In the words of Frances Hodgson Burnett, “if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden”. Friends Sarah Thompson, a fashion designer, and Ellie Hutton, a florist, decided that they would look the right way when the pandemic struck, and set about organising a very special collaboration so that a group of creative young people in North Yorkshire could pool and showcase their talents.
Co-ordinated and styled by Sarah and Ellie, who met eight years ago, the fashion and flowers shoot took place at Dimmingdale Farm, Sarah’s family home, 12 miles from Sandsend. “As we have both been heavily inspired by our surroundings in North Yorkshire, we wanted to make sure our shoot embraced that,” Sarah says.
The photographer was George Hutton, Ellie’s brother, who is studying Fashion Communications & Promotion at Central St Martins in London. The two models are also local – sisters Isla and Caitlin Macdonald – and Morgann Russel, from Whitby, assisted with photography and styling.
“It’s amazing what local talent we have around us here,” says Sarah. “I love collaborating with others, putting our heads together to create something that can really celebrate North Yorkshire.”
Ellie created all the floral designs for the shoot. Beginning a business in lockdown was always going to be a challenge, but she was undeterred. The 24-year-old, from Whitby, launched her bespoke floristry company Blooms by Ellie last year, operating in and from her home town, using her father’s garage in Briggswath as a base.
“I came across a video on Instagram of someone making a flower crown and thought it looked fun and interesting,” she says. “From there it turned into flower arrangements and before I knew it people were asking to buy my flowers.”
Ellie studied at Whitby Community College, then did an art foundation at Cleveland College of Art and Design (now the Northern School of Art) before heading off for Leeds Arts University to study Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern. “My flowers are funky and not boring, bringing something fresh, new and different to the Whitby and North Yorkshire florist scene.”
Ellie loves to create large-scale floral arrangements with lots of movement, texture and colour, and says her new business has actually benefited from lockdown. “It’s given me the opportunity to grow the business, be experimental and creative with the flowers,” she says.
The striking patchwork clothes are all designed by Sarah, 23, who has her own brand called TOM-O, based in a small studio in Moorsholm, not far from Dimmingdale.
“I always feel so grateful for my upbringing on our family-run farm,” she says. “I think a lot of my creativity stems from there. We had so much freedom and space to roam surrounded by nature, which I think continues to inspire me now.”
After graduating from Sheffield Hallam University in 2019 with a BA Hons in Fashion Design, Sarah was chosen by Graduate Fashion Week to showcase her final collection – which explores the relationship the British farming community has with its clothing – at London Fashion Week 2020 last February.
She moved to London to intern with prestige fashion brands, and then the pandemic forced a rethink.
“I didn’t honestly think I’d be starting my own brand at 23,” she says. “Lockdown gave me the chance to really think about who and where I wanted to be in the industry, and although I was gaining experience down in London, it just wasn’t where I felt like I belonged. So last summer I decided to set up a brand where I create what I believe in, making pieces from deadstock or unwanted fabrics and garments. It’s where I think the future of fashion needs to be heading.”
TOM-O designs are patchworked from donated no longer needed fabrics and underused and unused clothes. “I like to clash prints and colours, celebrating the fabric no longer used by its previous owner,” Sarah adds. “I have a store room where I keep all the donated garments, fabrics, curtains and so on and I start out matching three or so fabrics that I think work well, then see it come to life as I patch it together. Each one is totally unique and I love that.”
The TOM-O new website and online shop launches this month, featuring a new capsule collection of staples. “I want to encourage my customers so that, if they have any items in their wardrobe they no longer wear but still love the print, pattern or colour, they can post to me and I can incorporate it into their new piece as one of the three fabrics,” she says.
Sarah is also collaborating with By Rotation, an app that promotes sustainability by offering designer clothes to rent.
Lockdown, she says, resulted in unexpected benefits. “It’s given me the time to just realise the kind of designer I want to be in this industry. Coming back to North Yorkshire from London made me realise where I am most inspired and that I need to follow that and do what I am passionate about.”
TOM-O is at www.tom-o.com (the new website goes live on January 29) and Blooms by Ellie is at www.bloomsbyellie.com