Flame-haired, Tasmania-born south east Londoner Bronwyn Lowenthal is the designer behind Lowie – an ethical fashion brand famous for hand-knitted winter wear and vintage-inspired tea dresses…
Words: Madeleine Howell
Lowenthal divides her time between a studio in Brixton and her boutique on Dulwich Road in Herne Hill, as well as travelling further afield to garner inspiration for her collections that draw from a host of different influences.
Having dreamed of working in fashion since she was a teenager, Lowenthal tells me that as well as crafting, she was always creative in an entrepreneurial sense – setting up market stalls at the age of 12, and selling handmade fabric flowers to a local shop. These days, her creations are worn by celebrities like Liberty Ross, Lily Cole and Fearne Cotton.
It’s three and a half years since she first opened up shop and, when we meet, she’s excited to announce the launch of her autumn/winter 2016 collection. The designs are inspired in part by the island of St Kilda, an isolated archipelago on the outskirts of the Hebrides.
‘I got a little bit obsessed,’ she admits. ‘I was reading books about how a community lived there for 2,000 years, but the more contact they had with the Scottish mainland the less able they were to look after themselves, and how they eventually they had to be evacuated in the 30s. We tried to emulate a windswept, coastal feel, but there’s also a few 70s influences alongside that with the maxi jackets, paisleys and bomber jackets.’
We tried to emulate a windswept, coastal feel, but there’s also a few 70s influences alongside that with the maxi jackets, paisleys and bomber jackets
Lowenthal’s designs certainly brighten up the shop. ‘I absolutely love colour,’ she tells me cheerfully. ‘We’ve banned brown from the palette. For this collection, we’ve honed in on the colours from the paisley print, including a deep red, a baby pink, a cobalt blue and striking greens.’
Lowenthal sticks to natural fibres that sit softly on the skin, and always opts for 100% organic cotton and recycled cotton yarns. Cashmere, lambswool, mohair and merino wool are all sourced from ethical suppliers, while her leather belts from Izmir in Turkey are free from harmful chemicals. Her knit and crochet items are made by seaside villagers working from home and preserving their traditions in Eastern China.
She applies this philosophy to every aspect of her business. ‘It’s really important to me. Where I grew up in Australia, there was a strong environmental movement,’ she explains, referring to the controversial Franklin Dam project – which, as a result of protests, was never constructed.
‘In the 80s, they were going to dam the Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness. My parents were involved, so it was embedded in me from an early age to care about the environment and to protect our world. I try to make sure that everything I do is sustainable and caring, for both people and for the planet.’ As her website proudly proclaims, in an industry that often profits from exploitation, Lowie aims to be different.
We also do hand-embroidery and hand-finishing. We might only make one or two of a particular item. People appreciate getting something a little bit different
Unusually, Lowenthal lives, works and designs locally, so if she has an idea, she can create it herself and see it in the shop very quickly. The prints are designed in-house, and each garment is lovingly handmade. As a result, you can pick up new items in the boutique almost daily. ‘We also do hand-embroidery and hand-finishing,’ she adds. ‘We might only make one or two of a particular item. People appreciate getting something a little bit different. We see familiar faces as well as people popping down to the area on a day out at the weekend, combined with a trip to the market, a swim at Brockwell Lido or a walk in the park.’
Next up, Lowenthal is off to the east coast of Italy to pick up a few ideas for her spring/summer 2017 collection: ‘I try and go to at least one new country every year, or at least to a new place.’ What drew her to south London? ‘I absolutely adore Brockwell Park – because I’m Australian, it reminds me of home to have a café by the pool.’
Find out more at ilovelowie.com