IN CONVERSATION WITH BUG CLOTHING
Bug clothing was founded in East London by Amy Ward – with many of the same principles as Merchant & Mills: Clothing should be purposeful, considered, and made to last. She uses a combination of natural fibres and deadstock cloth, all made on a very small scale – and it’s been a delight to see some Merchant & Mills fabrics pop up in her collections.
How did your label come to be, what is your background?
I have a degree in design and pattern cutting and whilst studying I worked in a couture house for a year, where I learned a lot about pattern draping and cutting patterns more intricately. I also interned with some RTW designers but realised quite quickly that all of the stress and the size of the collections seemed really unnecessary, as well as not being a very fun or healthy way to work.
Whilst I was working as a receptionist for a creative studios building, running a yard sale market, and starting to freelance garment-making and pattern-cutting for fashion stylists and private clients – I decided to start Bug clothing. It has been a slow burn; I’ve never felt rushed to be at any stage at any time. It’s felt really natural and lovely to make small batches and work on an intimate scale.
I feel I’ve curated a job for myself which suits my temperament and lifestyle well and for that I feel really lucky.
How does a collection start, where do you draw your inspirations from?
It feels a little different each time. I find I get overexcited with new ideas and designs and have to reign it in and really think about what I’d actually reach for in my own wardrobe for a long time to come. Something that already goes with other things I own, that would be practical and comfortable, that would be long lasting and flattering on a range of bodies.
What comes first, the pattern or the fabric?
In the beginning it was always a design and then a pattern and then a fabric. But nowadays – perhaps because I have a large range of patterns in the studio – it tends to be a fabric that makes me think one of my current shapes with some changes would look good.
It feels much more fluid now that I’ve been working on Bug clothing for almost 7 years, that when I see a beautiful fabric I buy it because I know I’ll find a shape that I think will be beautiful with it. It feels really fun and I feel like I could burst when I have all of these ideas for lovely things I could make but don’t have the time to. I really would like to go through all my smaller cut pieces of material that are folded in boxes and make some one-off special pieces this Summer.
What do you look for when choosing fabrics for your collection? What attracted you to choosing Merchant & Mills cloth for pieces in your collections?
I have to consider how well a fabric will age and wear with a shape that I’m choosing it for. It is really reassuring when I use Merchant & Mills fabrics as I know the quality will be great and I don’t need to worry, whereas when I buy dead stock fabrics it’s always a risk of what I’ll see when I unroll the roll and begin to cut. I quite like the balance of both though. I use natural fabrics and like subtle quite earthy tones so Merchant & Mills is a beautiful place to shop for my collections.
What has been your most successful fabric of ours?
It’s hard to tell because I do quite small runs and pre-orders which have so far all done really well. It probably was the Wizzy dress in the yellow and pale pink Wes linen which I’d made especially for my 30th birthday and decided to do a pre order for. Or it’s been the Magda pants in Petrol Corduroy or Winter Pink Organic Sanded Twill – both of which I adore and wear all the time.
What does a typical day look like in the studio? Do work alone or have a team?
I wrestle my 2-year-old daughter into Nursery, so it feels like it’s 7pm by 9am. I tend to open the studio doors, have a little tidy up, make a coffee and put on something that’ll make me feel like I’m a part of the world like the Daily or Today in Focus podcast. I always have a very long scrappy ‘to do’ list on my cutting table so I’ll prioritise what needs doing; I usually start by packing any outstanding orders. Currently I am working on sampling some new designs and have a stock of beautiful Merchant & Mills cottons and linens that I’m going to make them in, so I feel very excited to be in the studio. I work alone (I really enjoy it) and get a big portion of my production made with a wonderful team of seamstresses in East London. I pop in to drop off fabrics and collect garments every couple of weeks usually. I do all of my own pattern cutting and sampling but over the past couple of years since having my daughter, I’ve outsourced my pattern grading and much more production.
I have some staple styles which sell well and to continuously make those things myself meant I was never moving forward with new shapes or other parts of the business and that was really holding me back. It’s really nice to have things made to a beautiful standard and to be able to pay another crafts person for their skills. I’m currently planning a shoot for the new collection and trying to manage the 230 other aspects of having a small business but thoroughly enjoying the ride.
How do sustainable practices play a part in your business? Can you tell us about your production plan – do you always have stock, do you make to order, do you do timed releases of small collections?
It feels like it’s second nature to consider how sustainable I’m being. I separate my rubbish and produce very little waste, all of my off cuts are saved and either sold as bundles, kept to create smaller items/accessories, and very small pieces are used to fill pillows and other objects as gifts or for my home/studio. I take my recycling and rubbish to the recycling center and that’s just a part of my monthly workload. I work mostly on a pre-order basis or produce small batches that I’m confident will sell so I’m never holding very much stock at once, which contributes to rarely doing sales for getting ‘rid’ of products. I want people to have garments they really love and wear often and feel compelled to cherish and mend, so I don’t want to overload with an excess of products.
What’s coming up next for you & Bug Clothing?
I’m releasing a new collection in March which I am really excited about. I’ve been using a lot more colour than usual and a wonderful friend of mine said it’s a reflection of my state of mind, so that’s nice. I’ve created some pieces that I think are really special and I cannot wait to photograph them and make them available.
I am in the process of finding a better balance of being able to manage the production of slightly more products in more fabrics and more sizes. I’m a little apprehensive of how I’m going to cope with that but I’ll work it out.
I’m mostly working at a pre-order capacity with a usual 6 week turnaround which is going quite well for me, but I understand it can often be frustrating for a customer. This collection will be a mix of ‘pre order’ and ‘made to order’ and ‘ready to ship’.
I’m also trying to be better at keeping up with the business and admin side of things as I definitely let this slip in favour of making. I hope to continue being able to donate a portion of sales to charities, to continue to be able to commission clever people I know to work with me in terms of photography, modeling, styling etc, to make some special one off garments.
I’ll never work as a traditional clothing business that is able to release collections to a schedule or be a good candidate for wholesale clients, but I’m really enjoying the mixture of my work right now, so more of that I hope!
Discover the rest of Amy’s designs over on her website: Bug clothing.
To find out more about our wholesale offering email [email protected] or visit wholesale.merchantandmills.com to register your details. We try to keep our wholesale minimums as low as possible to help out small brands like Bug clothing.