It was late Autumn 2019 when I first met her. Camilla was selling a hand-picked selection of vintage pieces on a sustainabilty market at Hatch and I fell in love. Not only with the Burberry mac on her rail, but also with Camilla’s kind-hearted and very chilled out aura. I have rarely met anyone shining so positively from within as her. Back then, she had recently moved back from Stockholm where she worked as a clothing store manager and had just launched her business Wardrobe Wellbeing (WW). WW is a sustainable style therapy concept if you will. Camilla offers personal consulting sessions for example as well as a clothes library where you can lend special pieces from. Opperating from a spacious mill studio in Stockport, she follows and spreads a mindful, relaxed, understanding, non-perfectionist approach to fashion. In this interview we talk about drastic business tranformations, reducing the pace of everyday life, and escaping the fast fashion undertow.
When we first met in Autumn last year, life was so different back then. I hear a lot of people saying they cannot wait to go back to normal. Is there something you don’t want to go back to? Why is that?
Ah, normal! I don’t really want life to go back to that normal, there’s so much that didn’t seem to be working and I think this time gave people an opportunity to maybe recognise this too. The busyness of life, the speed we go through, the simple things we miss. I really hope to personally maintain this pace of life that I’ve been living during lockdown, the freedoms I’ve felt in not setting my alarm as often, not rushing to be somewhere. I’ve spent so much time recently walking, cycling, sitting and just thinking. It’s so important to allow time for boredom, for children and adults too. The imagination has the chance to imagine.
You have lived in Sweden for a couple of years. How do see the country’s approach to battle the virus?
A completely Swedish thing to do! Putting faith in the individual to act responsibly and the trust the government has in its citizens to do this. I don’t really know too much about the political system in Sweden, but I do know there are a lot less people than here in the UK and there is a lot more space to be in. Especially green open spaces where being outdoors is just part of the culture there.
I always remember the difference when you are actually starting to feel poorly there, how you treat that first day of sickness; as an employer you really encourage the member of staff to stay home and get better, as an employee you’re really conscious of not passing your germs on and not making anyone else poorly, this again is a cultural thing. In the UK we push through if we think we are poorly, we feel guilty if we need the time off to get better, preferring to go into work rather than calling our employers and explaining the situation. I think these differences speak volumes, especially when faced with a contagious virus and the ways in which we may approach the spread of it.
Has your wardrobe changed during lockdown?
Just as I was going into lockdown I had been raising funds for Labour Behind the Label who campaign for garment workers rights, I had been wearing the same six garments for six weeks. This ended mid April, suddenly I had access to my wardrobe again and loved wearing all my dresses and fashions once more! During lockdown though I think I really gravitated to comfortable clothing, but that for me is elasticated waist skirts, flowing dresses and silks and cottons – breathable fabrics which feel nice against the skin. I probably wore a lot of outfits on repeat, but found clothing didn’t really need washing. I think my leopard print leggings got more wear than usual too…
How did the virus change your everyday life? Is there anything you have rediscovered or learned about yourself?
I like to stay up late! Going to bed pre 12am has been challenging during lockdown. I think being with my daughter all day, the evenings arrive and it’s just more my time, so I managed to work in the evenings, writing, reading. I didn’t realise I could be productive past 8pm but I can! This has felt good as I know my routine can change, I can switch up how I work and still feel like I am producing something. Also just how much I love being in nature, I know many of us say this but it was literally everything. Sharing the peaceful outdoors time with a little one, seeing things with their eyes too was special, I had more time to listen and this I really want to continue.
What keeps you motivated? What do you look forward to in the week (or day)?
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to work for myself. To have my own coffee shop, vintage store, art gallery (which I did in Afflex Palace 2011) When I was 13 I looked after a tiny coffee shop in a garden centre and just loved it. It felt like my own little place. This feeling stuck with me. So now, finally at 35 I had the chance to work for myself again, to help people and share everything I have learnt over the years, the time just feels right. My recent counselling studies, travels and experiences in the fashion industry have all come together and each morning I think I am so grafetul to do this now, so I think that is what motivates me.
