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Behind the brand: The sisters passionate about affordable sustainability

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Sketch London is an online fashion platform created by Shazia Saleem and her sister Menissa. Sketch is based between London, Edinburgh and Delhi and has sustainability at its heart, mixing together a love of luxury with ethical fashion.

Shazia (left) and Menissa, the founders of Sketch London / Image courtesy of Shazia Saleem

 

The Sketch story:

Shazia takes us through the story behind Sketch: “We have a premium bespoke fashion and interiors brand that specialises in luxury hand-woven heritage textiles. We have always worked ethically and sustainably with really talented craftspeople, however, this brand was unaffordable for most people. Sketch was founded as our diffusion brand staying true to our values but much more affordable.”

 

So what is the meaning behind the name? Shazia explains why they chose ‘Sketch’: “Sketch is the first step all creatives take when working on an idea. Whether you are an architect, musician or entrepreneur, you’ll always reach for a pen or pencil and sketch out your idea. Sketch is about staying creative with fresh ideas. London is our main source of inspiration as we are based here; it is such a wonderful cosmopolitan city so we wanted to reference it.”

Growing up without a shared interest of fashion:

The sisters didn’t always share an interest of fashion from an early age, in fact, it was quite the opposite: “My sister and I were opposites as children, I was a real girly girl and she was a tomboy. I have always been interested in fashion and like many fashion designers, my first victims were dolls. My sister was a skateboarder and footballer.  Although my sister and I grew up to have similar tastes we do wear Sketch with our own personality quirks.”

One of Shazia's top picks from the site is this top. Available to shop on Sketch London //  Image courtesy of Sketch London

Inspired by travel:

Shazia’s love of fashion took her to Florence, Italy, where she studied at the prestigious fashion school Polimoda. 

 

Living in Florence was a huge inspiration for Shazia: “What I loved about Florence was the arts and crafts of the city; you can walk past workshops, (and) sit and learn from artist creators as they work. Milan is the Fashion capital of Italy but the biggest Italian fashion houses were founded in Florence. Art and literary heritage are everywhere. It’s never too late to go back to school, I had a post-graduate degree in another subject and had a good job before I left and signed up to fashion school as a mature student.”

 

She then started to work for British fashion designer Betty Jackson, whom she cites as one of her biggest industry influences: “She was very inspirational, and she created a really lovely environment to work in.”

 

A passion for sustainability:

Sustainability is a huge part of Sketch London, and Shazia explains why she and Menissa chose to go down this route: “A lecturer I got on with particularly well was the first person to draw my attention to the detrimental effects in the fashion industry both towards people and the environment. I decided then that positive ethics and sustainability would be cornerstones if I ever started a fashion business. My sister agreed and so we made this aspect non-negotiable.”

 

This passion for sustainability runs through the very ethos of the brand: “Sketch is for women looking for fun, feminine and quality designer-led affordable fashion that has been produced ethically and sustainably.”

 

A big part of making sure the products they sell remain sustainable is down the details: “The designs, cuts, prints and finish are high end but at high street prices. It was important to us that none of our designs need to be dry cleaned as that can add to the cost of owning a piece of clothing and also dry cleaning chemicals can be harmful to the environment.”

Another of Shazia's top picks from the site is this top. Available to shop on Sketch London // Image courtesy of Sketch London

Female empowerment:

 

For the sisters, another huge part of their business was female empowerment. As two women running their own business, they wanted to make sure that their brand supported women in every aspect of what they do.

 

Shazia explains: “Female empowerment is crucial to who we are and what we do. We describe ourselves as feminists, it is important to be conscious of equality and empowerment. It wasn’t so many generations ago that women were not allowed to have their own bank accounts or telephones, which sounds crazy, but there are countries around the world going retrograde regarding women’s rights.”

 

She continues: “Sketch is a female-owned and led business and we express empowerment through example and without thinking as it feels like second nature. There is no correct way to be a feminist or empowered; (but) own your decisions and choices.

 

“Our collections are fun and sexy but confident.  We are women who work and live independently. I supervise our manufacturing in India as we are very hands-on to ensure positive working conditions. I come up against many challenges in India as I travel and drive myself around Delhi alone. I learn new things every time, serious and fun - for example, did you know rum and Coke is a man’s drink? Neither did I.” 

 

Words of wisdom:

From her time studying in Italy to her experience setting up Sketch, Shazia has learnt valuable things about life. She advises people who want to get into the industry to maybe spend some time in other countries. “Consider studying or living abroad for some time; you’ll always have your native fingerprint running through your work but you may discover  a different perspective.”

 

So does she have any last words of wisdom for anyone hoping to follow in her footsteps and set up their own fashion business? “Working in a commercial fashion environment was a crucial stepping stone before starting my own business. That is where you will learn about the business side of fashion. 

“You don’t have to have a fashion degree to work in a fashion company. If there is a brand you admire they may have openings in your area of interest such as programming or management. Menissa, my sister and business partner, is a commercial litigation solicitor and her expertise has been crucial for Sketch…it is hard work but worth it!

 

Lead image courtesy of Shazia Saleem / Sketch London

To read more pieces from our 'Behind the brand' series, visit this link.

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