Frances Sparkes, the streetwear brand sparking international interest
Frances Sparkes' first collection called Urban Favela beautifully showcases the excitement of Brazil. From the architectural depiction of the favelas to the colourful bomber jackets inspired by graffiti art, Sparkes' collection captures the vibrancy of a country, which is often overshadowed by its economic and political turmoils. Her collection has also gained international interest and is already being sold in concept stores in Sweden. In addition, although Frances has faced health-related setbacks, her entrepreneurial perseverance has not stopped her from pursuing her own brand at only 26, "I just have to carry on life as normal, that's my motto". This fearless designer won't let anything get in her way and we are very excited to share her story with you.
Who is a typical Frances Sparkes customer?
I believe that for the moment, women are the main consumers of Frances Sparkes, however I hope that in the future it will also be accessible for men.
How would you describe your collections so far?
With regards to the 2017 ready-to-wear collection, it was based upon my graduate capsule collection. Indeed, my graduate work was inspired by Brazil: the city, the art and the architecture. I knew that when I launched Frances Sparkes, I would take that inspiration from my graduate collection further to design a collection which encapsulated the works of Findac and Angelina Christina. It was important to me that both an artistic perspective combined with Brazil’s effervescent atmosphere, so clearly portrayed in their staggered architecture was conveyed through my garments.
Why did you choose to be inspired by Brazil?
Brazil had inspired so much of my work during my university years, I needed to transfer that inspiration into wearable garments. However, often within catwalk collections, one will find that many pieces from the collection are not wearable. This is because one is often trying to create a versatile interchangeable set of designs, which not only conveys one’s ideals as a designer, but also for the inspiration to form a life of its’ own, which to me was the most important feature. I believe that I stand on a unique selling point whereby all the prints are hand-made, designed around the favela architecture which are thereafter transferred onto the fabric to create these individual nonpareil garments that some could deem a bit out there. The main point of focus in the designs remains the brightness of the colours in contrast to the black and white motifs, creating this contemporary and unique vision, which is essential to them being staple pieces.
Everyday one is subjected to seeing, buying and wearing basic clothes, being able to convert these into one-of-a-kind garments by incorporating unusual prints with beautiful fabrics, really allows for distinctive and individual pieces in your wardrobe. Nowadays, the quality of the garments is of utter-most importance, for example the fabric one sources must be the best fabric. Honestly, I don’t want to sell crap. If I am going to make unrepeatable garments which take a lot of time and creativity to come into life, I need them to portray my personality as a designer. I feel that the peculiarity and beauty within the garments, is that they can be seen as wearable art. Designers such as Moschino which I have always loved, definitely influenced me to transcend that aspect of wearable art within my designs.
Have you been to Brazil?
No, actually I have never been! I decided to use Brazil as a source of inspiration when I had my final collection due. The instructions were that it had to be a full reign eight piece outfit collection. I wanted to base my designs on a country and to explore its culture, sort of like an anthropological piece. When I looked into Brazil’s culture, I explored all this amazing street art, and I fell in love. I had previously always associated Brazil with a sense of negativity: a country with underlying poverty, filled with drugs and shanty towns. When I saw this beautiful art and architecture, I realised I was able to take this negative perspective and change it into a positive one.
Will the Brazilian theme be incorporated into your future collections as well?
For the next collections, there will be no Brazilian influence as I would like each collection to hold an element of surprise and be completely unexpected and new. I am currently going through treatment, which will be done by Christmas time and, therefore, I have had to delay the collection which I had planned for Autumn. I am really looking forward to starting up again after the treatments are done, and launching the autumn collection which is already designed.
You talk about how important your consumer is to you, how do you interact with them?
I have a YouTube channel, I think it's really important for people to know the designer behind the brand. I believe that it is really important for the customer to be able to connect with the designers. It's nice to be more connected in today's world.
What is your favourite piece of your collection and why?
I love co-ordinating and I believe that becomes obvious throughout my collection with the different layering in prints, as well as the fabric combinations and colour tones. Statement wise, I adore the bomber jackets (seen below).
Are you selling internationally?
I was very lucky to be contacted by Marie Lind and so started selling internationally with stores in Sweden that sell high-end designer brands. She saw a gap in the market to sell designers of emerging talent, and therefore after seeing me on NJAL, she offered to stock my collection. It is really exciting that I will be in the store in 3 months, the company is called Awesome Rags and the concept store is called Black Box.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to start up their own label?
Whilst at university I designed some pieces to be made in Japan and I got ripped off. So I would highly recommend to do some research into international trade, especially if you are paying someone for a service. Make sure you know the people you are dealing with because otherwise you can get ripped off or get taken advantage of. When you are introduced into the cut world throat of fashion, make sure to do your research and do not say yes right away, be sure to see what everything entails!
Also, do not be too focused on making money straight away. I would highly recommend finding yourself, finding who you are as a designer, what you want to bring to the world and what you want out of this business. Some people just want the money. But honestly, you cannot think like that, I only see myself making a profit in three to five years time. One has to stay realistic, the turnover won’t happen over night. The fashion industry is tough and it requires a lot of hard work, you have to maintain focus and not be disheartened if you don't acquire things immediately, consistency and patience is key. That was one of the reasons behind my YouTube videos, to share the good and the bad.
What was the most difficult part of setting up your own label?
I would say, the finance. The more money you have, the more you can order, the cheaper the fabric. When you have a designed fabric digitally printed it is so expensive. You're looking at thirty to forty pounds just for the fabric. In order to make the process of digital print feasible your aim is to buy bulks of fabric, however you do run the risk of not selling it all. The best analogy is one of a double-edged sword. My boyfriend’s parents own a cheese factory and I used to work there during the day and at night I would work on my fashion label. It was hard work, but I was committed to my label.
Does it all come down to money?
Unfortunately, it does come down to money and that is the reason I make all the pieces myself so that I do not have to charge for the materials. From the initial sketch, to the pattern design and the making of the garments, I handle it all. If I were to get bigger, I would not want to lose that. I would love to be successful, but I do not want to lose the purpose. In my first year of launching I made a loss of ten thousand pounds, but that’s okay. There is always a chance that younger designers like me won’t make it, and I always wonder where or what could have happened. Yet, I always knew I never wanted to work for someone, because deep down I want to make the decisions. So right now I am focusing on my health and getting better, and then I will carry on with the launch of Frances Sparkes.
What are the next steps for Frances Sparkes?
I would love to own a physical store, or stores. It would be a dream to have a store in a brilliant location with my name on a building. It would be an incredible experience to be recognised globally, and when I say global recognition, I do not mean mass production, or losing my identity. I would like global recognition for people to know my brand and what it represents. For example, when I package my garments, it will always come with a thank you note and information on the garments as to how to care for them. I believe that all these little touches make such a difference.