Back in 2019, Emma Hill the founder of womenswear brand Damson Madder set out on a mission to make sustainable fashion more accessible. After becoming disillusioned by questionable practices harmful to the earth after years of working in the industry, Emma wanted to focus on something more thoughtful, without the hefty price tag of typical eco-alternatives.

This year, the brand reported a staggering growth of 400% and this month they will launch their debut with retailer Harvey Nichols, marking an exciting break into the luxury retail sector. With the launch of its pre-Spring collection, plus new product categories, expanding into nightwear, handprinted ceramic, aprons, oven mitts and scented candles made in collaboration with cult shop Earl of East, the brand is taking up more space in our lives with its cutesy, cottage-core aesthetic, hand-illustrated prints and playful use of colour.

We caught up with Emma to find out more about this successful year for Damson Madder…

What gap in the fashion industry did you set out to fill? And have you been able to stay true to your aspirations?
I wanted to work on something slower, more considered, more responsible but where exciting design was still the driving force. We've come a long way since the first collection and we are constantly evolving and striving to improve.

Damson Madder is known for its sustainable materials. Can you elaborate on your commitment to sustainability and how it's integrated into your brand's DNA?
Responsible practices, transparency and small-batch production are the beating heart of everything we do. At Damson Madder, we are a small and proudly female-led team. After years of seeing first-hand some of the bad practices that went on behind the scenes, I knew I had to find a way to do things differently. Being a fashion brand comes with inherent challenges and although there is always further to go in ensuring the work we do as a business mitigates its impact on the environment, and communities across the world, we have always tried to do things differently, since inception.

100% of our cotton is sustainably sourced, and we work hard to ensure a minimum of 20% recycled materials in almost all other garments. We have removed all non-essential metal trims and rivets across our denim to eliminate unnecessary barriers to biodegrading and use embroidery for branding where possible to minimise non-compostable trims.

Our back-neck labels and care labels will be 100% recycled by next year. We educate our customers on how to care for garments and how to limit the negative impact on the environment across our brand communications including tips on washing less and circularity.

How have you seen the industry change and evolve in terms of sustainability since launching the brand?
There have been changes for the better, in the beginning, there was much less available in terms of responsible fabric qualities and practices, but now we have more options to do better.

In a competitive fashion market, what sets Damson Madder apart from other brands? How do you maintain a distinct identity?
I think what makes Damson Madder stand out is the marriage of responsible practices and sustainable fabrication, with design; all whilst maintaining an accessible price architecture. I do feel that we offer something unique here. Unlike our approach to production, our design handwriting opts for a more-is-more approach. When done right, fashion should be exciting and empowering. We don't bow to fleeting trends, instead making garments that fit and flatter, each with a unique detail or sign-off that makes every piece feel special.

What is it about the city that continues to inspire you as a proudly North-London-based brand?
London is a perpetually exciting and inspiring city – its fashion and its people are ever-changing, evolving and adapting to the world around – much like our brand evolves with them. London is home and where Damson Madder was born and is still based.

Can you share some of the recent milestones you've faced in building Damson Madder?
We launched a very small one-off collection with [illustrator] Poppy Almond last year – she handmade an edit of pieces and they literally sold out in an hour, so we knew there was a demand there and it felt like a natural next step for us. We loved Poppy’s designs so worked with her to develop and build a bigger ceramics and kitchenware collection.

We extended the range to include a cushion collaboration with Studio Sparks and Colours of Arley, and also candles with Earl of East. We wanted to work with great people and products to curate a very Damson view on homeware. We’ve had such a great response to the whole range but the candles, mugs, aprons, and oven mitts are doing especially well.

Ceramics are a new product area for us, so it was really important to find a factory partner who aligned with our core values. Our ceramics are made from durable stoneware and are individually hand-painted, in small batches. All the soft styles, such as tea towels, aprons and oven gloves are 100% organic cotton. The cushions are a super limited run using made-to-order, zero waste, bespoke striped fabric manufactured in the Colours of Arley family workshop in Cheshire and hand-sewn by Studio Sparks in her London workshop. The candles are also hand-poured in London using 100% soy wax.

We also saw a gap in the sleepwear space and felt it would be a great part of our wider product offering and lifestyle proposition. We wanted to design sleepwear that again, felt like an extension of our design universe; with signature sign-offs like bows and oversized collars.

Sleepwear that is almost too good for bed (!) It has been doing really well, and sales have been great since launch and we can see that there is a great appetite for this new category from both new and existing customers!

Within mainline clothing, we have seen such a great response to our leopard gilet and other leopard print pieces. Since launching the new leopard collection, we have had 12,000 sign ups to the waiting list for the Leopard Tilly Gillet alone! All new drops have sold out in under 30 minutes. It has been a real formative year for the brand with sales up over 400% year on year!

What advice do you have for aspiring female entrepreneurs looking to start a career in the fashion industry and build their own brand?
Stay open to opportunities, if you have a vision for something, stay focused, keep learning, keep networking, and keep evolving. The thing that seemed impossible usually happens very easily once you learn the right skill or meet the right person to help you along your journey.

What's next for Damson Madder?
2024 will be about creating spaces and partnerships to enable our customers to be able to experience the brand in real life. A very exciting year ahead…