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In conversation with the founder of NEVER FULLY DRESSED

In conversation with the founder of NEVER FULLY DRESSED

Lucy Aylen loves to colour outside the lines. It’s exactly this irreverent approach to style that’s made her brand NEVER FULLY DRESSED a beloved favourite of so many women – and the antidote to many of their bad days. Because as she’ll tell you, the right colourful dress or knit has the power to completely turn a night around. So it’s best that you choose wisely. 

We spoke to the London-based entrepreneur over Zoom about falling – almost by accident – into her career, her litmus test for knowing whether clothing will be a success, and why you’ll always find her rocking colour in any crowd – even if she’s the only one. 

How did a childhood spent going to markets inspire NEVER FULLY DRESSED?

My mum could just sell anything – she has that trade-y element that she perfected in her whole life. And that's an art form in itself and is amazing to watch. Back then, she used to sell scrunchies and stuff like that, and my nan was a seamstress in the East End. So they used to sew bits together for her to sell at the market, and this was before circular fashion and no wastage was trendy. 

We laughed that my mum should have gone into stocks and shares or something because she can sell so well, but mainly it was scrunchies and oils or whatever. Every day she picked me up from school, and I'd be the last one to be collected because she was a workaholic, and she would come with crazy outfits, and I suppose I didn’t think it was anything different. It’s a form of expression that maybe I didn't give her enough credit for. She loves life and loves getting dressed up. 

She’ll even come into meetings now, and she still has that commercial mindset. She knows what sells. And she’ll always be right.

When did you decide to launch your own brand?

I actually used to want to act; I was an unemployed actor, like most actors, and I'm not very good at doing nothing. And I had that trade-y, market background; I used to make clothes. Not very well, but I had a sewing machine, and I could customise. And my mum said, you need a proper job, so I started doing the markets just to get money and it just kind of snowballed. 

I was never conscious of the brand I wanted to create or a business plan or had a burning dream. And as the goal posts have changed over the years, I’ve thought, okay, this is what I want to be remembered for. This is what I want to create as a brand, this is the chance that I want to make with it. So it’s gotten a bit more structured, I suppose, and real as my ambition with it as it’s developed. 

I always say, I’m not the best at anything. I’m not the best designer, I’m not the best boss. But I think I work really hard. You want the people who work for you to be happy. You want to be happy. You want to make a difference with what you’re doing. As I’ve gotten older and matured, and I've changed, as well my mindset, I think those things come naturally. 

What’s your approach to design?

When we’re making something, I always think if it's a first sample and it’s a one hit wonder, I know it will sell well. But if you have to sample something three or four or five times, we then just drop it. If it's not working after the third sample, stop there, because you're forcing something that's not there.

Where do you source inspiration for your prints?

I've always had a bit of a traveller in me. I'd go to India; I'd go to South America, and I think you're naturally inspired. I’ve always loved expression, even without knowing it. I just think colour is quite fun. These last couple years, it was even more apparent how powerful colour is. The positive connotations and what comes with it. If we’re on a Zoom meeting or a school dinner, and I look like an absolute Christmas tree with colour, you see people’s faces just light up and it’s infectious. And they spread that. So it’s really powerful if you’re feeling down that day. Especially during lockdown – just put on that bit of colour and join your Zoom meeting, and trust me, every meeting will be better. There’s an instinctive lift in mood, and it’s really powerful.

We launched a feel-good Friday initiative as well in the first lockdown and people would literally say that would get them out of their hole. We have such a strong community and we listen to them, and I suppose that’s kept us working in that space. Life can be tough or boring so why not bring that bit of colour?

Any tips for someone who doesn’t typically wear colour? 

You don’t have to do prints or really bold, loud prints. Start with one colour, like a green dress. Then you could layer a leather jacket over it or a black boot, so it feels a bit safer. But you’ll love wearing it. It will be the breakthrough you need. Just start with a block colour. We do a lot of pink and orange or pink and red. It might start as a festive nod in that palette, but then hopefully it gives you that lift and you’ll be converted. 

How do you want your customers to feel when wearing your brand?

Amazing. I’ve gone back to actually being our fit model now, so every time a sample comes through, I put it on and think, that’s the customer’s experience. If the customer buys that, they open up the package and put that on, and I ask, how is that person going to feel? And if I don’t feel amazing, we won’t book it. You literally want someone to open that parcel and put that dress on and feel amazing. They should have a big smile, and they should do whatever they’re doing that day better. You want someone to go out and have a great time. 

Is there a style philosophy you follow?

There’s a famous designer who says, when you walk out the door and think you’re done getting dressed, put something else on – and I’m probably that person. Maybe I do a little too much. I’ve tried to be minimal my whole life and it didn’t work out. 

What’s a powerful piece of style wisdom someone has given you?

My mum has such a good outlook on things – it’s all about confidence and wearing what you want. As Brits, we’re self-deprecating, but you’d never think, oh I look amazing. Whereas, you should. Why should that be a negative thing?

What sustainability initiatives are you focusing on right now?

We’re lucky as a business that we’re not a massive corporate set up. We’re always changing naturally, and I’ve always been conscious of it, even before sustainability was a big subject. I don’t like wastage, and we come from a good place as a business; we’re family run. And that’s what everyone is passionate about, so we can be agile. And when the initiative of wanting to do better is authentic, I think that means we’re on a good path. 

We have a pre-loved initiative, which we’ve done for over three years now. We’re quite known for our styling videos as well and we really want you to investment buy. We don’t make disposable fashion or promote that. So when you buy this dress, we’ll show you how to wear it a million different ways. We promote re-wearing an outfit. There’s that Instagram world where you post it and then can’t wear it again. It’s about normalising wearing the same outfit again. 

We've also hired someone who heads up sustainability and ethics, so it’s nice to have a bit of guidance as well and feel more confident in what we are doing. The goal posts are moving all the time, so it’s constantly having that research. We also are addressing our wash care labels to reduce water usage. It’s about us doing what we love to do and that form of expression, but maybe doing it in a better way than it has been done or leaving it in a better way than when we found it. It’s part of everything we do now and it’s in every conversation, and we’re making sure we’re doing our best. 

Photographed: NFD Outlet Bella Cardi ($117)

What are you looking forward to from this coming season?

Traditionally we’re a woven dress and separates brand. Last year was the first time we had a bit of knitwear. We really expand in product areas every season. Last week we did a pre-order on footwear for the first time and it sold out in a day. Today we launched a pre-order on outerwear, so recycled nylon puffers. We’ve done a little bit of sequins, but I like sequins all year round – in summer, it’s amazing. We have some jumpsuits coming through. I think that sexy is back because everything has been casualised and a bit more dressed down for a while, so people are ready to feel sexy. 

Who would be your dream Never Fully Dressed customer?

The Queen. I’d love to dress her; she’s a boss and so powerful. 

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Words: Allison Pavlick
Photography: Courtesy of Never Fully Dressed