‘How did I get here?’ is a series of interviews with creative professionals. This month we’re talking to Robyn Lythe, a Bristol fashion designer who started her own lycra party wear brand ‘Burnt Soul’ in 2013.
I visit Robyn’s studio in Southville to pick up an exciting package of stretchy attire for our photo shoot. I’m used to seeing her pieces cutting shapes across the festival circuit so I was intrigued to see where they were dreamt up. For a studio in a spare bedroom it’s a hive of activity… Robyn’s assistant Anna is tapping away on a laptop next to a stack of post office receipts, three expectant sewing machines line the opposite wall, calendars covered in highlighter mark upcoming collections and deadlines whilst tempting fabric samples burst from cupboards.
The girls are reeling from one of their busiest weeks to date. Bits of mirror tile accidentally stuck to the huge cutting table in the middle of the room are the only debris from an exciting secret project they had last week. “I woke up one morning to an email that was beyond anything I had expected at this stage. I also had a deadline for Ella Eyre’s tour outfits fast approaching and as well as being in the middle of designing a sports range ready for the Christmas period but there was no way I could say no. Thankfully I had my amazing interns and some very generous friends that came to lend a hand. We got the project finished and sent off with minutes to spare. Even though I’d had about 2 hours sleep, it felt amazing to have achieved all that in such a small space of time and then get to see one of my creations come to life on Ella that night at the O2 as well.”
Robyn studied Fashion Design at UWE where she graduated with a first but I was interested to know when she started sewing; “I’ve always been interested in sewing and making, cutting up old (and new!) clothes and sewing them back together in various different ways. I was given a very old singer when I was 8 and I’ve never looked back. My mum knew the basics but I quickly overtook her and started self-teaching until my GCSE course. My teacher loved showing me different techniques and skills, so much so that I made my first wedding dress at 15!”
This lead to her first venture in 2009, creating bespoke wedding dresses… slightly different to the fabulous festival fashion she creates now! “I remember we were off to Shambala one year and all of the catsuits I found just didn’t suit my figure. After years of making wedding dresses and focusing on creating garments in the most flattering shapes and cuts, I tried the same process out in Lycra and it kind of snow balled from there.” So in 2013 Burnt Soul was born.
Robyn does wish she’d known one thing a few years ago though… “The best advice I’ve been given is to value your skills and time! I used to try and do everything myself, thinking I was saving money, until my business partner pointed out that it was much more beneficial for us if I directed my time at making and designing and paid other professionals to do what they do best, in a quarter of the time too. It took me a while to come round to this but it’s the best advice I’ve had to date. This is definitely true when it comes to accounting and all the boring business stuff!”
“It’s not what you know but who you know. I can’t stress enough how essential it is to do work experience placements when you’re at Uni.
Any more advice for students looking to do what she has done? “It’s not what you know but who you know. I can’t stress enough how essential it is to do work experience placements when you’re at Uni. I didn’t take it too seriously when I was in my 2nd year, I wish I had, but I did do several placements after my degree. Whilst I learnt so much about how the fashion industry actually worked, I also made valuable contacts that came in very handy further down the line. “
So what does the future hold for Burnt Soul? “Well, moving the business out of my house and in to a proper studio would be amazing! I’m also looking forward to the point that we’re generating enough business to support employees and continue to spread the lycra revolution even further!”
Visit Burnt Soul’s website at burntsoul.com.
By Dulcie Horn, ( Photography by Klara Foreman, modelled by Jahdine Milosevic).