BEGINNING THE JOURNEY
Bernice & I met as undergraduates studying architecture together. We were both into dressing well. I remember we were usually the best dressed in the department. Later Bernice moved into fashion and began working in New York, soon realising some of the problems of the fashion industry and in true Bernice style – hatching a plan to sort things out.
I became a fully fledged architect by day while designing and making garments by night. We reconnected while Bernice was planning DEPLOY and I began to work alongside to launch the brand.
As you may know Bernice’s PhD thesis was the business plan for DEPLOY but now it was time to do the practical! After the thorough academic and industry research that came before we spent the first few years figuring things out in real life.
There was investment opportunity but we didn’t want to lose the autonomy of decision making. It was about the triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial), not just about profit. The value lay not in profit for shareholders but the collective benefit for stakeholders in deploying this new fashion system. It was important to prove that things could be done differently in the fashion industry. Bernice wanted to demonstrate – not just talk.
This was not an easy journey. From the start in 2006 we had to learn resilience and crisis management. I recall we were preparing for the launch. The collection was being produced and we were in talks for the lease of a shop – our first flagship DEPLOY boutique. The launch date was getting closer then we got gazumped and the shop lease fell through. The collection was arriving but there was no location. So we had to rethink fast and organised the launch in a gallery. A pop up launch event before pop up was a thing.
When we realised we would be starting up in this way without the one flagship store, we designed some custom mobile furniture. And we developed a flat-pack body form in partnership with product designers Kelly & Arash, which could be assembled and dismantled for the numerous events and shows at work places, in galleries, exhibitions and in shops etc. with a lot of setting up and taking down. Kelly & Arash further developed the concept and went on to launch Mannequinno and have become leaders in the ingeniously designed, sustainable flat-pack mannequins.
It was at one of these early office pop ups that Claudia and Bernice really got talking, having initially been introduced through Harry, Bernice’s husband. DEPLOY got selected for The Observer Future 500, a campaign Claudia ran to celebrate British innovators. We became one to watch for the future in the fashion sector! Claudia later joined our team as Brand & Marketing Director.
We then temporarily settled in St John Street, ‘co-retailing’ with a vintage furniture & vinyl café and became a lifestyle concept destination. In this location we began to build community and a following. And I’m happy to say we have some of our clients back from St John St. who have become friends and are here with us tonight. We so appreciate the long-term friendship & support.
At St John’s Street we launched Hennumi, the accessories sister-brand. I was using offcut fabric to design and handmake bags, purses, hats and small accessories. We soon decided to focus on millinery and begin to gain expertise with that.
One of the DEPLOY aims from the start was to have a direct connection with the customers. To learn from them and understand them better, using this as our inspiration to drive design and problem-solve. Rather than following the dictating yet passing trends, and to create beautiful, longer-lasting sustainable style.
BUILDING THE CAPABILITIES.
Into our second phase at our Marylebone Boutique we continued to grow our clientele and to hone our design construction and garment quality, whilst developing a more rigorous process and efficient team structure. Many past team members and interns have become part of our community.
Here we found that our bespoke service began to grow by demand. This really fed into the fine-tuning of tailoring craftsmanship. Our bridal part of the business grew, we dressed guests for the royal weddings and later one of most exciting and challenging bespoke commissions was the formal wear for the Naval Surgeon Captain Professor – the top job responsible for medical research in British Military Forces. His special uniform got closely inspected by the late Prince Philip. The whole team shed blood, sweat and tears to make with precision, this supremely technical garment. We all breathed a big sigh of relief when it was finished and Bernice personally delivered the garment – even that was a big job as she recalled the sheer weight of the uniform as she carried it – made of dense top quality wool with layers of canvas, lining, specialist gold braid trims and embossed metal buttons.
We were also named one of the top 3 independent designers boutiques by the prestigious Drapers Fashion Award in this phase.
GROWING THE BRAND
After some years in Marylebone with a discerning and global clientele, we had begun to develop connections and following internationally, and made the huge decision to leave Marylebone at the end of our 10 year Lease tenure. So it was with a little conviction & great trepidation that we said Farewell Marylebone – Hello world!
So began DEPLOY’s recent years of mobile retail model, taking us to great metropolises, from London to Los Angeles, San Francisco to Singapore, Brussels to Beijing! Whilst growing to some 12 cities around the world seasonally and partnering with many organisations large and small, we were also going back to events and pop-ups excitement and operation of creating rich experiences and wider communities. It also enabled us to focus on the business with more rigorous planning, streamlined technology and strategic communications whilst advocating for our ethos and values of a 360 sustainability.
In 2018 we had the opportunity to collaborate with a Chinese calligraphy maestro with the commission to design garments that would embody the art Chinese characters through her brushes. We were able to enjoy and explore this deeply creative and cross-cultural journey as well as the craftsmanship to produce some stunning haute couture gowns and millinery for the high-profile exhibition in Taiwan.
The DEPLOY journey continues challenge both us and the fashion system to which we aim to reform and change, not least in the pandemic months! But faith, hope as well as the learnings and encouragement gained from the last 15 years spurs us on. And we hope to be raising a glass and sharing our experiences with you in the years to come.