Living your dream after working for over a decade to achieve your fashion goals is every young designer’s wish and for Deborah Henning it’s become a reality after her move to Dubai four years ago. Here, she tells Fact’s Shabana Adam about her own minimalist collection, why ethics in fashion is important and what it really takes to get to where she is today…
When you’ve worked for noted brands like Alexander McQueen and Ghost in one of the world’s biggest fashion capitals, it can either prepare you to take on the industry or throw you off completely. Luckily, for Deborah Henning, her experience in London and also with Sass & Bide in Australia was an invaluable learning curve that has helped her to create a beautiful, fresh collection. “The right kind of experience is super important,” Deborah says. “For me, it was always my ambition to start a brand and learning all the skills needed to do this allowed me to develop the kind of brand that I wanted.”
But, this wasn’t always the case as Deborah had previously launched a brand under the same name in London,back in 2007. “It was like prints and colour and dresses, and silks,” she recalls. “Basically the polar-opposite of what I do now. I was young and I wanted to make nice things for girls.” Fast-forward seven years and Deborah’s new line of clothing has a defined contemporary and edgy look. “When I moved here, I’d matured as a designer and took two years to figure out the market in Dubai and exactly what I wanted and what the customers wanted.” The result is a minimalist line that uses three of fashion’s most simple and chic colours; black, white and grey. “Again, the polar-opposite of the city I’m in,” Deborah smiles. “But it’s worked quite nicely as it’s come at a time when people want something fresh and new, clean and simple, that can still be luxury and still be contemporary. For me, it’s a lifestyle brand.”
It’s taken Deborah some serious hours and hard work to get to this stage . “ I wasn’ t built for anything else , I was made to do this. ”
Style is not the only thing that’s different in Dubai, so is the fashion business. Where designers face heavy competition in places like London and Paris to get the attention of magazines, stores, bloggers, and even customers, Dubai has its pros for up and coming brands. “Here, the media and the stores are easier to get in touch with, to speak to and they’re a bit more open,” Deborah tells us. “Stores like my brand because it’s contemporary and offers flexibility; the quality is good enough to wear a piece in the daytime, to then style a top with a necklace for the night time, and it’s also comfortable and cool to travel in.”
All of these mix and match elements infused in a playful, adrogynous collection, with the option to dress your Deborah Henning piece up or down, is something that the brand’s customers have fallen in love with. Next to the pros, there are some challenges with launching a brand out of Dubai too. “This business is a bit of the wild west here, in that people work differently and it’s probably not as organised as other places,” Deborah shares. In order to keep the balance, she advises: “The strategy, the mind set, the time scale, everything – you have to really be on it, really hassle people and really know what you’re doing. You have to be dedicated to doing it the right way.”
Quality is of the utmost importance to Deborah and she has spent the past two years sourcing the best fabrics from the UK, Italy, Japan and Hong Kong. “For me, it’s about all things working in unity,” Deborah says. “The clothing has to be well-designed, has to be fashion-forward, and has to have incredibly good quality fabric and stitching.” It’s utterly refreshing to hear Deborah talk about certain issues in the fashion industry that many high-end designers and fast-fashion brands find too sensitive to address. “Fast fashion can be a complete designer killer because they take what’s on the runway and some produce it to a decent quality,” Deborah says. “Even I wear Zara, H&M and Cos. I think my customer is the type of girl who really buys into the quality of my brand, but who might team one of my pieces with Zara trousers, for example. And that’s ok.
“I do appreciate slower fashion though, from a conservative point of view,” she continues. “My problem isn’t with what fast-fashion brands produce but how it’s produced and how they run their business, in terms of working conditions and pay for factory workers and the amount of fabric and clothes that go to waste. That’s my major issue.” Suppliers are put under pressure to produce cheaper, quicker, faster, and stronger – something that Deborah doesn’t condone from an ethical perspective. She uses organic cotton and sustainably-sourced material; she regularly visits the factory that makes her clothing to check that workers’ conditions are good, that they’re paid at least minimum wage and, most of all, that they’re happy. “There’s a big amount of ethics in what I do,” she says. “It’s not just about making money. At the end of the day I’m giving people jobs and I want them to stay in that job and also do a good job. If you put out and do good, you’ll get it back – I try to keep that in mind for the whole ethos of the brand.”
For all those who want to learn from Deborah, who need some creative guidance, and especially anyone who’s starting a brand but feels overwhelmed, Deborah is currently running two-day workshops to give advice on structure, strategy and everything from licensing to promotion. “To have a fashion brand you really need to be focussed and switched on, and know a thousand things at once because this industry is ruthless,” Deborah admits. “The business side can stump you from being creative. These workshops give a helping hand to stop people from going nuts! The weekend course can literally change the path of people’s careers.” With 13 years of experience and a brand that is honest, sincere and super stylish, it’s taken Deborah some serious hours and hard work to get to this stage. “I wasn’t built for anything else, I was made to do this,” she says. And the proof is in the product. ✤
GO: Pictured is the AW16 Deborah Henning lookbook. Visit www.deborahhenning.com for more information on the two-day workshops and the Deborah Henning collection.