The Array: Design By Research To Empower Working Women

Model wears a light grey waistcoat and wide-legged trousers by The Array with a long chocolate-brown sleeveless jacket
The Array’s ‘design by research’ approach seeks to empower working women

Just over a year ago Yvonne Lim and Shaonan Xu were ready to launch their debut collection with their new brand, The Array. An exhibition was planned where guests would come face to face with Collection, a line of workwear based on extensive research and interviews with working women to understand their needs and their lifestyles.  

Then the UK announced a national lockdown. Not only was The Array’s physical exhibition cancelled, but the lifestyle of its audience, which had so heavily informed the brand, was transformed. 

“This pandemic has been by far our biggest challenge,” Yvonne explains. “We had to re-think and re-design the whole collection given how much work culture has now changed.” 

‘Design by research’ has been the bedrock of The Array since Yvonne and Shaonan met on the MA Fashion programme at the Royal College of Art. 

Yvonne’s research focused on exploring a modern image of power and femininity, as well as how fashion could genuinely help to empower women in their daily lives. As the duo found common ground in their passion for tailoring and luxury natural fabrics, their attention turned to developing a workwear concept together.

“We often found our aesthetics really aligned,” says Shaonan.

“Now with The Array we have a very pragmatic approach, considering how every aspect of our collection works for the contemporary woman who is busy juggling work, life and family. We believe empowering design means clothing as beautiful as it is functional.”

A few months after graduation Yvonne and Shaonan embarked on the Creative Brand Accelerator programme run by InnovationRCA, and the pair have been developing The Array ever since.

Model wears a black dress, jacket and trousers by The Array
The Array had to re-think their entire workwear collection

Natural materials and sustainable practices are integral to the brand. Sourcing materials from the UK and Italy as well as Shaonan’s hometown of Hangzhou, China, Yvonne and Shaonan prioritise natural fabrics with performance characteristics that make each garment wearable and practical. one of their trench coats is made with water-resistant cotton, while they have sourced wrinkle-resistant cotton shirtings. 

Model wears a pale green trench coat with white double breasted buttons by The Array
A trench coat by The Array using wool from Yorkshire mill AW Hainsworth

Wool is another crucial performance material with a luxurious touch, making it a perfect choice for a range of pieces. Last year, The Array used navy lambswool from Yorkshire mill Joshua Ellis to produce a beautiful new take on a classic denim jacket as part of a Future Fashion Factory collaboration to mark Campaign for Wool’s 2020 Wool Week. 

“We want our materials to be comfortable, luxurious, functional and also kind to the environment,” Shaonan explains, “and though we may not be perfect, we try our best to be sustainable with every design and production process. 

“In the studio, our toiles are re-cut to repurpose the calico to create new toiles. We re-use pattern paper, plastic and shipping packaging when we can and we don’t use plastic packaging for our orders – instead use garment bags we make in the studio with fabric off-cuts or leftover materials.”

With a slightly different approach to ‘design by research’, the duo’s next project will focus on creating customised pieces for a select group of “muses”, prioritising their individual preferences as part of a more personal approach. But for now, they are busy with their first pre-orders after finally launching the brand alongside London Fashion Week last month. The stage is set to keep growing steadily and sustainably. 

“It was surreal seeing our profile on the London Fashion Week website!” Yvonne says. “Our brand was such a long time in the making because of the pandemic, and seeing The Array up there really cemented the fact that we have actually launched.”