#Passion2Action: Interview with Heidi May, founder of ethical fashion label ‘Aesthetic Laundry’

Aesthetic Laundry is an independent womenswear brand in East London, designing and producing casual clothing in house. Launched in 2014, founder Heidi May ran the business on her own up until mid 2019, when she expanded and the team is now four passionate women. Most recently Aesthetic Laundry has launched a Zero Waste Fabric Project, producing a range of tassel jumpers for babies and toddlers from waste material which would otherwise go into landfill. 

G: What problem did you set out to fix in this world? 

H: Years of working in fashion has allowed me to witness first hand the negative connotations that are associated with this industry. All I could think about was doing something I loved, that mattered and made a good impact on both peoples lives and our planet. Aesthetic Laundry is my passion to design wearable, creative pieces of clothing that people fall in love with and treasure. 

G: How did you find your ‘Why” and What did inspire you to do this? 

H: As someone who suffered from a young age with body insecurities, fashion has played an important part in helping me feel good about the way I look. I knew early on that I wanted to design clothes that would encourage people to feel confident, but I was in for a shock when I began working in the industry! The two biggest alarm bells was this focus on skinny beautiful women alongside the throw away attitude through fast fashion. In a time where mental health and the impact of climate change are discussed so vehemently, I could not believe that these two areas of the industry just aren’t really being addressed. For this reason I realised if I was going to make a difference, even if it was a small difference, I needed to break out and do it on my own.  

G: How did you converted your passion into a business? 

H: Aesthetic Laundry was actually born as an idea during my Alternative Placement Year at university, where I worked on creating my own brand. Of course, upon graduating, I needed more experience so worked in the industry until the eve of my 29th birthday when I said to myself ‘enough is enough’. I was so miserable being a part of an industry that was so incredibly damaging that I plucked up the courage to quit. 

The back bones of the brand were there – I think it is safe to say I kept the ideas bubbling away for the entire 8 years I worked in industry – but I just needed to take the plunge. In all honesty, the business plan was limited! I was driven by passion and as I often find as a creative, my heart overrides my head. At the beginning I worked from my bedroom and every day seemed to come with a new hurdle to jump! Fast forward 5 years and I now have a team of 3 working with me from a studio and we are heading into a really exciting year of growth for 2020. It is of course every business owners dream to grow, but it is important to me that the foundations of the business always remain. I began this company to challenge industry standards and prove that what we have always known and done isn’t necessarily right.

G: How long did it take until you start making a living out of it? 

H: As I made the decision to quit my job so quickly, I had to make money almost instantly. I had no savings, no investment…I just had to make it work. My main aim was to sing about the products and create buzz, whilst drumming up interest and creating an audience. I told everyone I could think of that I was launching my brand, whether through Watsapp to Instagram. I will admit it was shameless, but when you have no other choice than to make it work it really pushes you to leave that comfort zone. You also have to be passionate and driven – if you can’t get across how much you believe in what you are doing then how will anyone else?

The first couple of months are hard, but when the sales began to arrive it was SUCH a boost. For a long time I only had enough to just cover my costs – I went years without luxuries such as holidays and even going out to socialise. I just put everything back into my business. 

The easy part for me is designing but the hard part is making it work. It takes hard graft and a lot of work (with often a few tears!) and not to mention the physical and mental impacts of trying to build something on your own. But whenever things get tough – which even to this day they still do – I think of the bigger picture. The industry needs to change and although the business is small, I am determined to get through and no matter how big or small, I will make a change through what I do.

G: What were the biggest obstacles launching the company and how did you overcome them?

H: The biggest obstacle of starting up is doing everything yourself. I suffered a lot physically with a bad back or lack of sleep triggering panic attacks. I remember at one point I worked 56 days in a row (which I hadn’t even realised I had done until my body gave up and I was bedbound) and I realised something needed to change. I get so excited by what I am doing, that it took me a while to understand that taking a step back and taking a day off can actually be productive. 

G: Why do you think people fell in love with your company?  What was different / unique about your platform that made people want to use it? 

H: I would say it is the overall experience you have when shopping with Aesthetic Laundry. By having the entire supply chain in house we are able to respond to all our customers needs and consider all their requests. We pride ourselves on being transparent  and therefore customers receive a good shopping experience with us from day one to the day they receive their garments. 

G: How your company/brand is winning over the hearts and minds of the local community?

H: I was lucky enough to launch my brand when Instagram was at its peak and have pretty much built my brand on social media. That said, being an online business (we don’t have any physical retail spaces), means I am always pushing us to do events, markets and network to make sure we are interacting with people in person. A lot of our customers are from London and Norwich (where I am from) so I always prioritise events in these areas. For 2020 it is also a goal to keep inspiring the younger generation so am working to do more talks and workshops at schools and with people in the community. 

G: What 3 pieces of advice would you give to the people who want to create something, but not sure how or where to start ?

  1. Firstly make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Can you picture where you want the brand to be in two years time? Does that plan excite you in equal measure to scaring you? If so ,then go for it!
  2. If you do take the leap, sing, sing, SING about whatever you are doing – I cannot stress this enough! People won’t have seen every post, people won’t watch every video you make or see every single design. Imagine every time you sing about a product, you are singing to someone who has stumbled across your brand and has absolutely no idea what you do. 
  3. Don’t overthink and look at what others are doing as a comparison to your own brand. This one is definitely easier said than done and as a designer it always cripples me. When I come across someone that I think is doing something better I try to apply it back to my business and think why are they doing it better? And what could I be doing to better myself and my brand?

G: Have you had any mentors or role models that have influenced you

H: Before I quit my job, I listened to a few podcasts interviewing indie business founders such as Sophia Hilton from Not Another Salon and Meringue Girls. I thought to myself, I want to do this now. And it was only about a week later I handed in my notice to focus on Aesthetic Laundry. I am also incredibly luck that my fiance is very passionate about small businesses and is my sounding board for a lot of ideas. Beyond this, a lot of learnings have come from trial and error …and there have been quite a few errors along the way!

G: Who/what are your favorite CEOs/Businesses in Shoreditch or East London?

H: Richmix – I LOVE Richmix! I love that it supports arts, culture, holds free events, and is so welcoming. They have such an array of exhibitions throughout the year and of course the cinema is a bonus. 

Another favourite are the lovely ladies at Shoreditch Nails.Not only do they do the best nails, but I have been lucky to partner with them and hold one of my events at their salon. They also have an academy to teach you how to be a nail technician which is amazing.

G: Where do you see your company in a few years’ time and what are your thoughts on the future of your industry how is it changing?

H: Oh my goodness, how long is a piece of string!? Of course I want to continue to grow, we are still an incredibly small business and so growth is a natural goal. However from a personal perspective, I want to make more use of my creativity and showing how you do not need huge budgets to showcase what you do. I love controlling my supply chain to ensure I know as much about the fabrics I use and where they come from but this can always be improved upon. I think there is a need for textiles recycling to become easier and educating people on re-use, recycling and upcycling needs to gather more momentum. 

The fashion industry certainly needs to change and I think we are on the brink of this happening. In a few years I hope not only small independents like myself are making changes to the way our industry is viewed but also the big power houses.