As many of us ponder over summer holidays in our favourite overseas destinations, we’re faced with the realities that staying on home turf might just be the best option.
But with the sun beating down, a steady return to normality and the chance to luxe up our wardrobes as our diaries fill up again, there’s plenty to smile about when it comes to spending summer at home.
When we stumbled upon Freya Lillie online and made the link between the stunning Ibiza shoots and the beautiful store at Fowlers Yard in Durham, we were delighted to see a local business flying high in the fashion world.
Michelle Jones is the brains behind the sustainable luxury clothing business, born after the birth of her daughter of the same name, Freya Lillie.
“I was pregnant with Freya and I already knew that I didn’t want to go back to work – as in working full-time in an office, or in my case in front of people as a business lecturer,” Michelle explains.
“I wanted to be a bit more flexible and be able to work from home, in a creative way,” she adds.
“Freya was born three months early – she was really premature – so it made me even more determined that I was going to find a way in which I could work flexibly from home.”
After struggling to find really unique, well-made and sustainable clothing for her new little one, Michelle went down the route of sourcing baby and childrenswear from suppliers with a similar mindset.
“In the early days, we were working with a number of Not On The High Street brands from overseas, but as time went on, I had my own ideas and wanted to do things my own way, so I started working with my aunty, who made cute little handmade rompers.
“It was important for us to be as sustainable as possible, using 100% linens and making clothes that would grow with the child. Yes, using luxurious, sustainably-sourced materials might mean you’re spending a little bit more than you would on the high street, but, in fact, cost per wear, it actually works out much more reasonable.”
Shortly after introducing the new products, Michelle’s made-to-order linen garments hit the ground running.
“I didn’t expect the demand to be there as much as it was in the early days,” she says.
“It went from my aunty making rompers at home, to us working with a small North East factory of seamstresses, and then eventually employing our own.
“The world of Instagram being the way it is, influencers started sharing our stuff and it all went a bit crazy.
“In the year before COVID, we signed a lease for our first shop in Durham as it felt like the right time to grow the business. I wanted a space where we could have a team of our own seamstresses working upstairs, and the option of having the shop downstairs.
“But, of course, COVID hit and all of a sudden nobody wanted any holiday or wedding clothes, so it was a bit of a struggle.”
Michelle signed for the Fowlers Yard store in January 2020 and planned to spend the first few months getting everything ready for an early spring opening. The world had other plans. But as with many growing businesses in the height of the pandemic, a lot of pivoting was involved.
Michelle used this time to grow Freya Lillie online, working with influencers and other like-minded businesses to get the word out.
“At first, orders were flying out as people were adapting to the world of online shopping,” Michelle explains.
“But obviously, as further restrictions were put into place and we were all of a sudden unable to travel abroad and socialise outside of our households, there was a lack of interest when it came to holiday clothes and occasion wear.”
Since then, things are on the up and the business is flourishing more than ever.
The Fowlers Yard store is a beautiful new addition to Durham’s independent shopping scene and the online store is reaching new heights, with customers coming in from all over the world, from Bermuda to the Balearics.
“Although it has been tough growing a business throughout a pandemic, we’re seeing the positives and it’s great that we can grow online to a wider audience, but still have that relationship with local customers at the store,” Michelle smiles.
“While much of our online sales revolve around fashion, our Durham shop also stocks some stunning lifestyle products and homeware accessories, where you can find little trinkets for the house, or as gifts for loved ones.
“It’s also nice that we can invite customers in to get a feel for the clothes. We work a lot with brides who are sourcing beautifully unique outfits for flower girls and bridesmaids, so for them to be able to come in and experience Freya Lillie in the flesh is just wonderful.”
Freya Lillie pieces are based on the ethos of being truly timeless and seasonless, which ties in nicely with Michelle’s determination to remain as sustainably-focused and environmentally-friendly as possible, throughout production and sales.
“We’re best-loved for our linen frills, so we try to keep things fairly simple and stick to what we do best,” she says.
“We might bring out new colours and materials in autumn/winter, but generally, it’s just about styling our pieces in a different way – perhaps with a polo-neck in the cooler months.
“We really want to steer away from ‘fast fashion’ and ensure that, if people are investing in a Freya Lillie piece, it can stay with them for a long time.
“I wanted to make sure that people are able to shop consciously with us. If you get something that is really well made and you’ve invested a bit of time into purchasing, you’re more likely to get excited about wearing it and it becomes a wardrobe staple.
“We make a lot of our baby and kids clothes as flexible as possible with adjustable straps, so a little one could actually be wearing a 0-6 romper until they’re well into their second year.
“Our Mummy & Me pieces are very popular at the moment, and the more flexible we can be with sizing, the longer our customers can be enjoying wearing the products with their little ones. The aim is that they’ll serve you, not just for one holiday, but for years to come.”
Freya Lillie has become a go-to for gorgeous holiday looks, mainly because of its Mediterranean-style designs, effortless comfort and cool, linen materials. Plus, who doesn’t want to rock the beach with their littles ones in a matching, frilled dungaree set?
With coconut shell buttons, labels made from bamboo and pretty pastel colours in luxe linen fabrics, Freya Lillie’s dreamy designs are a real box-ticker when it comes to sunning it up, home or away, this summer.
For Michelle, this summer is about making up for lost time with friends and family, hikes in the countryside with her husband and daughter Freya, and enjoying a drink and a bite to eat at Durham’s many bars and restaurants.
“The Champagne Bar is a favourite of mine. It’s so lovely to be able to leave the shop and have such wonderful Durham businesses on our doorstep.”
Four years into business and with the shop and online store blooming day on day, next on the agenda for Freya Lillie is to look at some new, staple pieces for autumn/winter, as well as growing the wedding and special occasion offering. Watch this space.