Sonya Bachra-Byrne has worked in the fashion industry for two decades. As a designer for some of the world’s biggest and best-known brands she has worked in New York, Barcelona, Denmark, Italy and Australia, but always felt the influence of her home in the UK.
“Wherever I worked I was always being sent to London to get the latest trends – the industry here has a truly global influence,” says Sonya.
“Some of the best creativity and the finest brands in the world are in the UK. I knew I wanted to come home to start my own brand.”
Working from their home near Leeds, Sonya and her husband Liam launched AVIE in 2019 as a luxury slow fashion womenswear label using sustainably sourced materials. Since then they’ve been met with early success, showcasing their collections at Paris Fashion Week and becoming Emerging Brand of the Year at the Drapers Independent Awards last year.
Buyers in Italy and France had started to line up before lockdown, though Sonya had already noticed a change in the atmosphere at trade shows as the pandemic took hold.
“Footfall and sales were lower than usual at Paris in February, and far fewer people were stopping to browse the showroom,” she explains. “Even with the support of UKFT, trade shows are a big investment for smaller brands and it was proving difficult to draw buyers in.”
AVIE had managed to sell all its existing stock before the start of lockdown, leaving Sonya with a clean slate to design the next collection at home but with an uncertain outlook for the future. It was during this time that she was contacted via Linkedin about a new scheme from Sky, the AdSmart SME250 Support Fund, offering SMEs a 30-second free TV advertising campaign.
“Fashion is so often overlooked, so we didn’t think we had much of a chance,” Sonya says, “But we were successful and suddenly everything was happening really fast!”
Sky AdSmart SME250 allows TV advertising to be targeted to specific audiences, meaning households watching the same channel will see different ads depending on their interests, location and other factors. AVIE’s ad will run in a selection of postcodes during July, providing Sonya and Liam with the opportunity to reach a whole new audience.
“We focused on communicating our brand and the importance of Luxury Slow Fashion, building awareness in this period between seasons,” Sonya explains.
“We were put in touch with a mentor as part of the process who has been really helpful and supportive. They gave us a couple of tips, and now it’s been approved and cleared for broadcasting.”
Sonya and Liam made the decision to produce the advert themselves, relying on Liam’s professional background in photography and film production utilising his creative agency Liam Nathan Studio. It was a fantastic challenge with a tight turnaround time, but the pair felt they were the best people to represent their own brand and aesthetic.
“We’re used to doing things ourselves,” adds Sonya.
“We learnt to build our own website too, so we could make sure we got the vibe and the aesthetic right – especially as we want our Yorkshire-based brand to compete with the big London names. Why not learn the skills too?”
“It was nice for Liam to get back to his passion, which was film production before I took up all his time with this business!”
Now the ad is finished Sonya is focused on preparing a new collection for Paris Fashion Week in September, focusing on a smaller number of standout pieces at a time when the fashion industry is contemplating its future.
In May the British Fashion Council and Council of Fashion Designers of America published a joint manifesto calling for the sector to “slow down”.
Among its recommendations were calls for brands to focus on two main collections a year in one of the fashion capitals and to prioritise sustainability in design and manufacturing.
“The fashion councils’ statement talked about shortening the lead times on getting collections into stores – actually having your Spring/Summer collection in spring – and ending the cycle of discounting,” Sonya says.
“It will be interesting to see how things change post-Covid. Will more people ‘buy once, buy well’? Or how challenging will retail become, without access to changing rooms and with restrictions on handling returned stock?
“We do have an opportunity to slow the fashion industry down, and with our conscious approach we want AVIE to be at the forefront.”