To master the 'I look put together, but haven't had to think hard about it' look, a classic shirt is always your best bet. It's this vision, as well as a strong sustainable ethos and her entrepreneurial drive, that's propelled Harriet Saywood-Bellisario to start Saywood: the London-manufactured fashion brand that aspires to "bring joy and the element of surprise" to everyday dressing.

Launching the brand with a capsule of shirts, each collection is made with the intention of being a wardrobe essential – the garments creative designs will continue to inspire you to rewear and consume consciously, rather than buy the latest 'it' piece. With a resume that spans over ten years with Paul Smith, Label/Mix and Richard Nicoll as previous employers, we asked Harriet to share why and how Saywood came about. 

What made you decide to put out something in the world that is purely your own vision?
I’ve always wanted to create my own label. At university, I was really interested in sustainability, and at that time sustainable clothing was really limited, and often only of a very traditional nature. With the much broader understanding of climate change that we now have, many more issues have come to the forefront of the fashion industry; volumes, processes, energy and water consumption, chemicals, textile recycling, and how much we are producing across the board in order to create clothing. I think it’s really important as a new brand to really look in depth at each issue, and do what you can to responsibly implement a resolve into your strategy.

Having worked for different designers and retailers since graduating ten years ago, I love the challenge of designing to that brand’s customer brief and aesthetic. But you also start to further develop and refine your own aesthetic, and start to think about what you really want from your clothes. And inevitably you have so many discussions about fashion with different people, friends and family, colleagues, you start to see a picture of something that is a little untapped, and how your own handwriting could fit within the market and reach out to this customer in new ways.

What has working for big brands and retailers taught you?
Working for big brands and retailers has taught me a lot more about the various processes and how to streamline them. It doesn’t mean doing less, but there is often a much more focused pathway. Editing down to what you really think you need in the range, and keeping a focus on the key requirements for these items. And the critical path is key! Although as a small slow fashion brand, you do not have to fall in line with the traditional fashion calendar, to be focused on when you need to get things done by, it really helps to do so. And as a one person team currently, this also allows you to make some time for that personal rest… sometimes! 

It has also given me a better understanding of the bigger picture. I’ve seen much more of the marketing side of things, and how this filters into the brand, and seeing this on a big budget has been really interesting. Whilst this is not comparable as a start up, it does make you aware of what you can focus on at a small scale.

I’ve also learnt to be really customer focused. Sometimes this can change how you initially see the brand aesthetic being, but ultimately it is the customer that needs to be at the heart of the brand. And I think taking them on that journey with you, especially when it comes to sustainability, this is really key. It also gives you a lot of perspective, in terms of what’s achievable, and how to work within your limitations whilst using them creatively. For example, often fabric quantities for orders can be difficult when you are only doing small production runs. But on the flip side, working from stock or deadstock, whilst what is available might be limiting, makes you find other ways to be creative with your designs and details, and you can really have some fun with it.

Have you found it easy/hard to manufacture in London?
Manufacturing in London has actually been a really easy process. I was really lucky to come across the factory I am working with, Apparel Tasker in East London, really easily. When I got in touch with Zack, whose business it is, I had a really good feeling. I’ve worked with a lot of different factories in my career, so I had a good idea of what I was looking for and what to look out for. When I visited, the factory was really clean. Zack and Alex, the Production Manager, were really great; I got a good vibe from them and they were really passionate about manufacturing in a sustainable way. And it’s been that way throughout the process; they’ve been really open about their responsible manufacturing initiatives, their eco-friendly and energy saving policies, their above-industry-norm wages, and their processes. They don’t allow their teams to be overstretched – this is so great, and quite unusual in the industry. It takes time to manufacture, and they give their machinists that time, they don’t rush them or lay down heavy targets. That creates such a good working environment. It is a little more expensive to manufacture in London than other places for sure, but I think it’s great to be able to have such a closeness to the manufacturing process when you can; you can see the product being stitched, and there is a great level of skill and talent in the local manufacturing industry. You have much more of a direct working relationship, which is of real value, especially when it comes to taking a more ethical approach to production.

What are you hoping for ultimately with this collection? 
This collection is a basis for me to build on, a starting point to make my mark with. It can take a long time to get started, but ultimately, at some point, you just have to make the leap. It doesn’t have to be perfect, so many developments happen along the way. I had so many ideas to start with, but I couldn’t do it all straight up. 

I hope to learn from what I have put out there. Learn more about the areas that I am not usually active in within my industry design role. And ultimately start building up the brand image, the brand awareness. Having launched it in October 2020, it didn’t feel right to have a launch party due to the pandemic, so it was all quite low key – just one click to open the online store. And there is oddly something quite fortifying about that. You know you are in it for the long run, so you can take a bit more time to make your steps. The priorities and the goal posts effectively changed with the lockdown; whilst ultimately you want to be selling your products, seeing your brand really start to become a brand, to get potential future customers, this becomes the main goal, and starting to get people talking about it. 

Why did you focus on shirting first? What do you think a well-made and well-designed shirt says about someone's wardrobe?
I chose to focus on shirting so that I could work on executing one product really well, and they are such staple items in the wardrobe; the perfect white shirt, the perfect denim shirt, and beyond; the ultimate as-you-need-it item. I have a great love for shirts. They are super versatile; they can be dressed up or dressed down, worn as an over-shirt, or tied at the front. And there is so much different detailing that can be worked into them. I love a mens shirt, that oversized fit, but then I have often wished for a different fabric or pattern, something more femine, but without being too overtly pretty. I wanted to find a good balance, a touch of feminine, but a fresh easy shape.

To have a well-made and designed shirt in your wardrobe is key. It’s such an easy item, perfect for a Saturday afternoon at the pub with jeans, or it can be dressed up for a more fancy date, and so its easy for work. A lot of work goes into making a shirt; when they are in woven fabric, there’s no stretch or elasticity to hide behind, to get that perfect fit is a detail in itself. And for the machinists, finishing off all the details, the structure, the cuff construction; it shows the skill it takes to manufacture a garment. Knowing that so much time is spent creating the perfect shirt, this makes it one of the most stand out pieces in any wardrobe.

Shop Saywood shirts here.

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