White T-shirt Stories is…
A series of candid conversations with interesting people, uncovering their values and style.
Molly Freshwater is… in the white t-shirt on the right!
Co-founder of the Secret Linen Store, an honest and transparent brand, bringing you beautiful bed linen straight from the makers (and in some ingenious packaging).
EON: Where is your favourite white t-shirt from and how long have you had it?
MF: Well, this is not it! My favourite white t-shirt is no longer acceptable to wear outside the house… I’ve had it for at least 10 years. Maybe slightly less, 8 years let’s say.
EON: I think that the white t-shirt is a wardrobe essential. What are the pieces you have in your ‘capsule’ wardrobe that you wear all the time?
MF: A white shirt, white t-shirt and jeans. I would say those are the three things you need to have. If you don’t have a good pair of jeans going at one point, you don’t feel quite right. Those three are the basics and then I like to mix in vintage pieces etc.
EON: How has your attitude to fashion evolved over the years?
MF: I don’t think it has that much in that it has always been, and still is, important to me. I can remember at university trying to wear something different everyday for the whole of a term! It would be the first thing I thought about when I woke up.
Today, I save for seasons because I think it’s really important to be able to afford to buy clothes in the autumn and in the spring. I hate the seasons changing without having something new. I’ve got better at buying things and being careful not to waste money at the same time.
I do wish that I didn’t care as much. I often battle with myself. But if I go out of the house not feeling quite right, then it definitely affects my day.
EON: What drew you to design bed linen above anything else?
MF: I always wanted to be a fashion designer actually, but when I did my foundation course I decided that the people on the fashion course just weren’t quite right for me. So I did textiles instead. Then I went and did a degree in textile design and when I was there I did embroidery, print, weave, knit and I decided that actually, I was quite lazy and making squares of things was much easier than doing anything else! So bed linen was obviously a natural thing because you just have to sew around the edges, there’s no grading or patterns or anything like that so I just thought it was great! I’d just make a nice pattern and then make squares with it.
EON: So you were more into what was on the surface of the fabric?
MF: Yes, print, pattern and application. Then I worked for a small company for about 8 years and after that went to work for Next, as a ‘downstairs’ textile designer…
EON: The design roles are divided in to ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’?!
MF: Yes! They have very different sorts of patterns and fabrics. Fabrics downstairs are much thicker for example.
But when I had my daughter, it kind of made me rethink everything. I was exhausted and working all the time, so I started my own sourcing agency, working between retailer and factory.
My sister Harriet worked for the same retailer as I did, in the marketing department, and we’d always said we’d do something together so we decided that we’d give it a go. Bed linen was a natural product to choose because that’s what we’d both been doing (me designing, she marketing) so we started the Secret Linen Store. That was in 2013.
EON: Your brand uses a lot of bright colours and patterns. Do you find that your customers stick to your styling suggestions or are they more independent?
MF: People are buying the whole coordinated look but we also find people that buy a mix. One of the things we try and encourage is to use your bed linen as a statement piece in a simple room. So if you’re redecorating, rather than go for a teal wall that goes with the bed linen, chose a neutral colour for the wall then you can have teal linen and pink linen and change the whole look of the room by simply changing the bed covers. It’s fascinating! I wish I had more time to spend on that, to see what people are actually buying and how they’re using it.
EON: What linen do you have on your bed this summer?
MF: I was always a ‘white linen’ person, up until I started the business. But now I have three different sets as well as two white. I have a grey, a tiny grey stripe and a yellow one. I’ve painted my bedroom quite a dark colour this year, which I really love, so the yellow works well. I’m enjoying the new colours!
EON: How do trends affect your industry? Not just in terms of the design but also, how often people buy from you. Are people more invested in their bed linen then they are in their clothes, for example?
MF: I think you’ve got two different types of purchaser for our product. One is driven by a need - perhaps their linen is worn out or been dyed a different colour. The white linen customer will often repeat buy the same again. People will also buy our bed linen because they love it and that’s only going to happen really if it’s something unusual like a flamingo print for example. They haven’t woken up that day and thought they need new bed linen, they’ve just seen something that they really love. Plain white linen is less likely to be an impulse buy.
In terms of colour and pattern, we don’t see quite the sort of peaks in trends that the fashion industry would and I’ve found over my career that interiors tends to be about a season behind fashion. If you see loads of animal prints on the high street for example, they’ll appear in interiors but in a much more diluted way.
EON: Do you think any of your customers have cupboards full of bed linen? I’m a two set person, when one’s on the other’s being washed!
MF: I think there are some people who have a slight secret obsession with it and can’t help but buy new sheets. We’ve got a 35% repeat rate which is unbelievable for bed linen and which we weren’t expecting at all. I think that’s also linked to the brand experience people have when they get the parcel.
EON: The potato sack that it comes in you mean? I think that’s fantastic.
MF: Yes, we get loads of comments about the packaging. I wanted it to be as environmentally friendly as possible and if everything was up to me, I wouldn’t use any plastic at all. Unfortunately, we can’t do a product entirely without plastic because it wouldn’t stay clean. However, if you buy a set of bed linen on the high street, every single piece has two cards that say the same thing and they’re often individually wrapped, it’s just silly. So we try to keep that down.
EON: What are the main differences between the way you shopped when you were your daughter’s age and the way she shops today?
MF: She’s nine so she’s not quite there yet! I think it is very, very different to how we were. I used to go to Brighton and buy second hand clothes when I was in my teens and that was great, but we didn’t have Primark - Gap was probably the nearest. I definitely wasn’t aware in any way, because of the way that we were educated, about price points or where things were made. Obviously being in the industry I now understand, but I just wouldn’t have known then.
It’s like smoking, dad said he smoked because no one told him it was bad for him! Nobody told me those things about fashion. It just wouldn’t have been on my radar.
I’ve worked in India, Pakistan and many other places. I know where and how things are made and it’s so important to me now. I know that you can’t make a sequined top for a tenner. I just know that. And I will educate my daughter and hopefully she will understand that too.
EON: As a society, we consume a lot. Do you think we can consume less and if so, how?
MF: It’s really difficult to answer that. I think as I’ve grown up, I feel differently to how I used to because I understand a bit more about the world. It goes back to what I was saying about fashion. I used to go to Topshop and buy ten things and now I’ll just buy one thing that costs the same as the 10 things. With interiors too, I certainly don’t buy like I used to. In terms of changing as a society though, I don’t know. And it’s hard because obviously I’m encouraging people to spend money on things that they might not need…
EON: And finally, why the Secret Linen Store?
MF: We played with so many different names and it was in fact one of our investors that suggested it. We are all about being direct from the factory straight to your home, so it’s like a little secret to discover us and share us with your friends. Your bedroom is also quite a secret place you know, a private place.
Molly is co-founder of Secret Linen Store www.secretlinenstore.com
Interview and editing for post by Eleanor O'Neill www.study34.co.uk
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