Our Editor Lucy Siddall speaks to Poppy Totman, founder of Fawn and Freda about her journey in creating a British womenswear brand that has thoughtful design and ethical sourcing at its core.
Please tell me about yourself, your background and what led you to where you are now in your career.
I grew up with creative parents. My mother is an incredible sewer and artist and taught me how to sew, embroider and make my own clothes. My father owned a theatre and had an attic full of amazing costumes, so I spent a lot of time trying these on and discovering the magic transportive nature of clothes. I then went on to study womenswear in London, where I lived for around 10 years at the beginning of my career. It was here I worked for a few fast fashion brands and visited some upsetting factories, which greatly pivoted my thinking about the industry. I then started working for an embroidery studio, where this job allowed me to really express my creativity and to explore the rich cultures of needlework and heirloom sewing. I was able to travel, work with the most amazing artisans and small family businesses and reconnect with the art of sewing again, which gave me the confidence to venture out on my own. Since then, I’ve worked as a freelance designer and now on my own brand, Fawn & Freda.
What inspired you to launch Fawn and Freda?
I was pregnant with my daughter when I started working on the brand. This sparked a lot of thinking about the textile skills that are passed down through the generations. I thought about the embroiderers in India, who had sadly told me that their sons and daughters would rather pursue a career in technology because it is safer and more profitable. The crafts my own mother taught me and the ones that are fading out. It was also the height of the pandemic at the time and a period of reflection for a lot of people, I think. It shone a light on the fast pace of life, the excess, the waste, as well as the cost to people’s welfare and to the planet. I wanted to feel good about what I was designing; I wanted to have time for my daughter, and I wanted in my small way to join forces with those pursuing a better future for the planet and its people.
How do you approach design at Fawn and Freda?
I believe in slow fashion and investing in quality over quantity, so I don’t work to traditional fashion seasons and try to design pieces that are timeless. I take care and time over the little details and like to do the handwork – whether that’s embroidery or smocking – on my garments myself. The designs embody my love for thoughtful simplicity and understated detailing.
Can you tell me about your sourcing? How do you find the right fabrics and suppliers for your brand?
I have built some close relationships over the years with suppliers who I trust and who I’m confident are transparent with me about their supply chain. I only use natural fabrics and I tend to use a lot of linen, which I love both for its wearing qualities but also because it is one of the least environmentally damaging textiles. The quality and feel of the fabric we use is incredibly important to me and each selection is made with great care.
How do you want your customers to feel when they wear your products?
I want our customers to feel like they are wearing something of quality, something special; that it has been made for them with care and attention to detail, by someone who enjoys their work and is treated with respect. I want the fabrics to feel comfortable against their skin, whilst the shapes make them feel free. I want everyone to enjoy living in my collections.
How do you ensure you're as sustainable as possible as a brand?
By constantly striving to do better. I keep sustainability in mind with each decision I make, whether that is using natural organic fabrics, biodegradable packaging, or local small batch manufacturing. I’m transparent and know there is more I can do, so I set new goals at every stage.
I want our customers to feel like they are wearing something of quality, something special; that it has been made for them with care and attention to detail, by someone who enjoys their work and is treated with respect.
What is your north star for the business - the thing you're always striving for?
That the clothes last - through both trends and time. That they can travel through life with you and be treasured for years to come.
What is your favourite part of being a small business owner?
I love the flexibility of having my own business and the creative freedom it affords me.It is so incredibly rewarding to see my designs being worn and enjoyed.
What's the most challenging part?
As a small business owner, you must wear a lot of different hats. There are areas I’m stronger in than others, if it doesn’t come naturally to me sometimes that can feel demoralising. As an advocate for slower living, it can be challenging to do this in a way that is serving me without impacting my well-being too much. It’s in these areas I’ve found the power of collaboration to be so important.
What would you say is your biggest lesson since launching Fawn and Freda?
That success and failure are not linear. That there is still so much to learn from so many different people. Starting a small ethical business is incredibly challenging, but there is a community of like-minded people who care about our planet and its people that is bigger and kinder than I could have ever imagined.