The Brains Behind Isolated Heroes | SFCN Blog Interview
The Brains Behind Isolated Heroes
By Alex Reid
Samantha McEwen, the brains behind Isolated Heroes, is a designer who knows how to find success in fashion without conforming to any style, season or location. Meeting at her studio in Dundee, filled to the brim with wonderful fabrics, inspiration plastered across the walls and more than a little faux fur fluff. Within the tiny space two employees are sewing to their hearts’ content, whilst Samantha and don’t forget her Persian cat Donatella, sit down with me to talk about how she has grown from a Heriot-Watt graduate, to a worldwide success.
“…its about staple pieces that you could wear any time. Its not about fitting in to trends.”
A change maker from the beginning, her Scottish brand has always been a step ahead of the fashion industry. You may not have seen the name appear in any of the recent articles on designers now working seasonless, but that’s because Isolated Heroes has always worked seasonless, since 2012 I might add. Releasing designs when they’re ready, without the restrictions of seasons means that customers appreciate unique design more, “rather than just buying season to season and then chucking out your wardrobe next time, its about staple pieces that you could wear any time. Its not about fitting in to trends,” says Samantha.
Understanding Creative Clients
Understanding her market and how to interact with the modern day customer is a necessity for Samantha when running an internationally successful brand from a tiny and busy studio in Dundee. From posting photographs of fabric swatches to live streaming photoshoots for Isolated Heroes its about involving the customer in her brand’s journey, “customers can see the way your next season is going. They won’t know the final items, but we’re not secretive about it.”
Knowing how to build a strong connection with customers begins with interacting with them directly. Samantha realises the value of listening to customers and finds inspiration from following them on social media, “all our customers have Tumblr’s and Instagrams and are in creative fields, and you get from them what they’re wanting to see.” It seems obvious but it’s something other designers could perhaps take note of. After all, if you’re designing for your customers, it’s better to design what you know they’re interested in rather than pushing customers to follow trends.
Backing Affordable Luxury Over Fast Fashion
“Its still luxury hand-made, but it’s not got a £7000 price tag.”
Isolated Heroes has found success in offering affordable luxury to a younger market, but it’s not the easiest route when wanting customers to respect your designs, “I want people to understand the value of the product, which is hard when you’re making it affordable. Its still luxury hand-made, but it’s not got a £7000 price tag.”
It seems this new approach of offering affordable luxury is what has sparked the brand’s success. Isolated Heroes is known for its statement pieces, and for Samantha it’s about getting customers to realise that fashion is about investment, “it’s about making something different that you’re still having to save for.” Yet when you’re trying to market your brand as luxury with the same skill as high-end designers, that’s when it gets hard – “We want to do showrooms and be stocked beside designers but its hard when your price point is different from everyone else’s,” she says. Being exclusively based online means that McEwen has never had to worry about who she is stocked beside. But now looking towards the future, hoping to gain some concessions in stores, McEwen has bigger plans for Isolated Heroes, “The dream would be to do a Selfridge’s concession for a season – that would be amazing!”
Celebrity Clients and Changing Scottish Fashion
Isolated Heroes is never far from the limelight. With regular celebrities such as Paloma Faith and Marina and the Diamonds wearing the brand, it is no stranger to the press. The most recent rise in attention came from none other than Miley Cyrus, and Samantha was just a little bit excited, “I’m such a child, we were all like ‘OH MY GOD LOOK WHO JUST MESSAGED, I CAN’T BELIEVE SHE’S MESSAGING YOU!’ And you just get so giddy and excited over it.”
When we begin to talk about the support for designers in Scotland, it seems that Samantha feels strongly about the subject. Stressing that Scotland is allowing a profitable industry to die out, as seen through the recent closures of many mills, “I feel like Scotland is such a skilled country in the creative field, but we’re going to lose all these skills and they’re all going to die out.” If it were up to Samantha she would manufacture more clothes in Scotland but with funding and support going to more designers that aren’t based in the country, it seems that mills here are just too expensive. “It drives me absolutely insane if investment from Scottish money is getting put into brands that are down south, which seems to be happening all the time.” The government should work on providing funding for designers based in Scotland, and encourage brands to stay within the country, rather than moving down south. Isolated Heroes is a brand that has proven success can be found by staying at home, where it doesn’t take a so-called ‘fashion capital’ city like London to make it.
“It drives me absolutely insane if investment from Scottish money is getting put into brands that are down south, which seems to be happening all the time.”
Isolated Heroes also proves that success as a luxury designer doesn’t mean there has to be a hefty price tag. The brand is a refreshing change for the Scottish fashion industry, showing that if you take time to understand and listen to your customers you can build a successful business. It seems there is a lot in store for Isolated Heroes and Samantha in the future, and I cant wait to watch them grow and expand even more.
Fancy writing for the SFCN? Get involved and submit to the SFCN blog!