Family Business: An Interview with Elsie and Fred
Interview by Georgia Mitchell
Elsie and Fred: A Family Business
Hi loves! So, we wanted to talk to you for our relationships issue because you are three siblings running a business together. I want to ask first how Elsie and Fred started, at which stage each of you got involved, and what each of you brings to the table when it comes to running the business.
Natalie: Hello! So, in 2012, Ryan and myself joined forces to launch a vintage shirt and t-shirt company. The idea for that I guess came from many trips to Thailand sourcing unique clothing and accessories for the boutique I also owned at the time in our home town in Coventry.
We developed our brand, moving away from the tees and into the beginning of what would become our signature ‘festival style’ sourcing ready-made gear focussing heavily on crochet and tie dye.
While Ryan worked on building the business, I closed my shop and joined forces with Leanne to open a new boutique in a storage container in Brixton called Queen of the Harpies. After 18 months of doing this we realised we were spreading ourselves too thin and overlooking the fact that all of our strengths should be combined and between us, we would all have something unique to offer Elsie & Fred.
As for our roles in the business, we’ve all naturally slotted into particular specialisms. We are all involved in the design process and then it is my job to develop the designs to the point that they are ready to hit the site. Ryan is
our photographer and designs all of the graphics on site while Leanne curates our aesthetic for each collection, directing the theme of each capsule as well as running the PR side of the business.
How would you say your sibling dynamic transforms into a business dynamic? Is there a marked difference between Natalie, Leanne and Ryan at work and not at work?
N: Haha not really! Not as much as there should be, and it’s something we probably need to work on as the business grows and we become a bigger team with more responsibilities. We have been known to slip into our big sister, middle sister, little brother roles on more than one occasion. However, even though that can be challenging at times, there is nobody I could trust to work with more than my sister and brother, and even though we all come different perspectives on many things we all have the same vision for the brand and the direction it is heading.
R: That's a hard one; it's hard to bridge a gap I guess, as we try and ban ourselves from talking to each other like brother and sister at work, but sometimes you have to. We're getting better at it but we're not a super formal company so we have to laugh at ourselves a lot.
Leanne: Working with siblings has by far been the trickiest obstacle in all of this; you work with these people as equals but already have this history that is obviously a different dynamic. When you fall out it goes super deep and hurts like hell. For a while we all avoided each other like the plague when not at work, but we’ve put loads of energy into developing our communication with each other.
Would you say Elsie and Fred is rooted strongly in family, especially as the brand name comes from the names of your Grandparents?
N: Definitely, we are three siblings working together, as you said, with a brand named after our grandparents and so many of our influences have come from our parents who grew up in 1970s Britain, where fashion was so much a reflection of society and culture of the time, and they really embraced that.
R: Definitely, the name will always keep the family element engrained in the company no matter what, so that's pretty cool. We never want to lose the family/sibling edge, and to a certain extent it allows us to be more honest about what we truly feel about design, graphics and values because we do revert back to siblings sometimes.
L: Yeah totally, and I think we are measuring the success of this adventure on the quality of our relationships. It would just be shit if we were ever not a three-piece. They are my best mates, allies for life. I say all this now, if we get rich, we’ll probably be bumping each other off in a heartbeat.
Does this reflect in the way that you communicate with customers? The wording and language on your website and social media is informal and accessible, almost like how you’d speak to a mate.
R: This comes really easy, growing together with your customers on Instagram from the very start breeds some kind of automatic friendship with our customers for sure. They are mates! we try and be a transparent as a company where possible so how can we pretend to be really formal if we're just not as humans, that's not real.
L: I suppose it does, it wasn’t really intentional. It’s a lot less exhausting to run a business if you haven’t got to talk like a robot with auto-text email responses and stuff. I’ve had loads of jobs where you did those things, you don’t really give a shit do you? But the girls that help us in the studio go to festivals, party at the weekend and shop online themselves. It makes more sense if they just talk as they would. As long as we do what we say we are going to do as a brand and take our social responsibility seriously, I think it’s nice for us all to be able to relate.
To talk more about all things Elsie and Fred; what is so gorgeous and exciting about your clothing is how it unashamedly grabs attention. Your last collection, Voyeurism, acknowledges this perfectly; it is clothing to look at and be looked at in. Is this an important part of getting dressed for you personally, and what does it mean to make this the centre of your brand’s philosophy?
R: It means everything. That is exactly what our company is, it's really that simple. We're here to make every single human being who wears our clothes feel as empowered as possible...if that grabs attention well then so be it darling!
L: We’ve always been a relatively baring brand and quite unconventional (aka naked) when it comes to our collections and message. This women’s movement that we are in right now is super dope: you shouldn’t be ashamed for doing things that make you feel good; which might be wearing a cut-out leopard swimsuit; just crack on.
Lastly, what can we expect from SS19 launching in March?
N: So if you’re not going to up it a gear with every collection then what is the point right? We really felt that we got to know all of our Elsies last summer, so this summer we hope we have curated them a collection of bright, fearless and badass clothes to stand out this summer!
L: This year we have got some super fun things coming. We have gone too far as always but if wearing Elsie & Fred doesn’t make you smile, we’ve failed.
R: Bold. Raw. Excitement in high contrast.