69b Boutique

Fashion’ is not so important that it should disregard basic human rights and environmental responsibility. By engaging with sustainability fashion has the opportunity to have more meaning,” Merryn Leslie.

Located in the Heart of Hackney, East London, Broadway market recently received the title of “the hippest place in the world” by Italian Vogue. Its cosy cafes, cool bars, retro shops and fashion boutiques make it a thriving scene. And thriving within its streets is 69b, a sustainable women’s wear boutique that works with an exclusive range of British and international brands that are committed to sustainability.

Creative director, buyer and founder of 69b, Merryn Leslie, has an extensive fashion portfolio that includes working for 6 years as a stylist for iD and freelancing for publications such as Italian Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Merryn was climbing the career ladder when she progressively found herself feeling disheartened by the fashion world she was working in. After a period of research where she took a look behind the fashion scenes and discovered some of its effect on people and the environment, Merryn felt determined to work within the sustainable fashion arena.

These experiences ensured that she had a clear vision when she opened 69b’s doors in March 2011. That vision was to represent smaller, unique designers and brands, with their own sustainable and eco friendly story to tell. Modecut have an insightful chat with Merryn about 69b, sustainable fashion and how we can move forward to a brighter future through education and responsibility.

 

Tell me about your background?

I moved to London from Australia in 1994 at the age of 21 to pursue a career in the fashion industry. I began my UK-based career in retail working for brands such as Katharine Hamnett, Joseph and Harvey Nichols. After combing retail with travel for a couple of years, I landed a job assisting Edward Enninful, who at the time was the Fashion Director of i-D magazine. After working with Edward for two and a half years I became the assistant to Terry Jones, the Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director of i-D. I then went on to be the Acting Fashion Editor and a Contributing Fashion Editor.

After 6 years at i-D, I left to pursue a freelance fashion styling career, working as the Fashion Director of EXIT magazine, freelancing for British and Italian Vogue, American Harpers Bazaar and various other publications. After a few mad years of being very busy and climbing the career ladder I found myself feeling disheartened by the lack of moral integrity within the industry. The higher I climbed the worse it seemed. This sparked a period of research where I took a look behind the scenes, specifically at design, production and consumerism. Previous to this I had no real idea of what went on along the chain, and its effect on people and the environment. I was deeply shocked at what I learnt. Once I opened this can of worms I knew I couldn’t turn a blind eye. It became very clear, that for me personally, I could only work with brands and sectors of the industry that were aware and concerned about their impact in terms of sustainability.

How was 69b initiated?

After serendipitously meeting a friend of a friend at a party, I was introduced to the landlord of 69b. We got chatting and after a few meetings I was offered the lease on the shop with the intention of setting up a women’s wear boutique that showcased brands that engaged with sustainability. At the time I wasn’t aware of many brands that were but once I started researching and put the word out, to my pleasant surprise, it became evident that sustainable fashion was an exciting emerging market and topic. There were plenty of brands to choose from.

After struggling with a name for the boutique, I decided to settle with the shop number. The 6 & 9 sit together like a graphic version of the yin and yang symbol, it seemed like another strike of fate that signified the shops objective to be a force of good. There is also the reference to equal pleasure, which represents an overall philosophy I have. That the experience for all involved in the industry – from an environmental and human perspective, from seed to fabric to design to garment to shop to customer and post customer – should be equally pleasurable for all. Everyone has the right to conduct business in a fair way, to be shown respect, to not suffer. The shop number seemed poignant and fortuitous.

What has influenced your approach to the sustainable fashion industry?

i-D had been about valuing the individual – about valuing identity, spirit and expression. There were so many agendas involved when working for the bigger names in publishing. The higher I climbed the career ladder the further away from ‘spirit’ I seemed to find myself. During my research period I watched documentaries, read articles and researched websites unearthing some awful truths. It was shocking to see how the industry was harming people and the environment. During this time I was very fortunate to meet Alex Macintosh from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, which is part of the London College of Fashion. They are influential at a high level, helping companies, large, medium and small, too engage with sustainability. They have also been instrumental in getting sustainability onto university and college curriculums. Their approach and understanding of the industry really opened my eyes to the possibilities of sustainability. They are big believers in transparency and engagement. The CSF definitely influenced my approach to sustainability within the fashion industry.

