A top fashion designer who came back to her Yorkshire roots to launch a high-end brand says the current lockdown may change the way people shop.
Sonya Bachra-Byrne, who is originally from Bradford, travelled the world working at top fashion houses for 18 years, before coming back to West Yorkshire to launch AVIE with her husband Liam last year.
Based in Leeds, the company specialises in ‘slow fashion’, or clothing that is stylish and lasts, as opposed to the ‘fast fashion’ of many high street brands.
AVIE, which was named ‘Emerging Brand of 2019’ in the prestigious Drapers Independent Awards and invited to exhibit at Paris Fashion Week 2020, has been given business support by AD:VENTURE, a programme for new businesses in North and West Yorkshire funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Sonya said: “In the current situation, if you look at the sales figures, consumerism seems to be changing and it is more about buying less and buying better quality that will last longer. People are slowly moving away from the fast fashion of the high street and buying investment pieces that transcend seasons.
“As a brand we also strive to work with sustainable fabrications from natural fibres where possible, created with less chemicals. So, the environment benefits too.”
AVIE manufactures ethical luxury clothing aimed at women professionals, particularly those in the creative industries, with samples made in London and manufacturing in Europe. But Sonya hopes one day to move the manufacturing nearer to home.
The original idea for the brand started when Sonya was working in New York with celebrity clients like Demi Moore, Jessica Alba and Helen Hunt. The plans slowly grew as she travelled the world, working in countries like Spain, Italy and Denmark, before finally ending up in Australia as head of global design.
“My own experience gave me the idea for the brand. At the level I was working at I needed to look the part to be taken seriously as I could be presenting to a board of directors who were all men for example. I needed to have authority and style without looking like a fashion victim.
“And then I took a little bit from each country I had worked in. For example, New York is polished with an attitude and Denmark is effortlessly edgy and minimalistic. So, when I came back to the UK, I had a clear idea of where I wanted the business to be and who I was targeting.”
But as a start-up business, AVIE needed to make the right impression to be taken seriously. This is where AD:VENTURE came to Sonya’s aid with advice and funding. The company was given a grant to pay for top-end portable photographic equipment, which meant Sonya and Liam, who is a photographer and videographer, could set up professional photoshoots in impressive locations.
The pictures from those shoots literally opened doors for the company, with the invitations to Paris Fashion Week and an invitation from an exclusive online German marketplace for sustainable fashion.
AVIE also trades online via its own website and, when they are open, through independent boutiques in Leeds and London.
Sonya said: “I can’t believe how far we have come as a business already and a lot of that is thanks to the support from AD:VENTURE. Working with them was a catalyst that propelled us forward as a business. My AD:VENTURE mentor was amazing at putting us in touch with the right people and the grant really helped us get to the next level. Without that support I think I would have struggled for the next four or five years.”
AD:VENTURE’s funding and delivery partners are from across the Leeds City Region and include the region’s nine local authorities.
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Avie are a fantastic example of how business support programmes can give exciting local businesses the tools they need to grow, which in turn creates jobs and prosperity for the region.
“With the current challenges affecting businesses, we would urge them now more than ever to get in touch and access programmes like AD:VENTURE, and make sure they are taking advantage of support available to them to put them in the best possible position to thrive and find new ways through these unprecedented times we find ourselves in.”