Sonya Bachra-Byrne and her husband, Liam Nathan Byrne, travelled the world before returning to Yorkshire to launch their luxury fashion label AVIE. Stephanie Smith finds them stylishly settled in Leeds.
Born of love and patience, hard graft and a significant amount of globe-trotting, Yorkshire brand AVIE is at the vanguard of a new dawn for fashion, a fresh era founded on the principles of impeccable design and ethical, sustainable production.
It was launched last year in Roundhay, Leeds, by Sonya Bachra-Byrne and her husband, Liam Nathan Byrne. They met in London, fell in love in Catalonia, lived in New York and Spain, discovered their style in Denmark and developed their ideas in Australia.
Now they are pioneering a return to slow fashion, part of a growing movement away from disposable fast fashion and mass production. “We believe in luxury slow fashion, avoiding fast fashion, creating value pieces that transcend seasons, the focus being style rather than trends,” Sonya says.
AVIE, which translates as For Life, specialises in investment clothing, those classic outerwear and tailoring pieces able to take the wearer almost anywhere she wants or is required to go. The brand, say Sonya and Liam, has been “created for women who are pushing boundaries, who are trailblazers, disruptors, bonnes vivantes, who deserve and desire luxurious fabrics and value meticulous craftsmanship that wraps effortlessly around them”.
Sonya does all the designing. She was born in Bradford in 1980 and studied at Bowling Community College, before moving to Shipley College to study Business, Economics and Law, then Bradford College for an arts foundation, then De Montfort University for a degree in Fashion Design with Associated Studies – a wide-ranging course taking in psychology and marketing as well as fashion design and pattern making.
After graduating, she knew she wanted to launch her own label, but first concentrated on developing her experience and expertise, taking a job in Manchester with a large clothing company that supplied the high street. After three years there, she moved to New York to be an assistant designer with Junko Yoshioka, a small bridal wear designer on Spring Street in Soho, where she could have a hands-on role learning the day-to-day running of a luxury fashion brand.
“That was when I really got to know the industry,” Sonya says. “I had to go to the garment district, pick up fabrics, employ interns, manage schedules and private clients. We would get clients like Jessica Alba and Helen Hunt coming in and saying ‘look, we need a dress, we’ve got the Academy awards’.
“You never ever knew what they were going to wear. It was always at the last moment.”
Sonya was living the dream in New York. “It’s so positive out there,” she says. “All my best friends live in New York. I still go back twice a year to see them. I got my independence. I found out who I was. I went over this very British, very naive 24-year-old, walking the streets of New York saying ‘excuse me’ because it’s all go-go-go. After three years, I had a coffee in one hand, a bagel in the other and I was like ‘excuse me, I’m going to work’.
She moved back across the Pond to London in 2008, in time for the financial crisis, but found another role working for a High Street clothing supplier. She met Liam and was headhunted to be a designer for Bershka in Barcelona, learning Spanish four days a week as part of her contract. “It was a challenging time but I thought why not? I can only grow from this,” she says.
Sonya’s next job was in Denmark with the Bestseller group, which owns Jack and Jones, Vero Moda and other brands, with Sonya very much now a specialist in helping to refresh established fashion labels. She and Liam, who is originally from Ashton-in-Makerfield, near Wigan, had become engaged in Barcelona. He has a degree in Civil Engineering from Bristol but had been working as an actor in London and had set up a successful talent agency with more than 50 clients. Nonetheless, they moved again, this time to Australia in 2016, when Sonya began to work for Forever New. They stayed for a year and a half but moved back to Yorkshire to be closer to Sonya’s family in Tong village.
“We reassessed,” Sonya says. “I was always travelling. It sounds glamorous, which it is, but there was a flip side. I never got to see my husband.”
On their return, Sonya knew the time was now right to set up her own company, and AVIE was born last year, with Liam soon coming on board as well (he also has his own photography and film company).
Sonya says: “What you are doing as a brand is gauging consumer behaviours, gauging a gap in the market.” That gap was a label for beautifully made, ethically sourced, luxury clothing for women who really care about what they wear.
Sampling and patterns are made in Yorkshire, fabric comes mainly from Italy and Scotland, and manufacturing takes place mainly in Romania, with the leather pieces made in Istanbul.
“Every place we have lived, we have taken core elements from, to consider when designing, combining New York edge with the intricate details of Barcelona, minimalism of Scandinavia, modern touches of Australia fused with our own British aesthetic and expertise,” adds Sonya.
“We came back to Yorkshire to be with family and also the area is renowned for textiles, which seemed perfect. My father was a spinner in West Yorkshire, working at one of the local cotton mills, when he first came in the 1970s. We joke together that I have come full circle back home.”
The AVIE Edition 1.0 collection was launched to industry at this year’s Scoop International Trade Fair at the Saatchi Gallery in London and has been chosen by Drapers as one of the brands to watch for 2019.
With prices ranging from £395 to £840, Edition 1.0 is about moments, say Sonya and Liam. “Moments when a woman wants to feel powerful and authoritative to an audience; polished elevated styles that work with any ensemble day or night. Each piece feels empowering, confident boosting, yet feminine and discreetly luxurious. Subtle details accentuate the fine craftsmanship that each piece has endured, highlighting closures, necklines and especially the cuff and sleeves.”
Next on the cards is a new collection for spring 2020 and the plan is also to have an exclusive limited edition collection made in Yorkshire. AVIE has arrived and is alive and well, and living in Yorkshire.
The AVIE Edition 1.0 collection is available at The Mews, Back Roman Road, Roundhay, Leeds, LS8 2DU. Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org / 03300 101 047. See avie-studio.com and Instagram: avie_official.
CREDITS: Shot on location in York and at the De Grey Rooms; Photography: Liam Nathan Studio.