When you source designers and other participants for 69b, what key aspects do you look at?

69b works with designers and brands that choose to engage in sustainable practices. They can brand themselves based on this, or not, talk about it a lot, or a little. I don’t mind as long as it is evident that they are sustainable. They can engage with sustainable practice in various ways – through efficient designing and sampling practices, through up-cycling, craft and slow fashion, via fabric choices – organic, renewable, recycled, smart technology, by choosing fair trade production methods and caring about all the hands that touch the product along the way, and the impact on the earth and its resources. Sustainability can also be expressed through aesthetic consistency – I don’t work with brands that are driven and influenced by trends – they all have a style and apply techniques that are consistent. Repeating and developing signature design and techniques, in my opinion, is more efficient and less draining compared to a brand that constantly reinvents itself from season to season.

Located in Broadway Market, how is this an independent boutique-friendly area to be in?

Broadway Market is situated in the heart of Hackney on one of East London’s most treasured streets. Recently receiving the title as ‘the hippest place in the world’ by Italian Vogue, Broadway Market is home to cafes, restaurants, bookshops, retro furniture stores and fashion boutiques mixed in with old laundrettes and betting shops- something for everyone. It is a community street, servicing locals as well as thousands of people who visit the eclectic weekly Saturday market. The perfect location for an independent business like 69b as it attracts individuals with a strong sense of personal style and creativity.

How would you define 69b and your approach to fashion retail?

Due to my styling background I am always drawn to the individual designer, to the smaller more unique brands. 69b customers enjoy seeing brands they have not heard of – it is refreshing to not see the usual suspects. I find the smaller unique brands personal points of reference intimate and interesting. I love the stories. This still excites me today and influences my buying. I also do my own thing with regards to sales and timing. As I am a true independent, stocking unknown or harder to find brands, I am free to act instinctively so can create my own schedule. I am not a victim of the big retailers and when and how they do things.

Any current projects that you would like to share with us?

We are very excited to be launching sixtynineb.com – a visually led e-commerce platform that we hope has the potential to reach larger audiences in the UK and internationally, thereby spreading the word and availability of sustainable product. We are very excited to use the platform as a way of exposing the positive stories that our brands engage in. Launching in October 2013.

What do you think is the problem with the fashion industry today?

Fashion is not so important that it should disregard basic human rights and environmental responsibility. By engaging with sustainability Fashion has the opportunity to have more meaning. The industry needs to wake up, as do all industries, to the reality of what is going on environmentally and socially in the world, as well as in consumerism. I think it is inexcusable in this day and age to create unsustainably. Everyone should get out of bed each day thinking about how they can reduce their footprint, especially those with the power and resources to create change. We are intelligent yet stupid, I don’t get why people don’t believe there is a crisis happening. The industry has been surging on, unmonitored, with dirty secrets, for too long now. It is not such a big deal to start acting sustainably; in fact it can be beneficial to businesses bottom line.

Education is a key player; if the industry is to continue to change then all educational institutions must seriously teach sustainable practice and philosophy. That way the future industry will naturally be more engaging.

I am always a believer in one’s glass being half full, not half empty, so I remain positive. Some big names are making changes and that is exciting. The pattern usually is, small guys make a change, then the big guys, then many more. Here’s hoping. Help should genuinely be available for those wishing to engage and make the U-turn.

Looking at the future – what are your aspirations?

It is my hope that there is more and more sustainable choice for consumers and that businesses at all levels, become and remain transparent. That it becomes the norm to discuss sustainability at all times. That science and technology help businesses to achieve sustainable practice and that all education includes the teaching of sustainability.

My ambition is to help the above happen and to personally get better at behaving sustainably. It is a constant practice and challenge.

 

 

 



One Comment

  1. Jonathan wrote:

    Great interview. Merryn and 69b are an inspiration. If I was a women I would buy my clothes here!

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