Louise Markey, Founder of LF Markey, is the Margaret Howell for a new generation: her instantly recognisable workwear (including her coveted, best-selling boilersuits) favours boxy and oversized shapes, pared-back, geometric basics that don’t date and suit today’s preference for effortless and practical style. Favouring simplicity over fuss, LF Markey’s aesthetic champions wearability with the surprising pop of bright colours that hark back to Markey’s sunnier roots and 80s surf culture.
Here the Sydney-born designer shares her creative journey and how she navigated the notoriously challenging fashion world to see her vision become a reality.
You grew up in Sydney. Were you exposed to fashion early on? At what point did you decide to go to London to do fashion, instead of architecture as you’d first planned?
Yes, I grew up in Sydney, and it was my mum that I got the creative bug from. She is a calligrapher by trade but also dabbles in art, knitting, craft- she is always making something new. I decided to switch from architecture to fashion when I was still in high school after doing work experience in an architectural firm. I was doing shadow-diagrams for the entire week, and I think it was too monotonous for the teenage me!
The brand is global, but how well has it done back in your homeland – and do you still go back a lot?
The label is reasonably well known in Australia within a certain set; I’d like to do a pop-up there in the near future to get the word out. Now that I have a family, we go back every two years- more if we can!
Who were some of your first influences and references in your designing work when you came to the UK?
When I was still studying my BA, I took influences from everywhere and everything- I hadn’t yet worked out my niche and what differentiates my work. It wasn’t until my early twenties when I started to collect antique workwear that my work developed down the path it has. Around the same time, I became interested in the Fluxus group and the idea of multiples. I carried these ideas over into fashion in my own way, and it still influences how we do our shop windows, etc.
I can definitely see that visual connection! What was the creative scene like when you arrived in London – and how did it compare to your expectations?
The creative scene in London was so vibrant and exciting when I arrived! At that time, Shoreditch was still the cultural hub, and it was only just starting to spread up to Dalston. Making creative work was a daily practice, and we were surrounded by people doing the same.
Did you decide to stay in London and set up your own label straight after you graduated?
After my first stint in London when I was working at Burberry, I decided to head back to Sydney. I instantly changed my mind when I got there and moved to Paris for a year. Then I moved to London to study my masters at CSM with the plan to launch my label straight off the back of it.
What does it take to set up your own label – fashion is a notoriously difficult field, how did you do it, and how did you get through all the first hurdles?
It takes a huge amount of grit and tenacity to set up a fashion label- you need to be completely obsessed. I’m not sure if I could do it again now! For many years I worked alongside building the label in order to have some money to live, as well as invest in the label. In fact, I only stopped working as a freelance designer 4 years ago to focus on L.F.Markey full time.
How important is the team you’ve built on the success of your brand?
I worked with freelancers and interns a few days a week on and off- it wasn’t until 2 years ago I hired my first full-timer. It took a huge amount of courage and belief to take that step. It was the best decision though, and a year later we had over 15 people on the team. Finding the right team is absolutely vital to the success of a business. We look for like-minded people and tastemakers over CVs with the ‘correct’ experience or training.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as the brand has grown?
As the business grows, the different stresses change with each new period. Initially, workload and finance was the main stress, after I got a team, then just finance was the stress! Those stresses are also easing now as the business enters a new phase of growth. I used to let the stress consume me, but I think I had an overnight wake-up call and I just worked out how to put it all to one side and ‘not sweat the small stuff’.
Why did Dalston become a key location for you, and how has it informed the way you established the LF Markey brand?
I think because the label grew initially via word-of-mouth, Dalston became the heart of the company. We still ship primarily around this area from our e-commerce business.
That is interesting that you have that local audience. You now live not far from the store in Stoke Newington which is a bit of bubble sometimes! Comfort seems like a quality that’s important in your designs, is that something that’s true in your life in general?
Absolutely, and it’s becoming more and more of a factor in my life! Stoke Newington is like a lovely village in London, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in this city.
How did you juggle it all with becoming a mother at the same time?
Impending motherhood was what made me eventually pull my finger out and make sure the business became my full-time vocation. I realised I was going to need flexibility in my working life and running my own business was the only thing that would give me that.
What’s an average day like for you now?
I have a short walk to work and work 5 days a week, though my working hours are rather random. I’d like to continue growing the label and expand more internationally. We are also working on our sister label Meadows- which is growing incredibly fast! I’d like to somehow balance this with a slower-paced personal life for my family, but am not sure yet how to configure this!
What kind of woman did you have in mind when you started designing your own clothes – and has that vision or image changed at all as your own life and demands have changed?
L.F.Markey has always been for the creative woman (and now man… and soon child!). This is still the customer we have today and hopefully always will.
What is success for you?
Success for me is having a great balance of work and time and enjoying your life and work.