LONDON — As the British label Sibling prepares to wind down operations, an atmosphere of uncertainty is hanging like a dark cloud over the British capital’s young labels.
Cozette McCreery, a cofounder of Sibling, confirmed in an interview over the weekend that nine years after its launch, the label is going into voluntary liquidation.
McCreery, the label’s co-creative director alongside Sid Bryan, said the decision came after the two saw a number of planned projects fall through unexpectedly.
“The question we then asked ourselves — and this was only two or maybe three weeks ago — was: ‘Do we see this as an opportunity to take a step back or do we continue to fight on?’ We approached the BFC [British Fashion Council], our mentors and licensees, all of whom made encouraging noises for the future and who have been great, I’d like to add.”
She said she and Bryan took financial advice from people who were less emotionally involved in the brand and were told the most respectful and sensible way forward was to go into voluntary liquidation rather than find themselves at an “unmanageable level of debt or borrowing and out of control.”
Sibling’s decision to shutter was met with an outpouring of support from models, editors and consumers over social media. The founders’ decision also highlights the multiplicity of challenges that small creative businesses in the British capital are forced to face, ones that keep businesses on a knife edge.
McCreery pointed to the chasm between the increase in costs and the need to maintain competitive prices, and said it’s been eating into margins.
“In the U.K. we are now by law having to set up pension schemes if you employ more than three people, while tax on the self-employed has increased, affecting freelancers and businesses in east London are looking at a potential 300 percent rate increase.”
“Everyone is being hit and who’s going to cover those costs? The consumer? Doubtful when we’ve all become so discount- and Internet-search savvy. I hate to say it, but I don’t think that we will be the first brand to take this step over the next year. Our government seems hell-bent in killing off businesses and jobs. Where’s the support? I can’t wait for the revolution,” added McCreery, who is still managing to maintain the optimistic spirit that defined Sibling, joking that starting a revolution is in her future plans.
The aftermath of the European Union’s referendum in Britain last year and the dramatic drop in the value of the pound have also presented an additional set of issues for the label. She said buyers are now more wary of placing orders.
“There was a perhaps naïve notion that the crash in value of the pound would lead to an increase in sales. Well, yes, but it also caused our Asian buyers to be very wary and hit our already narrow bottom line, as any factory we paid in dollars or euros was now more expensive. How are you supposed to grow your business without profit?” said McCreery, who has always been outspoken about her wish for the U.K. to remain in the EU. In June, during the London men’s showcase, she took her bow in a T-shirt printed with the word “In” at the label’s show.
The London-based label, known for its colorful knitwear and exuberant spirit, combined its men’s and women’s runway shows last year in an effort to manage the “disjointed men’s wear and women’s wear calendars for emerging brands that are active in both markets.”
McCreery said the new format made the production process easier and gave the team some more breathing space.
“Coed was the right thing to do, it afforded us a lot of freedom and it also, importantly, cut costs in sampling and shows. Shows cost a fortune and presentations are often just as expensive,” said McCreery, pointing to the challenges designers face to find a viable format of presenting their collections.
McCreery said when starting out small, designers shouldn’t have to do runway shows if it doesn’t suit them at the time. “Things have got to change.…We are all being bombarded with so much fashion information, there’s a fashion show somewhere every bloody day. Maybe it’s time to take a breather and be more aware of what we are offering.”
The loss of the label’s third cofounder, Joe Bates, who died of cancer in August 2015, was another blow McCreery and Bryan had to bare.
Even though it’s a small business, Sibling worked with influential retailers such as Dover Street Market, Machine A and H. Lorenzo and had a dedicated fan base that included Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Pharrell Williams and Rita Ora.
It had also embarked on a series of collaborations with British high-street retailer River Island and Scottish luxury cashmere label Brora.
When it comes to her and Bryan’s future plans, McCreery said nothing is yet set.
“Part of me wishes that I could tell you that Sid is heading off to be creative director or knitwear director somewhere and me somewhere else, but I can’t. We still have much to give and perhaps Sid and I can take our experiences and put ourselves forward for new challenges. Working for someone else would be amazing for either of us, why not?” added McCreery.
“I keep getting told that I should write a book about my life as it’s been quite charmed: I sat for Lucian Freud, did club doors and I DJ for instance. I’d love to say that I’m taking time off, but financially I can’t and also because I have always been a workaholic, I need a job.”
McCreery is not alone in her concerns. A number of up-and-coming designers have begun to voice concerns about the increasingly fast-paced fashion schedule and the difficulties they have been facing in keeping with retailers’ delivery demands and production costs.
In an effort to create more viable business models, some have sought to reshape their presentation formats and address the consumer directly by selling on their own Web sites, while others decided to take a step back from the industry.
Holly Fulton quietly exited the official London Fashion Week calendar to go on a hiatus.
Fulton, whose label is best known for its graphic prints and feminine silhouettes, said she wanted to focus on “collaborative projects” and take a break from the catwalk. In November, she was also named as an ambassador for the organization Graduate Fashion Week and will take on teaching duties with some of the students involved in the initiative.
The last collection she showed was resort 2017, which also marked the first time she produced a pre-collection.
Similarly Thomas Tait, the winner of the first LVMH Prize, has also been absent from the fashion calendar for the last two seasons. In 2015, Tait announced that he would be quitting the catwalk in favor of one-on-one appointments held with press and buyers in Paris, to allow himself space to build his brand on his own terms.
However, after presenting his fall 2016 collection of beautifully crafted, monochrome pieces in an intimate Parisian gallery, Tait did not return to the French capital for another presentation. He is now thinking of the possibilities of coming back to fashion without having to commit to the traditional schedule or to the catwalk format.
“I just think it might be better for me to do something a bit unexpected; I don’t know what that is yet, we’ll see,” he told WWD during a party he hosted with Luca Nascimento at a London pub in October.