Lily Branfield: Designing Ethical Underwear For The Unafraid
Last week we published a great conversation about ethical fashion with Stylist and Founder of Tommie Mag, Natalie Shehata. This week we're continuing that conversation in an interview with Lily Branfield. Lily is passionate about ethical and sustainable luxury fashion for un-retouched women, leading her to start her own fashion label, Stratum. This is what drew me to Lily. Founding Stratum with those values, and company transparency, in mind, Lily has designed a revolutionary line of luxury underwear, rejecting the term entirely in the process. Read on to see what I mean and to view exclusive photos from Stratum's debut campaign.
Sarah Sickles for Pink Things: Who are you and what do you do?
Lily Branfield, Founder of Stratum London: My name is Lily Branfield and I’m an underwear designer. I graduated from London College of Fashion in 2015 with a BA in Fashion Contour. Now I live in London with my fiancée and a Wirehaired Vizsla named Charlie. I have recently launched Stratum from a small studio in Chelsea.
Pink Things: What is Stratum London?
Lily Branfield: Stratum London is a designer underwear label launched out of a desire for practical, comfortable, and luxurious underwear that integrates seamlessly with outerwear. Each piece has been designed with care to balance form and function, resulting in versatile and timeless pieces to complement and enhance any wardrobe.
Pink Things: Why did you start Stratum? What inspired you to create an ethically made panty line? Why underwear?
Lily Branfield: I started Stratum because I wanted underwear that’s luxurious and beautiful without necessarily being ‘boudoir’ like a lot of lingerie on the market is. I wanted something that felt like a treat for me and not my fiancée. I also wanted underwear that’s versatile enough to be worn confidently every day and works with my wardrobe, so I decided to make it myself. And being ethically made, for me, is a fundamental part of the luxury of my items.
Pink Things: How long has this taken to hatch and what has that process been like?
Lily Branfield: I first had the idea during my degree and since then its been growing and changing, really evolving into what I want it to be. I just launched my first collection this summer. It’s been the most amazing journey — ordering first samples, a photo shoot in Spain, and launching the website. It’s been hard, there’s always something new to learn, but I have a really great team of people supporting me. Pro tip: siblings make the best interns!
Pink Things: What makes Stratum different? Why should we purchase your underwear?
Lily Branfield: We spent two years developing an innovative new construction technique to achieve the support of a bra with the comfort of a bralette. Each Stratum bra and top is constructed from two layers of bamboo jersey, encasing a hidden layer of technical mesh and concealed elastic at every edge. The result is unparalleled comfort and a bra that works with your natural shape to give gentle support. Stratum is underwear that you don’t want to take off!
Pink Things: So how are they ethically made? Why is that important?
Lily Branfield: Every piece is individually made in our small East London workshop by skilled cutters and machinists before being finished by hand at our studio in Chelsea. We ensure that our products are made to the highest ethical and labour standards, with every artisan working in a safe environment for a fair wage. As well as this, our bamboo jersey is sustainably sourced and environmentally friendly. This is really important to me as I strongly believe that fashion shouldn’t come at the price of the wellbeing of the environment or the people who help to make it happen.
Pink Things: What styles do you have? What’s the price point? How is it impacted by the ethicality of the garment?
Lily Branfield: I currently have three bras, three panties, a slip, and a crop top ranging from £55 to £185. All of the styles have a sleek, minimalist aesthetic in common, but have their own individual personalities in the detailing. By choosing to source the finest materials, use the best production methods, and personally ensure that every item meets a very high-quality standard, the price is driven up. But, to me, that’s the real definition of luxury — buying something not out of necessity, but choosing a product that represents your needs and values on a deeper level.
Pink Things: As a young fashion designer, what has your experience been like? How did you get into fashion? How long have you been in fashion?
Lily Branfield: I’ve always loved fashion and making clothes. When I was really little my grandma taught me to sew and my first project was a dress for my teddy bear. It had duck shaped pockets! In my experience, fashion is very rewarding and I’ve been in the industry for a decade. I’ll admit that university was hard and the industry is one of the toughest in the world. But if you take the time to get to know yourself and your values, then you’ll be able to stand strong and make it through.
Pink Things: Can you talk to me a little bit about the ethical issues that are present in the fashion industry?
Lily Branfield: The fashion issue closest to my heart is the representation of women. Fashion has made great strides to promote body positivity and acceptance, but the underwear sector has a lot of catching up to do. I am fighting against this very narrow view of sexuality and desirability perpetuated by the media. I try to ensure that our imagery is carefully curated to represent a wider standard of beauty. I use a blend of lightly retouched and completely unedited images side by side. Our campaign shoots are inspired by and focus on the creativity and freedom of real women rather than a preconceived notion of sexiness. Make-up is minimal and the women who model for us are cool, confident, and individual. It is my aim to never objectify, patronize, or trivialize women.
Pink Things: How did you come up with the name? What inspired it?
Lily Branfield: So the name translates to “layers”. I chose the name because it represents my vision for the brand. I want to strip back the social taboo around underwear and have it be seen as a layer of clothing in its own right and not something hidden underneath.
Pink Things: What about your tag line? “Underwear for the unafraid”.
Lily Branfield: I wanted to capture the power and confidence I feel personally, and that I can see in the people around me, whilst also reiterating that my underwear isn’t just to be hidden under other clothes. I encourage women to be unafraid and to take ownership over their bodies — to stand up for their personal values.
Pink Things: Is it inclusive of all genders or is it just women? How are you breaking boundaries of the cultural norms?
Lily Branfield: It is for women, currently, but I would love to work on a men’s, or even better a unisex range, further down the line. I’m working to broaden society’s narrow view on sexuality and society’s control over women’s bodies. I want to normalize, not fetishize, boobs. I want to disrupt the male gaze and show that how women choose to represent their own bodies is a personal choice.
Pink Things: What do you think about pink? Is there an indirect role that pink plays in your designs?
Lily Branfield: I love pink. I think there is a femininity and also a strength to pink that makes it very powerful. If you look at my Instagram or my collection moodboard, you’ll quickly see that pink has a huge influence on me. I’m actually releasing the collection in two shades of pink inspired by the shoot — bubblegum, which has a softness and innocence about it that makes it a playful and versatile colour to wear, and carmine, which is a deep and vibrant pink-red that shouts exuberance and confidence and looks especially good on darker skin tones.
Pink things: What’s next for Stratum? For Lily?
Lily Branfield: Next we’ll be releasing the collection in seasonal solid colours inspired by the incredible shoot location. This will be followed by limited runs of prints and embellishments next year in collaboration with inspiring female artists. And pink, a lot more pink!
Pink Things: How can our readers get their hands on your products?
Lily Branfield: Through my website: www.stratum-london.com and I’m thrilled to announce we’re soon to be launching into Wolf & Badger.
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This interview was conducted via email and has been condensed and edited.
Photos courtesy of Stratum.