Your business relies on human contact, markets, talks. How did you change your business to make it lockdown suitable?
I know right, a bit of a struggle! And at first I did think what am I going to do and for a while I shut down and did nothing. I came away from WW and stayed at home, thinking, reading, dancing, playing a lot… Then I gradually started writing, blogging, getting thoughts off my chest, which led me to find confidence within myself to write more, contact people who inspire me and I thought others may be motivated by too. I think it gave me a chance to think more clearly about my work. Having time to slow down, reassess and then redefine, which is why I prefer the term Wellbeing Stylist to personal stylist. Everything I support clients with comes down to their wellbeing, exploring who they are and their creative expressions. You start with clothing and it can feed into lots of other areas too, which I love to see. I carried out some new workshops online, which felt good too after I got over the nerves! But sharing a physical space with people is something I prefer. Working online means you have a wider audience but I am happy providing services more locally. Local feels nice and there are some amazing people right here on my doorstep that have meant so much to me.
Sustainability is a core of your business and so is well-being. How are the two connected?
I think they just feed into each other. It’s the smallest things in life that can actually bring the most subtle, long term happiness. Little things that may not always be in our awareness, but allows us to just be thankful for what we have. This is more sustainable for the human race. We can’t keep taking, wanting more and more. It’s about finding what is sustainable for you and recognising that strength you have as a human being in doing positive things for each other – that’s our super power, each of us have the ability to help another. One person’s wellbeing does affect another.
It seems like a lot of people – including myself – revert to shopping when they are stressed. Do you have an advise how to stop this retail therapy pattern?
Try and recognise your pattern of shopping, ask yourself why am I buying this? If you are trying to slow down and change your habits, you must firstly understand what your habits are. The strength of changing your ways is far more empowering than continually buying and that is much more sustainable, both individually and globally. Also, shop your own wardrobe, this is also a good place to start before heading to a store or shopping online. Shut the bedroom door, put your favourite music on, open your wardrobe doors and go on a shopping spree in your own space. Try things on, try different combinations, put a blouse on backwards and see if it works that way too, try an outfit with a different shoe, add a head scarf. Just explore what you have first and then see if the need to shop is still there. If it is, then seek out some more ethical brands, shop second hand or borrow something from a partner or friends wardrobe. Alter your perception of where you need to shop.
Now that most of the non-essential shops are back open it’s easy to fall back into old shopping habits. What are your tips for people that want to come away from fast fashion but are not quite there yet?
To start by slowing down. To read up on information that is out there regarding the industry. To think before purchasing. To enjoy the clothing they already have more. If you used to buy 10 pieces of fast fashion seasonally, cut down to 5, if it was 5 cut down to 2. The money that’s saved purchase something from a sustainable brand and see how you treat that piece, do you take better care of it? Does it take better care of you? Does it last longer? Does it just feel better when you’re wearing it? Also, leaving fast fashion is a lengthy process and you should be kind to yourself that you’re changing your ways, say well done along the way and enjoy the experience. It should be fun, not an added pressure that you’re bringing to life.
Follow me, join one of my workshops and have some fun letting loose away from the trends and those retailers that may bombard your mailbox… Also, join Manchester Fashion Revolution, be part of a collective and let our monthly campaigns support you.
What’s your definition of style and how can we find it?
Style is deeply personal and for some of us, we are excited by this and want to explore it. Style is expressive and there to be enjoyed. It’s a chance to share a little bit of yourself with the world. I love admiring people’s styles, seeing that inner confidence shining through in their clothing choices. Anything that helps us be our true selves I believe is worth investing in, so if that includes wanting to find your style, then go for it. The transitions we go through in our lives play such an important part to developing your style too. I think my current style is most like my early 20s when I was living more carefree in London and breathing in all that amazing city has to offer. Right now my daughter is getting to an age where she is more independent, I’m finding myself again doing my thing as me, not only a mother or an employee of a company and wearing their clothes, I’ve found a fashion freedom again and it feels good. It’s important to think where you are in yourself and how your style can help you with that. Style is bubbling around in everyone, it’s just about letting it surface and experimenting, listening to what feels good and believing in yourself.