This week, Motley became Onloan’s first-ever jewellery partnership. That means you can now rent Motley’s biggest and boldest pieces through Onloan’s monthly fashion rental subscription, alongside some of the hottest names in fashion today.
How do you slay the fast fashion monster? What sets truly great design apart from a logo? Motley co-founders, Cecily and Ilana, and Onloan co-founders, Tamsin and Natalie, met on Zoom to talk about the changing world of retail, great design, and sustainable clothing.
Motley and Onloan have a shared reverence and love for great design – why is it so important?
Natalie: It’s not just about selling jewellery and clothes for either brand. We want to be a part of a cultural conversation that’s bigger than just selling product, that reflects the world around us.
Cecily: Both brands put those who should be elevated back on top. Onloan and Motley want to even out a system, and make it more sustainable. We’re trying to mould what our respective industries (jewellery and fashion) do for the better.
Ilana: We don’t want people to feel like great design is only for those with money, or for those in the know. Making it more accessible doesn’t reduce its potency, it broadens its appeal I guess.
Some would say great design is great because it’s limited.
Cecily: Manufacture, attention to detail, time, process, expensive material, hours of craftsmanship – all these things add up to great design, and can often add up to price. But the clever thing about a lot of the brands Onloan works with (and what Motley does) is taking that purity of idea, and thinking of new ways to make it accessible – through different metals or different models. The Bauhaus school of design says that great design shouldn’t be dependent on expensive materials and should be valued for itself.
Natalie: I think the fashion industry has a lot to learn from jewellery. We work with incredible designers where there is a design process with integrity and sustainability at its heart. But there’s also product out there without that same integrity.
We collaborate with a family of designers who want to create items that are cool, and primed for that wow moment on instagram, but that can ultimately also stand the test of time.
Ilana: I think how we judge affordability today is also too low. I was speaking to my boyfriend’s mum the other day, and she was telling me about how she used to save up for months to get herself a dress. Clothing and jewellery was seen as something you make yourself, or work hard to save up for. We’ve gotten so used to having fashion on tap that what’s affordable to us needs to change.
Tamsin: That’s where the rental model comes in. It may not be something you’ll wear a thousand times, but you can rent clothes you will really enjoy and love wearing, before passing it on to someone else to enjoy and love.
We all grew up with that constant feed of new stuff at very very cheap prices. Something we’re trying to do with Onloan is shift people away slightly from that transient nature. There’s a reason we do a monthly loan, not just a one-off day. We spend a lot of our time talking about the detail and craftsmanship of each piece, and we really want to show our customer what makes the piece amazing. We are in a situation where everyone gets bored quite quickly, but we do think it’s valuable to remind people that each item was carefully crafted and deserves some love.
When did good, well-made things become the preserve of the few?
Cecily: Back in the day, everything was handmade and all fabrics were natural. Material was an essential currency, and very few could afford hand-woven silk – so it was an instant signifier of wealth. Mass access to clothes is so recent, and that’s all to do with industrialisation and mechanisation. You can now crank out vast volumes of stuff made of synthetic material. There’s almost infinite supply now, so the old signifiers don’t matter anymore. That’s when fashion labels rose – they became a distinguisher, where 200 years ago the material alone spoke volumes.
Ilana: If I think about my peers, design is not in their lexicon, but style definitely is. There will always be a core who are comfortable with really great design and talking about it, but most people just aren’t.
Natalie: Design is a process, you’re building something. And we live in a world where there’s no time for it, which is really sad.
Tamsin: People also dress for pleasure instead of status now, and choose to ignore the signifiers of wealth we used to live by.
Do women feel more empowered now to dress for themselves, outside of the normative forms of old?
Cecily: I think there are lots of places in the world where women don’t necessarily feel that shift as much, and still feel the pressure. What Onloan and Motley speak to is that there is self-expression outside of super normative forms of how women dress. The ‘Screw You’ collection Frances Wadsworth Jones designed for us is an obvious expression of that. More traditional expressions of femininity will linger for a while, even though there’s more room now to reject them than before,
Tamsin: it’s also an age thing. None of my peers wear high heels and younger girls might be less likely to, but I definitely did when I was younger.
Ilana: Women, fashion and discomfort is a new combination. For centuries, men have dressed in ridiculous fashion. Take Regency men, who used to wet down their stocking to show off their calves. Fashion as a constrictor for women is recent.
How was virtual interaction and working from home changed people’s relationships with what they wear?
Nathalie: Comfort is definitely here to stay. There’s no going back to waistbands for a long time now, and people are putting their own comfort first.
Tamsin: That being said, we did see some big, brave statement pieces go out the door over the past year, like backless dresses. Those who rented them told us they actually felt more comfortable wearing them at home or locally, without being wolf-whistled at on longer journeys or in unfamiliar territory.
How do brands like Motley and Onloan slay the fast fashion monster?
Tamsin: We take that same price point, and make it completely possible to wear exciting clothes that change every month – a wardrobe for rent is a different type of eco fashion. People do get bored of items really quickly, so for the same cost you would spend falling in and out of your fast fashion shops of choice each month, you could instead go for something with more value. You still get your quick fashion fix, in a sustainable way.
Cecily: In terms of sustainable jewellery brands, there was an absence of choice. There was always the high street and Bond Street, the costume jewellery and the diamonds. Motley opens up a world of possibility where you can buy your ethical jewellery heirloom, know what it’s made of and who designed it. In that way, it hasn’t existed before.
Go on Net-a-Porter and you’ll find designer label jewellery in the hundreds of thousands on gold plated brass, where you have no clue how thick the plate is or why it costs so much. That’s how you slay the fast fashion industry – instead of trending to the lowest common denominator, you empower customers to make informed choices.
Ilana: As a previous fast fashion jewellery consumer, I bought my jewellery at train stations, or browsing before a flight. Those journeys are changing, and with that it’s shifted how people buy their jewellery and clothes.
Favourite thing from Motley?
Tamsin: Love the Jet Hoops, they’re perfect everyday hoops.
Nathalie: I’m a big fan of Emily Robson’s Apophis Ring.
Favourite item from Onloan?
Cecily: I loaned the Shrimps floral trousers. They’re so comfortable – perfect paired with a puffer.
Ilana: The puff sleeve Stina Goya dress, I just love a puff sleeve (inspired by Cecily of course).
To celebrate Motley becoming Onloan’s first jewellery partner, we’re launching a special competition for our subscribers. Sign up, nominate a friend, and be in with the chance to win a 3 month subscription to a curated selection of two dream outfits a month.