Caroline Bruce is not your ordinary fashioner. As the designer, Creative Director and CEO of Caroline Bruce, her work continues to gain attention in the UK and now worldwide. Caroline joined The Davi Magazine to speak on her exclusive label giving consumers an ethical, yet unique alternative to mainstream fashion, her first House of iKons fashion show, journey to success and the challenges she's experienced along the way.
Osazeme Osaghae: Hi Caroline! Thanks for joining me today. What inspired you to create an ethical clothing brand?
Caroline Bruce: Hi Osazeme! Thanks for having me! To answer your question, my love for fashion and styling started at a young age. I can recall styling my barbie dolls in different outfits! I guess I always wanted to have my label. After studying a degree in pattern cutting, I worked at the premium ladies wear brand, Nicole Fahri, which further sparked my inspiration.
When my daughters grew up and left the house, I worked for another fashion label. I soon realised that I knew more than they did and thought, ‘I can do this.’ From leaving this company, I started a pop-up business course where I was told,
" you don’t need money to start a business. "
We were taught how to use digital platforms, did a lot of networking and helped each other through the council.
Osaghae: Was there anything else you wanted to be? Was this always the end goal?
Bruce: I’ve always had these ideas and to see them come to life. The process of going from college to work was training me to get to where I am today. To be self-sufficient. Working for other people has allowed me to gain the skillset needed to create my fashion brand. I’ve had a lot of stepping stones to get to where I am right now. From creating bespoke garments for other people to tailoring dresses and suits, my main passion has always been to make and sell my designs and I can do the whole process from start to finish.
Osaghae: How does ‘Caroline Bruce’ differ from other fashion brands?
Bruce: The aim to create high-end, luxury, ethical garments, including bespoke dresses with a twist. A lot of hard work goes into the final product people are now seeing on the runway. For this collection, it was all about ‘What lies beneath’, so I had tropical fish, jellyfish, coral. I also listen to a lot of music to get a feel for the ambience of the item. With the music, I draw everything together as the finished garment.
Osaghae: Tell me about some of the early challenges you faced starting out in the fashion industry.
Bruce: Starting as a sample cutter, I've had various roles within the fashion industry. When I became a pattern cutter, it was very much a male-dominated role. The only pattern cutter at the company being male said, “Women can’t be pattern cutters, it’s a heavy job.” Shortly afterwards, I moved on to another job where I was designing and pattern cutting.
" I’ve had people tell me ‘you’re not a designer’
and other negative things. I didn’t let that stop me getting to where I wanted to be."
My advice would be to not let people steer you based on their opinions. I thought that there’s only one thing in the world that I really wanted to do and that was to create my own designs.
" Even if it failed, that wouldn’t stop me trying."
Osaghae: What’s your single most favourite moment during your time as a fashion designer?
Bruce: I think it must be getting an invitation to do the House of iKons 5th Anniversary show, and Rebecca asking me to dress her for the show. That was quite big because when other people start getting interested in what you do, the momentum keeps going. Whilst I’m at home doing pattern-cutting, your only form of communication is sometimes social media so you’re hoping that the right people see your work. Interest started coming in when I started the House of iKons Fashion Show. It has taken a lot to get here.
Osaghae: Which designers do you look up to?
Bruce: I idolise the couture designers like Valentino, Ralph Russo, Dior, Chanel, Balmain. When I’m designing, I’m thinking in my mind, it’s got to be that top-level design, nothing less. Every piece has got to be my best work.
Osaghae: Tell me more about your plans for the brand.
Bruce: I’ve got sustainable sequins, certified linen which is all ethical. I’m trying to add in all elements that aren’t trying to harm the environment. I don’t want hundreds of people to say that they saw one of my dresses in Debenhams this week. I would rather one, or two, maybe ten people to have that one piece which is pretty much-limited edition. My design is my signature, so I think that as I go along each process, I am refining what I do. I like to put in detail. Simple yet with an element of individuality. It’s easy to copy others because an item is selling well. I’m all about pushing my brand a bit further to make it unique so that people know that they’re buying something they can’t buy anywhere else.
Osaghae: Where do you see yourself and your brand in the next, let’s say 5 years?
Bruce: I’ve started an online shop but still, think that people need to come to me. So maybe, I’ll have to start up a boutique to give customers the personal shopping experience, so they leave the store feeling their beautiful and best self.
Osazeme Osaghae: Which one person would you like to thank for where you are today?
Caroline Bruce: I would like to thank my Mum because she was so creative. She used to make things all the time. So, I would be knitting, embroidering, crocheting, sewing. Anything to do with fabrics, I would be doing that. She was my original inspiration.
Osaghae: Do you have any advice for those wanting to take the plunge into the fashion industry to start their entrepreneurial adventure?
Bruce: I’ve been on the backfoot my whole life with this great, big dream. Because it means so much to me and I’ve had so many barriers it means more to me now.
" My advice would be don’t let anyone put you off. "
If you know in your heart and you’ve got that gut feeling and drive, keep going. You won’t fail. There are many ways to get your work out there. You are the only one stopping you. Your mindset is stopping you. You’ve got to believe in yourself. When you look back at what you’ve achieved, you would be grateful. Patience and perseverance are key. Things always come at the right time.
Osaghae: At the Davi Magazine, we love to ask our guests, if you had an opportunity to speak with your old self to save later heartache and pain, what would you tell yourself and why?
Bruce: I didn’t believe that I could do it when I was younger, but I had so much already at my fingertips that I didn’t realise. I would say ‘You can do it now, what are you waiting for?’
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