It’s been a while – almost exactly a year in fact – since fashion really and truly made anybody feel good.
Given the burden and emotional toll of the pandemic, dressing up has struggled to fight its way to the top of our collective priority lists, and so many of us have resigned ourselves to swaddling sweats and tired tracksuits. But for fashion designer Camilla Stolerman, who founded her namesake brand in 2018, feel-good fashion is her raison d’être.
After cutting her teeth at Gareth Pugh and Aquascutum, the fashion design graduate became inspired to carve out her own space in the industry after noticing how “soulless” it was becoming.
The result is Camilla Bloom, her kaleidoscopic knitwear label, which focusses on “slowing down to give greater value to knitwear and design.” Pieces are genderless and made and designed to last a lifetime. “Well-designed clothing can be completely transform how you feel, it can give you confidence and offer escapism too,” Stolerman tells the Standard.
Ahead of her upcoming summer-ready collection launch, we caught up with Stolerman to find out how her independent brand has fared during the pandemic and her hopes for the future.
When did you start making clothes? And why?
I’ve always been fascinated by clothing, accessories and their transformative powers. Even as a small child I would steal my maternal Grandmother’s stilettos and shuffle around her flat in them. I have really early memories of handling cloth and drawing. My paternal Grandfather had a clothing brand with his two brothers, and each season he would save me a box of fabric swatches. I remember lots of 90’s devoré style cloth, which I would hand-stitch and quilt. I started making clothes at secondary school and then at Art School. I’m really passionate about enhancing people’s moods and making them feel good.
When did you establish your brand?
I started developing Camilla Bloom in 2018 and I spent a year working on the first collection, testing different knitting techniques and editing. My first collection hit shop floors in December 2019 just before Covid-19!
I felt the fashion industry wasn’t going in a good direction… I had lots of friends who were unhappy in their design jobs, burnt out, designing bigger and bigger collections with a huge number of styles being dropped. It felt wasteful and soulless, I wanted to break away and set a different, slower pace. I wanted to get back to the basics of honouring craftsmanship and not just designing for the sake of filling a gap in a collection.
What was the gap that you felt was missing in the market?
Exploring knitwear in a less traditional way. My lightbulb moment happened during a really bad post-Christmas party hangover – I had another party to go to that evening and I wanted to be teleported in my tracksuit! At that moment, I wished I had a stretchy knitted suit that looked smart but was really comfortable. That’s when I designed the Paradise Knitted Suit from the first collection.
Who do you have in mind when you’re designing?
The Camilla Bloom customer is far reaching! It’s been really interesting to see such a varied range buying into the brand. The common thread is wanting to look sharp but not at the expense of comfort, someone who loves the tactile element of clothing and appreciates craft.
I have a few hand-me-downs that I really treasure and I love the idea that a mother might buy a Camilla Bloom piece that her daughter would borrow from time-to-time, and eventually would end up being hers.
How have you coped during the pandemic?
March was quite scary, there was so much unknown… Huge changes and big shake-ups in the fashion industry too. Initially I became quite introspective and reflective but daily rituals and routines helped keep me balanced. I’m not great with Zoom or phone calls, so I’ve been a real hermit and have enjoyed the peace and lack of social pressure!
I’ve missed music and dancing a lot though. Our poor neighbours opposite get weekly dance shows which they did not ask for!
Has it impacted the kind of pieces you design?
The pieces I’m designing now are even more technical and intricate, because I’ve had more time to nurture each design idea. I’m definitely leaning in more towards hybrid dressing, where clothing can be multi-functional and across genders too. More than ever, I feel motivated to design pieces with purpose and that make the wearer feel amazing.
Have you felt more support from your community as people endeavour to shop more with independent businesses?
Completely! It’s been a really difficult time for people – however the community support and the shift towards buying from independent brands has been incredible to see. Not just from consumers but also the support from other small businesses. I’ve connected with various emerging brands over the last year and there’s a strong sense of camaraderie and encouragement.
Several independent fashion brands have found that their original designs have been copied by fast fashion retailers in recent years – what do you feel the industry should do to tackle it?
It’s incredibly frustrating when a small brand invests a huge amount of time and money perfecting an idea, just for a bigger brand to churn out a cheaper version. I think the rules need to be tightened on what is ’passable’ – at the moment there’s only a few design details that need to be different – and this is where the problem lies. It’s too easy for bigger brands to rip off other designers work. Small brands don’t typically have the budget to take on a legal case, so they get away with it…
What does the rest of 2021 look like for you?
I’m really excited to show the next collection in June! Cooking up some really interesting knitwear that I can’t wait to share. There will be a few summer drops to look out for too – which will be exclusive to the Camilla Bloom website. Fun easy summer pieces to lighten the mood!