Because I found out in a way which is so natural, and it’s the most positive response I’ve ever had.
Jess: And I have to ask you, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about THE OUTNET. Because our whole business model and the whole kind of purpose of why our site launched was to actually give excess stock a life that it wouldn’t have otherwise had. Does it have to be new? Does it always have to be this season? Does it matter?
Amy: It 100% doesn’t matter. And, I think what we’re going to find over the next sort of 5 years post-Covid, is seasons are gonna change anyway, and I actually think that fashion shows and seasonality, I think we’re gonna see it, it might still stick around in a few cases, but I think that whole philosophy around seasonal dresses will just go anyway.
Jess: That’s brilliant Amy, now listen, your dog needs you, your baby needs you, we need you, the world needs you, but we have to let you go. So, thanks so much Amy, it’s so lovely to see you and congrats on baby and all your fabulous work we know you’re doing.