Every week, we shine a spotlight on the best small brands we think are worth shouting about. We love our great British high street, but there are so many fantastic independent brands out there making clothes, accessories, homeware and more from a place of passion and love and we need to support them – now more than ever.
From fashion and beauty to homeware, accessories and food, we bring you the best small businesses you need on your radar. This week, we chat with Monika Young, founder of ‘Cali cool’ London-based fashion brand, Monika the Label.
How did Monika the Label come about?
Starting a brand has always been something I wanted to do but thought it would be much further down the line. Previous to Monika the Label, I worked in fast fashion buying in Berlin and saw first hand the negative impact the industry has on the planet – and I didn’t want to be part of the problem any longer. I also noticed a gap in the market for a European label that produced Seventies/old school California inspired dresses. I often resorted to buying internationally which usually came with nasty customs charges. So, I decided to move back home and create my own fashion line made ethically and locally at our small studio factory in North London. I also made it a priority to use eco-friendly fabrics and trims such as recycled satin made from plastic bottles saved from our oceans and landfills.
Working up to the launch last year, 2020 was the year of the unexpected to say the least. The pandemic hit just as I was about to go into production and everything came to a grinding halt. I was gutted and trying to set up a business during such a strange and uncertain time was unnerving. It took some time to get used to but in the end I discovered a silver lining – at the very start of lockdown I was able to take a step back and re-evaluate the label and the direction I wanted to go in. Now, I like to think if I can launch a business during lockdown, I can do anything right?
What three words describe Monika the Label?
Sustainable cowgirl chic!
Who is the Monika the Label customer?
Fun, spontaneous and not afraid to experiment with their style. They possibly don’t shop too often and instead invest in key pieces to inject flair into their wardrobe. Finally, they are eco-conscious with a strong desire to make a change.
Where do you find inspiration?
I like to say Monika the Label is a love affair between Cali cool and London grunge. Inspired by all the best parts of the ’70s and the badass women of rock and roll, I design sustainable clothes for wild-hearted people who want to make a change and feel pretty damn cool when they do it. The label is also strongly influenced by vintage fashion and silhouettes, which I’ve updated with a modern twist. Even down to the prints, which I hand-drew myself, a lot of them derive from my obsession with the seventies – the Camille dress for example was inspired by a vintage scarf I found at a Berlin flea market last year.
Our pieces are predominantly named after powerful, female music icons that have inspired me over the years: from the Haim sisters and Stevie Nicks to Patti Smith and Florence Welch. What was once a male-dominated corner of music, these women are really proving the world or rock belong to them. As well as their incredible musical talents, they have also provided me with an insane amount of fashion inspiration. My style is an amalgamation of all of them – in turn, my latest collection is an extension of my own personal style; it was fun to basically design and see my dream wardrobe come to life.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I love how no two days are the same, but my mornings are pretty consistent. I wake up around 6am – I like to read in bed first thing to get some initial inspiration for the day, then I’ll try to squeeze in a yoga session before I get ready.
I’ll always have admin and emails that I sort out first thing daily with a coffee. I then check for any new orders that have come in and get those wrapped and posted out. After this, the rest of my day will vary – at the moment they usually consist of calls, designing the next collections, organising upcoming photoshoots and planning the brand’s digital marketing and social media content. I sneak out on my lunch breaks to the local vintage shops every so often.
What’s the best thing about running your own business? And the most challenging?
The best thing is the ability to carry out my childhood dream of owning my own fashion brand – without sounding too corny! I absolutely adore creating my dream wardrobe that is also enjoyed by people across the world and being a part of the slow and sustainable fashion industry. I feel so proud to be part of a movement working towards a better fashion future.
Something I’m still finding my feet with is having to wear many, many hats (and I’m not talking fedoras!) – from design, merchandising, marketing, social media, admin, packing and distribution, the list goes on. I also struggle sometimes to find a good work-life balance, as it’s easy to feel like you should be working on your business at every second of the day. But I’m definitely working on this and am much better than I used to be! It’s good to remember rest and seeing friends is just as important.
The most memorable moment so far?
In June I partnered up with Lone Design Club and took part in their pop-up shop on Oxford Street. To see my designs on sale on London’s most iconic shopping street within my first year of the business was mind-blowing to say the least. It was an incredible experience meeting customers in real life for the first time, most of whom specifically came into the store to meet me after following my journey online during lockdown. Another moment I have to mention is seeing Izzy Bee Phillips of the band Black Honey wear my Flo Milkmaid Midi Dress on stage at Latitude festival this year – that was amazing!
Which piece is your current favourite?
We’re primarily a dress brand, but I experimented with a matching floral co-ord set – consisting of a waistcoat and flared trousers – this year which I absolutely adore. To me it’s the ultimate stage outfit if I was ever in a band and I feel like a total badass when wearing it. It’s also been a big hit with customers and I’m excited to bring it back this autumn in a new colourway if all goes to plan.
Anything exciting planned for the rest of this year?
We have another London pop-up planned for September, but our next big goal at MTL is to go beyond being a slow fashion brand and develop a circular business model. Last year, our first step was to offer our garments on rental platform By Rotation and this summer we also launched with Rotaro at their Carnaby Street pop-up.
At the end of this summer we will be launching our own take-back scheme, encouraging consumers to send back their unwanted MTL garments to us in exchange for a discount voucher towards future MTL purchases. We’ll up-cycle (and mend if needed) the returned garments and resell them as an Archive Collection. We’re also in the process of forming a partnership with Oxfam so garments that are beyond a reselling state will be donated to the Oxfam recycling scheme.
I want to work with more charities to give back to the community. Last year, profits from our face masks were donated to two charities – Healthcare Workers’ Foundation and YoungMinds. This year, profits made from selling our GuppyFriend wash bags will be donated to STOP! Micro Waste, an organisation that aims to educate about plastic pollution and clean beaches from plastic waste.
I’m so excited to see the brand grow and I would love to have my own shop one day.