My entire queer feminist being is so entwined with PHAEDRA, and I like it that way. My main aim was simplicity, and with that comes an openness with which any identity can find comfort.
A few weeks ago, I announced in our newsletter that I’d finally found the perfect tarot bag.
Turned out you agreed with me, as those handmade linen bags sold out within days! I wasn’t at all surprised – I’d been hunting for something this special as this for literally years, and was super excited collaborating with Deva O’Neill. Deva stitches beautiful, simple, functional linen clothing over in Norwich, under her one-woman brand, Phaedra Clothing. I fell under Phaedra’s spell some time ago, lusting after gender-neutral jumpsuits, shirts, coats, not to mention Deva’s manifesto, and her slow and thoughtful process.
Well, I’m happy to say the linen bags are back on the shelves, in all their soft, supple, muted glory. To celebrate this happy occasion, I chatted with the Deva about her inspiration, process, and workspace.
Your love for natural fabrics really shines through in your work and in your manifesto. Ditto your slow process, and what you call ‘the human rather than the machine’. Could you tell us a little about the choices you make in regards to materials, process, marketing…?
Thank you, I’m so glad that comes across! I’ve spent my whole life working in all different aspects of customer service, and when I set up PHAEDRA I was at the end of my tether. I was really craving genuine, complex and open human interaction instead of the usual discourse and tradition that sits around sales. More and more people are wanting that too, as our world changes – I feel a group shift towards more meaningful connections, a sense of place and of purpose within the framework of buying. So I’m open and honest, I’m transparent, I’m one woman, complex and fallible, offering my creations on my own terms and doing the best I can in this world and I want to encourage people to remember patience and intention, and to honour objects they bring into their homes.
Part of this framework is of course the turning away from mass-market consumption, towards sustainability and honouring environmental concerns, addressing worker politics and asking for transparency. I feel like this is a radical act, and on the back of this comes a more careful approach to shopping. I source all my fabric ethically, from Lithuanian and British factories. I use corozo nut buttons, made by a small British company, and deal with all my suppliers directly. Its lovely to chat to them on the phone and be in solidarity with each other.
Aside from just generally loving linen and lesbian businesses, I fell hard for the gender-neutral quality of your clothing, the focus on form and wearability over this fashion or that. Do you feel your queerness and feminism is entwined with your manifesto?
I definitely feel that. My entire queer feminist being is so entwined with PHAEDRA, and I like it that way. I never really felt that I fit in with high femme fashion, too many whistles and bows for me. My main aim was simplicity, and with that comes an openness with which any identity can find comfort. I wanted to be voice for so many folk who are so often marginalised, and I’m so fiercely for clothing which empowers the body in all its forms. My garments are made to be worn everyday, so comfort and durability was very important. Alongside functionality is the luxury aspect of the fabrics and colours which can make your body feel strong and confident, a protection or armour of sorts. There is still so much sexism in fashion – for one, tight clothes that restrict the bodies movement and perpetuate the idea that certain objective parts of the female body are the sexiest and should be on display. Another aspect of women’s clothing I find pretty offensive is tiny pockets, which has a whole history of female subjugation that’s too lengthy to go into here.. needless to say all my garments have huge pockets, I couldn’t be without them.
What’s your workspace like? Do you work alone, or share space with others?
My studio is pretty idyllic. I have a large space in an old shoe factory building in the centre of Norwich’s old town, surrounded by medieval churches and nook-ridden flint pubs. I share it with jeweller Lennie Beare – we both make a lot of noise in our craft, so we work well together and drink a lot of tea. I sit looking out of a window onto a cherry tree, and a jumble of old and new buildings in peach and rose. A huge cutting table takes up most of the space, alongside piles of fabric, a rail of clothes, my industrial sewing machine and an overlocker. The building is up for redevelopment, a tragedy, like most studios and art spaces seem to be these days, but I’m hoping we can eke out a few more years before we have to move on elsewhere.
You made our first batch of these bags with your mum! What a beautiful image How was that?
It was great! I come from a family of poor working class creative folk, and somehow magically I’ve always been the one good with money. It’s been so great to be able to share a little bit of my business with my mum and support her. She’s an excellent seamstress and I made my first garment with her many years ago. We share a work ethic that makes us very practical and driven, and I’ve definitely got my perfectionist streak from her, so we work really well together. We’re like two Honey Badgers getting stuff done.
So many of us dream of starting crafty/creative/maker-type businesses. What would be your advice for anyone wanting to take their first steps in that direction?
I’d say just begin! I’m pretty headstrong and so I dived right on in and expected it to work, and I’m very lucky to say that it did. I made some pretty terrible dresses at the beginning, but I learnt on the job, got wiser from mistakes, and fine-tuned ideas and issues as they came up. Start small – at the beginning I was buying 5 metres of fabric at a time and working from a tiny shared studio. I worked part-time as a baker and was living in a caravan and not paying a lot of rent, which really helped me grow without money pressures so I didn’t have to worry about making serious money at first. I was lucky in that regard. Stay true to your own values and ideas too, so many people give them up for the sake of a little more cash or cutting corners. There are always others doing similar things to you, try not to compare yourself to others, comparison is the thief of joy!