It’s called the Lockdown Look and, according to Leeds fashion designer Bo Carter, it’s going nowhere. “Soft joggers and jumpers, they have been flying,” she says. “The Lockdown Look, without knowing it, has become the most popular. People like the comfy clothes.”
Bo Carter designs sell across the world, via her own website and also through online retailers including Wolf & Badger, the Clothing Lounge and Not Just a Label.
Her latest collection, Solitude, brings together floaty, romantic dresses, flared culotte-style trousers, cropped jackets, loose tunic dresses and tops, with a 70s edge, all in organic cottons and denims. There is signature detail with tiers and gathers, drawstrings, pockets, billowing sleeves and peeping shoulders, but the overall feel is one of simplicity and honest luxury.
“My customers are not really interested in sales and bargains,” says Bo. “They are happy to pay the prices we ask them for, and people seem to appreciate the organic and the hand-made effect and the quality of the fabrics. It’s nice to see that people think about what they are shopping for.”
Long before sustainability and ethics became aspirational tick boxes, Bo was already there, pioneering organic and vegan materials. In 2013 she won Most Talented New Designer at the Peta UK Vegan Fashion Awards. Now that some big fashion brands are being seen to espouse these causes, the term “lip service” springs to mind. “I am quite sceptical about it,” Bo says. “It’s great that it is catching up, but I do see certain brands that now say they are sustainable because they tick one box on a business level.
“Some people fall for this. I think the key thing is, always look at the price – if something is that cheap, it’s not likely to be sustainable.”
Bo (short for Bozena) became a designer 11 years ago, after entering a Leeds Fashion Week competition to find new talent. She quickly found her niche as an independent ethical designer, showed her collections in the US at Virginia Fashion Week, then at exhibitions in Malta, Iceland, Baltimore, Bangalore and around the UK.
As a child in Poland, Bo created an imaginary world designing and cutting out paper clothes for her paper dolls. After moving to the UK when she was 21, she trained to be an accountant and worked in the NHS for a number of years. She still works as an office administrator in Leeds and lives in Batley with her photographer partner, Steve Gabbett. She designs and makes all her clothes in her studio there, sometimes with the help of an assistant. Many of the organic fabrics come from a UK supplier she has worked with for years – it buys them from a small family factory in India.
The photo shoot for the Solitude collection took place at Formby, and features Jemima Robinson, Bo’s house model and muse. It was Jemima who inspired Bo to apply to take part in the Marathon des Sables, one of the toughest ultramarathons in the world, taking place over six days across the Sahara Desert, covering 250km, in temperatures of over 50 degrees centigrade, and runners carrying all their food and equipment on their back. Bo was due to race last year, but the event was cancelled. She hopes to reach the Sahara later this year and has also signed up for another race in August in Iceland. “So I am going through ice and fire in one year, hopefully,” she says.
For Solitude, each design is named after a female runner. For example, the Elizabet floaty maxi dress is named after Swedish-born ultrarunner Elisabet Barne, who won the Marathon des Sables in 2015 and 2017. “She is lovely and very inspiring to me,” says Bo. “Obviously, she is very tough and strong but also has got that feminine side.”
For this collection, she has used corozo nut buttons. “They look just like normal buttons but are fully sustainable,” she says.
Both lockdown and Brexit have been causing production problems, with “massive” delays on fabric in recent months. “Normally, I can get fabric delivered to me in a week or two,” says Bo. “It took nearly two months last time, mostly because of Brexit rather than Covid. It is affecting getting things over and certain places don’t ship to the UK currently.”
This is worrying, she says, although her suppliers are excellent at warning in advance of issues. “When the pandemic started, my sales increased but prices have gone up for shipping,” she says.
Preparing for her marathon challenges sees Bo running outdoors in and around Batley and at home on her treadmill next to the radiator in the kitchen to replicate Saharan conditions. She is raising money for two charities: Fashion Revolution, launched following the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh where more than 1,000 clothing factory workers died; and Tower Hill Stables, a sanctuary which cares for more than 500 animals. Bo’s slogan tees also raise money for Fashion Revolution.
She is working now on her next collection and says it has been inspired by animal heroes. “I want to bring attention to the great animal heroes who sacrificed their lives for us,” she says.
Bo now makes just one collection a year, rather than two. “I can invest a little bit more time in thinking and designing. Everything is becoming a little bit slower and more relaxed and I think that is reflected in the clothes. But I’m ready for a 3D world, that’s for sure.”
* All clothes by Bo Carter at BoCarter.co.uk / Photographer: Steve Gabbett, with assistant Ben Cumming / Styling: Bo Carter / Model: Jemima Robinson.