IN FOCUS6-8 min read

In conversation with Lulu Kennedy MBE

After falling into the fashion industry by mistake, Lulu Kennedy received an MBE from the late Queen in 2012 for her services to the industry. Today she runs a non-profit talent incubator, helping young designers of all backgrounds make a name for themselves in fashion. We recently sponsored an event that showcased some of Fashion East’s emerging talent, and spoke to Lulu about her journey.

25/04/2024
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Lulu Kennedy paired a skirt and top by Michael van der Ham, with a jacket by Roksanda Ilincic when she went to collect her MBE from Buckingham Palace. Both designers had become big names through her talent incubator, Fashion East. It supports up-andcoming designers for up to three seasons. This includes bursaries, mentoring and showcasing their work at London Fashion Week.

Lulu was also the founder and director of Topshop’s MAN range, via Fashion East, and the Lulu & Co clothing line. She is the Editor-at-Large of Condé Nast’s biannual LOVE magazine as well as working as a consultant for brands. We spoke to Lulu about her work at Fashion East and how it supports social mobility within the industry.

How did Fashion East start? What was the mission behind it?

I had no training in fashion, or even any intention of working in fashion – I fell into it almost by mistake! It was 1997 and I took a job letting out studio spaces for the owners of the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, in east London, to young creatives, including designers, who I then became friendly with.

I saw firsthand their endeavours to pull together collections in their bedrooms and put on shows on a shoestring that barely anyone from the industry would attend. I felt moved to help, and persuaded Truman’s owners to offer them subsidised studios and empty warehouses to show in, which were an instant hit.

With the philanthropical patronage of Truman’s, we developed these ideas into the project Fashion East. It selects designers, donates grants, produces professional shows and promotes and mentors the talent. There was nothing else like it at the time when we launched in 2000, and luckily it was fantastically well attended, received and covered by the press from the start to this day.

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Fashion East’s eye-grabbing designs were on show at London Fashion Week in February 2024.

You received your MBE in 2012. Can you tell us about that experience?

It came as a total shock – I never would have imagined someone like me mingling in those circles! At Buckingham Palace, it was wonderful to see recipients come from all walks of life with wonderful stories to tell. I was lucky enough to be presented with my medal by the Queen. She was formidable!

Can you share any success stories of designers who have benefited from Fashion East’s support and initiatives?

The most obvious ones might be global superstars Kim Jones (Creative Director of Dior Men, and Fendi Couture), Jonathan Anderson (Creative Director at Loewe), James Long (Creative Director of Iceberg) and Maximilian Davis (Creative Director of Ferragamo). We are equally proud of designers such as Craig Green, Roksanda, or Simone Rocha, who have all grown excellent independent businesses here in London.

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Lulu Kennedy: “I had no training in fashion, or even any intention of working in fashion.”

What do you look for when selecting applicants?

We need to see a cohesive vision from designers’ online applications, a point of difference, refined taste levels. Then when we shortlist and interview, we are really checking that there’s the drive and determination needed to launch their brand with us. So much of success is down to personality and teamwork.

Do you consider applicants without a fashion degree?

Over the years we have had designers with no formal education, who we felt had something important to say. One was an eco-aware designer who exclusively used upcycling – this was back in 2005!

What have been some of the most challenging aspects of your career so far?

As Fashion East relies on donations and brand partnership fees, we’re vulnerable to economic downturns, but we’ve lived through some pretty bad crashes and always find a way through. I think it is because we’re good at staying relevant and leading the way, so there is always buzz around us. Being a full-time, working, single parent can also be precarious at times, but I make it work!

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