Meet Rhi Dancey And Her Sexy & Sustainable Sets
The Prolific, Personable Fashion Designer Who Has Your June 21st Outfit Sorted.
Characterized by exposed seams, punky patchwork and a visual feast of fabrics, Rhi Dancey's 'sexy & sustainable sets' have set a new precedent for the wavey garm.
Originating last year under the limitations of London lockdown, Rhi set about sewing and selling matching sets through Instagram and Depop. When I first stumbled across her account, I was too bombarded with choice to actually buy anything. With flattering cuts for all body shapes, her collections feature all kinds of mesh, lace, velvet and jersey, which are more often than not dead-stock or vintage.
Rhi has fleshed out design after design, with new patterns dropped weekly, she is very receptive to her following's input and custom requests. Inclusivity, sustainability, and care take centre stage within her practice, brand and studio. She also highly regards the power of collaboration, and has carried out several, with a variety of creatives including iscreamcolour, Nina Doll and Matthias Garcia.
A year and three purchases later, I had a chat with Rhi in her studio to share her story and unique fashion ethos.
You've had a crazy year, could you tell us the story in summary of how your brand began?
Yes! So basically I used to be a stylist. Then, March last year, when the UK was announced to be going into the first strict lockdown, I had just come back from Cuba. I'd spent lots of money and I was like fuck I've got no work now. I was a bit stressed about that and was trying to reevaluate my life and what skills I had, and how I could utilize them in order to power through. So while I was in Cuba I came across this local lingerie shop where they were doing loads of fruity, bright colored bras and knickers. I had studied fashion, but I studied menswear at Brighton. I'm from a small Welsh, industrial town, and my parents are both punks, so I'm kind of from this punky, grungy background. That's why I was originally doing menswear, and I was working when I was in uni, training as a tailor's assistant. So I'd never really had experience with lingerie or stretchy fabrics really. I was always working with denim and utility workwear stuff. So when I saw this amazing lingerie in Cuba, I was like ah, that would be quite cool. I want to actually have a go at making that. I was styling at the time and had loads of different fabric I'd been collecting, so I had supplies to start playing around with. That's where it started off - having the time to reflect on what skills I wanted to evolve and what I was really drawn and interested by.
I don't know if I'm just tuning in, but it appears that if the pandemic has done anything positive, it might have caused an increased interest for individual crafters on social media such as Instagram and Depop. What tips would you give to fellow crafters or designers dreaming of their own brand taking off on these platforms?
I don't necessarily have the recipe for success. I'm constantly trying different things, and to experiment. I'm quite a do-er, rather than really conceptually developing things. When I have ideas, I just want to physically get them out and try them. A lot more recently I've just realized what kind of clothes I like wearing and what my friends like wearing. So I'm not trying to necessarily hone in on trends very much, but just actually create garments that I would enjoy wearing and making. I think that translates more authentically rather than if you try and create something conceptual - I mean, there's definitely a time and place for that, but I think for myself, it's just that extension of my personality. I've noticed the colors I'm drawn to at the moment and every time I dye my hair, it kind of changes the color palette of what I'm making. I think it's important to just not take it too seriously as well. Fashion can be so serious and competitive. You've got to take a step back sometimes. I want it to be fun and silly and sexy.
What or who are your most recent inspirations?
It's quite hard because now with Instagram, there's just a constant influx of inspiration - it's so fast paced. But for example, the Metallic Baby Tee that you bought, that was inspired from when I was a little girl. I was really into gymnastics and these big costumes that came with it. For me it's always been about dressing up, textures and fabrics. The cuts of the garments are always quite simple and wearable, but it's the playfulness of the fabric that's exciting. Especially in a lockdown, being at home, we're not necessarily able to dress up and go somewhere. Having these weird textures that you would maybe have had as a kid in a fancy dress box, like princess dresses with the metallics and the glitter.
How do you handle the workload? You've said you're a do-er, and you seem to be endlessly generating new styles, and maintaining a presence on social media as well is no quick walk in the park.
I've been really fortunate. In August I was able to get a studio space, which has been a bit of a game-changer, as originally in lockdown I was sewing in my kitchen and my living room. Having that space to be creative has been the biggest achievement. I never really thought that I'd be able to afford having a studio space.
I also got to do a pop up shop in-between the lockdowns before Christmas. That was a crazy experience, in hindsight my customer base probably aren't around Oxford Circus in London. But it was a great experience, rather than just relying on digital, to have a canvas, a shop floor and a window display.
