We had the pleasure of interviewing Echo member Piarvé, founder of The Fabric Swatch – a small business that is all about the circular economy, fashion consciousness and encouraging the pleasures of craftsmanship.
We asked Piarvé about how she’s been using Echo to grow her business, what lockdown has been like for her, and how she got creative with pivoting her business during the pandemic.
Tell us a bit more about The Fabric Swatch and what you do?
The Fabric Swatch collects unwanted textiles from small local manufacturers, designers and fashion houses. We then share out the fabric to hobbyists, sewing classes and small businesses who can make use of scraps giving them a second life. We work with smaller pieces which are perfect for quilts and items such as teddies and other patchwork creations.
We also collaborate with designers and organisations to make the very most of every piece of fabric and run fabric swap events which we’re looking to resume safely post-COVID. Everything we do is about keeping textile waste away from landfill.
What attracted you to join Echo?
Before I had a business idea I attended an Echo++ Weekender, an intensive 2-day programme for aspiring entrepreneurs with business ideas brewing. I met some local people who had great ideas, enjoyed the company and the type of people it attracted.
Since then, I’ve continued to keep an eye on what Echo has to offer, they tend to share a lot of useful local opportunities. It’s also great to be able to earn and pay Echoes to learn the skills and access the services you need to progress your business, especially as so much is required to set up a new project.
What useful skills and services have you received on Echo so far?
I’ve enjoyed attending workshops and sessions put on by other Echo members, for example, a leather purse making workshop by Studio Nelle.
Through Echo, I have also attended events related to the circular economy and waste management. My work focuses on textile waste, allowing local designers, manufacturers and hobbyists to share textiles with each other, and it was refreshing to learn about other areas of waste, for instance how boroughs recycle and what happens to our waste when we bin it.
I’ve also had the opportunity to offer strategic marketing and social media support. My background is in marketing so it’s been nice to share my knowledge, especially since marketing is put on the back burner by many new business starters. Yet it is very important!
How did you initially respond to the COVID-19 crisis?
I made the choice to stop everything Fabric Swatch does, this included our events, access to our studio and workshops. All of our work requires face to face contact.
I then did a series of online workshops, teaching those stuck at home how to make the most of their stash of old clothes and fabric waste.
Then the opportunity to join Scrub Hub came up in a Mutual Aid group. There wasn’t a presence in Newham so I decided to coordinate the group. After putting the word out I was united with other local people who had been thinking about making scrubs for frontline NHS workers during the pandemic – a lady called Katya joined the team.
We now have Anish and Anjana taking care of our data; Laura, Nicola, Jo and Suzy who coordinate subgroups; Allie, Sian and Lauren who between them have helped with video, content and raising awareness; Yin who looked after quality control; and we have an army of seamstresses and other admin volunteers across Newham and Tower Hamlets.
They have all selflessly contributed towards making scrubs for individual key workers in the borough. We’ve received so much support from Maes London, a local manufacturing company and have been operating out of a Pop-up COVID Hub in Custom House created by a social enterprise called Civic which merged with Echo this year – it’s a small world!
Has lockdown meant you’ve had to pivot your business?
I have used lockdown to keep the conversations going with other local businesses. Scrub Hub has taken so much of my time but I will be doing more work on fabric waste and ensuring surplus fabric is given a second life.
I’ve also met some amazing people while working on Scrub Hub in East London, made great connections and had some lovely non-business related chats which have been refreshing.
What advice would you give to Echo members in a similar situation to you?
To reach out to people when you are feeling stuck. It took me a while to realise that I was pivoting my business model and I didn’t know if it was the right decision, but I have a bunch of non-judgemental listeners in my circle who I can go to for advice, to vent or bounce ideas from.
Also, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, keep your plans very simple so that you can manage it and also communicate with your customers.
What will business look like for you after lockdown?
Fabric Swatch will continue to collect unused good quality fabric and vintage fabric – which we found stashes of in our storage during the lockdown. We will be launching and selling our Fabric Boxes which help us provide affordable sewing workshops across East and South London. We’re here for the experimental sewers!
Want to find out more about The Fabric Swatch? Follow them below!
All images taken by Alun Callender