When Camille Perry and Holly Wright joined forces last year to establish their new label, Tove, they knew—as will any fashion start-up—that the first year would be challenging. Just how challenging it would turn out to be in the age of the coronavirus, however, nothing could have prepared them for.
When I talk to the pair as lockdown in London has already begun to ease, though, their outlook is unexpectedly upbeat. “We’ve been somewhat lucky as a direct-to-consumer business, which was always a priority,” says Wright. “That’s helped protect us right now, and being smaller, we’ve been able to be nimble and really react.” It seems that while they’re conscious to keep their finger on their pulse, they’ve also recognized that the principles they laid out as the foundation for the brand have put them in surprisingly good stead to navigate this strange new world. In Tove’s case, their first idea has proven to be their best one.
“At the start of lockdown there was a panic and it felt like everyone was switching to jersey, but as time went on, people were wanting to reach out for beautiful things,” says Perry. “They wanted some normality,” Wright agrees. “A sense of their old selves again.” For both Perry and Wright, the pace of their pre-pandemic lives is something they now recognize as unsustainable. “One thing this period has taught us is how much running around we do,” says Perry. “Being able to work from home and lean on technology has forced us to slow down and really focus without all of the noise and distraction of rushing from meeting to meeting. For that part, it’s been a really useful time.”
The success of Tove lies partly in Perry and Wright’s many years of experience within a variety of corners of the industry—the pair first met while working at Topshop as head of design and head of buying respectively. When it came to launching Tove, they already had a clear and well-honed blueprint of how they wanted to build the brand across a number of years. Aside from their impressive business nous, it’s the clothes that are the star—impeccably draped dresses and blouses that manage to feel both breezy and luxurious, just as appropriate for a boardroom meeting as they are a summer holiday. On the strength of their first collection alone, Tove was snapped up by Net-a-Porter almost immediately for a year-long exclusive partnership, something Perry and Wright credit as having been a key source of support during the months of lockdown.
Alongside their uncompromising vision for both the creative and business facets of the brand, the pair have also taken a savvy approach to social media to spread the word. One example is their recognition of Instagram as an essential (and cost-effective) marketing tool, allowing them to establish a dialogue with their clients that has only deepened during lockdown. “We’ve always invested in our imagery really heavily because it’s our strongest asset as a direct-to-consumer brand,” Perry explains. “And right now we have this captive audience, as everyone is on social media so much more being at home, so that’s been a big positive.”
This feeling of pride in their community exists not just with their rapidly-growing customer base, but also their carefully selected, tight-knit team, that includes Perry’s sister. “We work with an amazing collection of women, a lot of whom we met throughout our career and have been able to bring on board to the business because they’re the best people we’ve worked with,” Perry continues. “It’s been nice to work in this way after coming from a corporate background. We’ve found it really liberating and it’s been nice for the women because a lot of them are in the same position as us; they’re working mothers and they need a bit more flexibility in their lives. Being able to be at home and work remotely, being able to prioritize their families and still work on their business, has been great for everyone.”
Indeed, the pair appear to have adapted to the challenges posed by the pandemic with aplomb—they talk of constant exchanges of images over WhatsApp, socially-distanced garden meetups with their pattern cutter, and fabrics posted back and forth—while also taking the time to ask bigger questions about the brand’s long-term future. One area they have been reconsidering is their proposed seasonal calendar. “Our intention now is to show twice a year, which we feel is needed for creativity,” Wright continues. “Everybody is working so hard, putting everything into designing their collections, and actually they’re not being given enough time to breathe and be out there. In terms of the timing, the markdowns, retail, the sales. So much of it feels out of step with our brand values and the way that the world is shifting now. That’s something we’d already started to move towards and we’re hoping that will be something that is embraced within the wider industry as well.”
The real ace card for Tove, however, is the overarching philosophy they established right at the beginning; namely, that each season should build on the next, allowing regular customers to build a capsule wardrobe of pieces that they can mix and match on an ongoing basis. It’s a simple but effective set of principles that have given them the confidence they need to keep moving forward. “The product is meant to be quite high-low, it’s meant to be worn on multiple occasions,” says Wright. “In that respect, our positioning of what we offer has weathered this quite well.” On this, Perry agrees. “The pieces are designed specifically to transition from day to night, whether you’re at the beach or in the city—a wardrobe of really beautifully crafted, timeless pieces that are going to last you for a lifetime. That’s our hope, anyway.”