I think the main thing is, whenever I have been working for fashion brands with styling, it's quite frequently been a hostile environment, or a hierarchy, where you don't necessarily feel free or appreciated. I have people helping me now who are really incredible and inspiring young creative women. So it's just about creating the space where my team can all share our ideas and try things out, and just rethink. There's all these brands like H&M who are all jumping on the sustainability, ethical bandwagon, but I think there's also a lot to be done with the work environment and how you actually treat and respect people in a creative space. It's important to collaborate with others, to not be so competitive all the time and support each other. That might have gone off on a bit of tangent.
You are a big fan of collaboration, what's been your favorite so far?
Ooh that's a tough one. The nicest thing about collaboration is to have a collision of any discipline really. There's been painters, 3-D sculptors, and collage artists. There's such a wide spectrum of disciplines and artists, so that's been incredible. My favorite is the iscreamcolour collaboration. He's an illustrator. I really, really love his work and I think it translated so nicely on mesh, but I love them all for all different reasons and I always want to do new ones with anyone when I really like their work. But just trying to reign that in a bit and not to do too many things.
How or where do you get the fabric printed?
There's a digital printer in London, which is actually quite an expensive process, and the artist obviously gets a commission from every sale so its not the most business savvy. The rest of my fabric I usually try to source dead-stock vintage fabrics from different wholesalers and merchants that I find online. Normally I'd go to fabric markets. I was living in Brixton for a bit so I'd go to the market there, or Shepherd's Bush, so not having those has been quite challenging. It's only really the collaborations that I get digitally printed, the rest is dead-stock. It makes it more special as well when there's a limited amount of that fabric, like the Lucky Charms, there were maybe fifteen sets in total that were possible to make from it.
Can you tell us something about you that your customers won't already know?
Hmmm. It's hard because I am trying to be as transparent and authentic as possible. Maybe one thing. When it comes to talking about my work and how I perceive a character, on social media with imagery, I'm actually quite an introverted person I suppose. I'm not sure that's clear with my brand. But that's why I'm trying to promote - a celebration of that - you may be introverted, whoever you are, and you can step out of it with these clothes - celebrate being a bit silly and having a bit of fun. Other than that, I'm Welsh, and my first language is Welsh. People might know that, I don't really know.
Where do you think fashion is as a whole right now, and what would you change?
The high street is pretty dead now. It's difficult because I'm in this bubble at the moment where a lot of my connections, contacts on social media have a similar mindset to me. So it does feel as though there is a new community who are more conscious with their buying habits, which is having an impact. However there is still a long, long way to go. Occasionally I'm as guilty as the next person, I will buy something from ASOS and get it next day delivery. During lockdown having post is the most exciting thing. It's something to look forward to, it's a kind of ritual I suppose. It's just about retraining yourself - I have been buying garments now a lot more from local businesses, and trying to invest a bit more in products. Not buying stuff for the sake of buying it, but thinking more about the quality.
But there's still a long way to go, I prize myself on my business being sustainable and ethical and conscious but we're not perfect. There's still a lot of room for improvement even here, its important to be aware, want to improve and reflect. It's very easy to greenwash things and slip into bad habits. Be more mindful in your consumption, in all aspects, not just fashion.
It's about educating as well, I get a lot of comments from people sometimes saying 'oh its quite a lot for me to spend £40 on a top'. I understand that, but if you break it down and see what is spent on what...if you're buying a top that is £15, what is the actual price that you're paying? Especially our generation growing up in the noughties, when there was this boom of fast fashion, it's difficult to retrain these habits. I've got a younger sister, and there was a phase she was going through due to social media where she was like 'oh I can't wear that top, I was photographed wearing that top at this birthday party so I wanna have some nice photos so I can't wear the same thing'. I'm trying to develop garments that are more versatile, to be layered up or worn as lingerie, so we can try and make the most of stuff.
What fashion purchases have you made recently that you would recommend?
I've found quite a nice couple of jewelry makers online. There's a girl I'm doing a collaboration with, her name is LoveKat on Instagram who makes these beautiful silk slip dresses, and she illustrates all these elaborate doodles that are a complete artwork in itself. It's so affordable, and she actually recently made a custom pair of jeans for Dua Lipa. I feel like she's definitely gonna blow up soon.
Is there anything, music or podcast, that you have been listening to a lot in lockdown?
I wish I listened to more podcasts actually. In terms of music, actually my flatmate is Bolivian, and she's really into reggaeton music, and she's really got me into Bad Bunny, which I'm obsessed with. That's been my most recent soundtrack.
What ambitions do you have for your practice in the next few years?
To sustain what I'm doing currently. I'm creating an environment where like minded creatives can come together and produce consciously and ethically, and I just hope to sustain that, and grow. I don't necessarily mean grow in terms of producing more and selling more. I mean just learning, its been an interesting journey so far so I'd just like to keep getting up and doing what I love.
Visit Rhi's website here. Happy sustainable shopping!