Two well-known Brits — Stuart Vevers, executive creative director of Coach, and Glenda Bailey, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar — chatted Thursday about their British upbringings, ambitions, sustainability and risk-taking as part of “Designing Our Future,” a three-day experiential event in New York.
The event was held at the Altman Building at 135 West 18th Street and showcased British and North American innovations in design, beauty, technology and policy. It was held on behalf of the U.K.’s Department for International Trade.
Bailey, who was named Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II, got a laugh when she said, “I rather like it when I’m in Europe, and they refer to me as ‘Damn Glenda.’”
Bailey, who hails from Derybshire, asked Vevers, who comes from Doncaster, how his upbringing contributed to who he is today.
“For me, I come from a working-class family: both my parents left school at 15, I think I brought that working-class fear. It drives me and gets me up in the morning,” said Vevers. “Of course, I have a passion for what I do. I definitely inherited a strong work ethic from my parents.”
Vevers said his personal motto, which he got from Luella Bartley, with whom he worked, and she had it up on her wall, is “Work hard and be nice to people.”
When Vevers was growing up, he was very close to his grandmother, and Bailey asked whether that inspired him to become a designer.
“I think so. She was very creative…she would make costumes for the local dramatic society. She would dress me up in wigs and jewels…and she has things to answer.” When he would go clubbing, he would take a page out of a magazine and they would make an outfit together, such as the time they made a pair of synthetic leather pants.
Vevers recalled that when he was going to school, his dad was so proud of his great grades, but when the younger Vevers said he wanted to study fashion, his father was upset. He wanted something more traditional for him. “At that time, I felt I could do what I wanted, and I wasn’t going into it with this fear of debt. I actually got a grant,” he said.
When asked why he feels he was able to succeed when others haven’t, Vevers said, “I had to prove my dad wrong. I think the fact that he was concerned, gave me more drive.” His father did eventually come around. When Vevers was putting himself through school and working five nights a week at a bar, during his final year, his father said to stop, and he would support him.
Bailey asked Vevers to compare the U.K. experience with the U.S. one, and gave an example from her own career. She recalled when she came to New York, having been editor of British Marie Claire, she knew that sex sells. “I had to learn here in America, it’s all about hair,” said Bailey.
Regarding sustainability, a key topic at the conference, Bailey said fashion is the number-two industry when it comes to pollution. She asked Vevers about Coach’s attitude.
“Coach is a big company. It makes a high-end product. And we do care. I work in a senior position, and I really care, and it’s really important to me. I think the next generation is starting to demand that you are transparent. The next generation makes choices, and if they stop buying from certain companies, it will have a big impact.”
Bailey asked him about Coach’s decision to be fur-free.
“If I’m honest, I never used fur in any of my collections at Coach,” he said. For two days, Coach has brought in about 200 suppliers from Italy, France, China and Vietnam to New York to present new ideas around the field of sustainability. He said every single supplier came with ideas, such as making materials biodegradable to using less water and chemicals. Some of these things will cost a little bit more money. “The younger designers I’m working with are talking about it [sustainability] all the time. We’re constantly looking where we can improve,” he said.
He said the company also stopped buying leather from Brazil based on deforestation. Half its leathers come from Europe and half come from Asia.