‘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 it was going to be interesting 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 project they had last week. “I woke up one morning to an email that was beyond anything I had expected at this stage” says Robyn. As well as a deadline for pop star Ella Eyre’s tour outfits and being in the middle of designing a sports range she had just received a request from Miley Cyrus who found her over Instagram; “There was no way I could say no. 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.”
Robyn studied Fashion Design at UWE in Bristol where she graduated with a first but has sewn for her whole life. “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. It was at Shambala festival three years ago where the first sparks of the idea for Burnt Soul came “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 wishes she’d known one thing a few years ago though… “The best advice I’ve been given is to value your skills and time!” When she first started her business Robyn used to try and do everything herself including designing, accounting, marketing, accounting and making. It wasn’t until her business partner pointed out that it was much more beneficial for them if she only directed her time at making and designing and paid other professionals to do what they do best. “It took me a while to come round to this but it’s the best advice I’ve had to date. It’s especially true when it comes to accounting and all the boring business stuff.”
Another bit of advice that she would give to any budding fashion designers is “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.” Even though Robyn says she didn’t do it as much as she could have in her second year she did do several placements after her 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!”
Words: Dulcie Horn
Photography: Klara Foreman
Model: Jahdine Milosevic