Words Ginger Rose Clark Photography Kasia Bobula
With a new more feminine diffusion line and a host of new stores Louise Markey is a busy woman. Also talks to the LF Markey founder about juggling two successful brands, motherhood and how her home of East London inspires her work.
Louise Markey has had a busy year. The fashion designer – known primarily for her bright, utilitarian, minimal designs under the brand of LF Markey, recently launched a second womenswear brand called Meadows, hired a whole bunch of staff and opened not one, but two shops. Safe to say, she’s got plenty to keep her occupied. Keen to discuss this impressive growth spurt, I sit down with Markey one autumn morning.
In the warmth of her studio we perch at a cutting table which is covered in fabric swatches and samples. Her team works away in the background, the only noise being the clicking of a camera from an e-comm shoot, while a model slips past us in a LF Markey look for next season. It’s now well over ten years since the first LF Markey designs saw the light – Markey started her eponymous label in 2008, but it was only a few years later that it truly took shape: ‘At first it was kind of a hobby label and it was on a different kind of trajectory. 2014 is when I knuckled down and decided exactly what LF Markey was going to be and didn’t stray off it.’ Colourful utilitarian pieces became the brand’s signature and continue to be the defining traits to this day: these have garnered the brand a loyal following of creative, practical women.
One year ago, Markey decided to launch her second label, Meadows: ‘I launched Meadows from my own personal interest. I started getting drawn towards folk stuff, even though I never thought I would as I’ve always been quite utilitarian. Early on, we started adding a bit of that in to the LF Markey collection but it’s just so different. It’s like the exact polar opposite, so it just made sense to make it a whole separate line. It meant I wouldn’t have to hold back and try to work it into the utilitarian look: I could just go full on.’ The result of this decision is very much in evidence in the studio: a mere glance at the separate clothing rails laden respectively with Meadows and LF Markey styles is enough to realise the hugely different aesthetic of each brand. While LF Markey is minimal and all about boiler suits and slacks, Meadows gravitates around dresses and blouses that are defined by Victoriana influences, with plenty of prints and floral motifs. Although the processes in creating both lines are the same, the main difference lies in the detail, as Markey explains: ‘Meadows is way more labour intensive in terms of prints and embroideries, which I’m doing myself because I enjoy that.’
Markey observes that in just one year Meadows has come a long way: ‘It’s going well, considering it’s so new. It took years to get LF Markey to where Meadows already is. It’s actually easier launching a second brand by a long, long way because we’ve already got all the factories, we’ve got the whole team and it’s not a big collection. Meadows is kind of a capsule for the moment, but growing – so we can just slip it into our workload. (…) It can kind of piggy-back off LF Markey.’ So, what’s been the key to this success? Experience, as Markey observes: ‘You don’t make the same mistakes again.’
With the recent exciting developments, the team has grown in numbers which inevitably called for a larger space. The new company HQ is tucked down an East London street alongside London’s ubiquitous railway arches, home to all kinds of businesses imaginable. No setting could be better suited: the LF Markey brand, like its younger sibling, Meadows, is very much born and bred in the area, as Markey points out: ‘I’d definitely say it’s a product of East London. Both of the labels actually. Even Meadows, which is probably less classic East London – I see people wearing Meadows round here.’
This part of the capital is Louise’s stomping ground, and has been for years. She lives in Stoke Newington, the new studio is in Hackney Downs and her first LF Markey store opened on Dalston Lane in January 2019. Of the latter, she says: ‘It was a really obvious to open a store in East London. The brand originally grew from word of mouth, that’s why it’s so localised.’ This sentiment was backed up by solid statistics: ‘People around here are our customers. We can tell from our e-comm that we are shipping to lots of people round here.’ As a result, even though physical retail as a general rule is suffering, the store on Dalston Lane is doing really well. In fact, it’s going better than expected: what was originally designed to be a mere promotional tool, ‘To show the world what LF Markey is like’, has become a success in its own right.
Yes, East Londoners love Markey’s work but it is very much a two-way relationship. Markey’s connection with the area runs deep and serves as a source of inspiration: ‘People on the street inspire me every day. And although my partner is pushing for us to move to the countryside, I don’t know if I could leave and still be the designer of the collection because I feel like I get so much inspiration from around me. I see what people are wearing.’ She adds that it is about that first-hand experience: ‘Yes, you’ve got the internet, you’ve got Instagram, things which we didn’t used to have… but that is such a curated experience – it doesn’t show you what someone is wearing to the gym.’ Indeed, as those that wear the brand will know, LF Markey is very much grounded in the everyday: Markey designs for the people surrounding her, and for their lifestyles.
That being said, it’s not all about East London. Markey recently opened a shop on Monmouth Street in Covent Garden, which caters to a completely different type of customer due to its location in a prime tourist spot and, even further afield, her aesthetic has won over a growing following in the US. In fact, when we meet she has just got back from a successful business trip to New York where she was meeting with press. She says: ‘It kind of ticks along on its own over there. I really wanted to break into the market because of Brexit – I was so freaked out about the pound plummeting, so I felt we needed to hedge our bets.’ While we still have yet to see what impact Brexit will have, the decision has already turned out to have been a canny move – both of Markey’s brands are doing really well across the pond and are now stocked in stores across the country.
Markey has been in the UK for years. Yet, when she talks, there’s a slight Australian twang that betrays her Ozzie roots. While she still feels Australian, she has become something of a Londoner: ‘I still feel Australian but I now realise how English I am, especially when I got to America. I see how I compare.’ England has rubbed off on her and she’s now very much settled here, not least because, alongside growing LF Markey and Meadows, she’s a mum. Being her own boss allows her to balance family life and work: ‘My day’s working pattern is super weird. I often leave the office after lunch but then I pick up the computer again at 8pm. I actually really love it – I’m happy to juggle my day like that.’
As many have experienced, running a fashion business isn’t without its challenges. Yet Markey makes it seem so effortless (she shrugs off problematic hurdles like the Trump tariffs). From starting out with a hobby to running a rapidly growing business with two unique brands, it’s evident that she has found a formula that works. Perhaps the key to this success is that both LF Markey and, more recently, Meadows have resonated with customers in London and beyond because they feel so very genuine, each in their own special way.