In The Studio With LF Markey: The Philosophy of Usefulness
Louise Markey is the queen of pockets. With an innate devotion to the ideals of utilitarian fashion (in other words, “adhering to the philosophy of usefulness”), Markey prioritizes practicality in everything she makes. It’s the reason why, more often than not, she’s dressed in a boiler suit—or “knits and big trousers”—as is the rest of her office; these are clothes made for women who work creatively, with their hands, and have no desire to be burdened by quixotic garments.
Markey’s namesake brand started with a single top, and has since blossomed into a full collection (with a men’s line just recently added as well). A graduate of acclaimed design school Central Saint Martins and a veteran of Burberry, she knows the in’s and out’s of what makes a brand successful, and, in the case of Burberry, iconic. In 2007, a love of classic bleu de travail jackets was the catalyst for the inception of LF Markey; today, it’s a continued commitment to functional clothing, made sustainably, that drives the brand forward daily. We stopped by the studio in East London to learn more about the brand that’s redefining workwear for women.
Can you tell me a little about your studio?
Our studio space is in Hackney Downs, which is East London and it’s very close to our retail shop. It’s a very vibrant area—lots of creative people, studios, cobble roads. I just moved here to the showroom and there’s a photographic studio in here and there’s prop makers across the way! It’s a great little street.
What’s a day-in-the-life like for you?
I get up as early as I can—ideally 8:30 if possible. We work with people all over the world—we have emails sort of come in overnight and through the morning. And then from that on my role sort of varies. Everybody who works in the company has varied roles—there’s design, going back and forth from the store, have meetings..yeah pretty colorful life.
Your clothes are clearly workwear inspired– what draws you to that style?
I’ve always been interested in that—I started off ages ago collecting French working coats and boiler suits and I just had a massive collection of my own that I would wear. I developed an interest in that because I’m quite a practical person quite pragmatic. I’m also always been a bit of a creative person, to paint and draw, and I think that’s why I was originally drawn to those sorts of clothes. And then yeah, it just blossomed into a label down the line.
I just recently listened to this podcast all about pockets and how they kind of bring power to someone because you don’t have to carry around everything; you can just be on-the-go.
Yeah, I subscribe to that! I don’t carry a handbag. If I need to carry bag I will carry a backpack, but generally a get out and about without a bag at all. Pockets are just a lot easier.
You used to design for Burberry—when did you leave there and start your own line?
Burberry was back when I was I can’t remember—I think I was 22 when I was at Burberry! So I left Sydney and that was the first job I got when I moved to the UK. Initially I was working on their tags, but then I got promoted up to be their shirt designer—which was really exciting and crazy to be doing that at such a young age. So then after Burberry I moved to Sydney for a little bit and then to Paris—I was kinda having a bit of a gap year I guess. And then, I moved back to the UK and did my masters at Central St. Martins, with the view of launching my label.
So when was your first collection released?
The first season I did LF Markey was when I graduated from Central Saint Martins, which was in 2007. For a long time it wasn’t my main location—I was working as a designer for other people and sort of as a consultant in fashion. So the first section I started doing full time was probably in 2013.
How do you feel the brand has evolved since then, if at all?
Definitely a lot. Initially it was just work shirts—it was a very small collection. Maybe just about eight pieces of work shirts. It grew very, very slowly at first over the first couple of years. We added a few more interesting pieces, well I should say “I”—it was just me at the time. And then it wasn’t until maybe three years down the track I had a boiler suit in. Initially nobody really went to that—and then suddenly.. The boiler suit just went crazy. Since then, yeah the collection has just grown enormously. We do four collections a year now, we just added men’s, and the collections are much larger—and not just boiler suits anymore, all sorts of things.
I tend to design with a creative person in mind.
Do you wear your collection everyday?
Yeah, yeah! I wear it everyday as does everybody in the office basically.
What’s a go-to item that you’re always going back to?
Well boiler suits I do wear a fair amount, but again I’m just sort of a practical person, I guess I just tend to throw clothes on really. I tend to wear a wide leg jean or a wide leg trouser—quite 70s style. In winter, layering is good here in New England because it’s boiling inside and freezing outside. Yeah, just basically knits and big trousers is me.
Sustainability is woven into your process as well– why do you feel that is so important for LF Markey?
It’s something I’ve been interested in since really doing my bachelor’s degree in fashion. It was really drilled into us then—the effects of fashion onto the environment and that sort of duty we have as designers to practice sustainability into our clothes and into all of our business practices across the line. It goes beyond just clothes for us—it’s all about packaging, and obviously the people making the clothes, the conditions for those people. It’s something hopefully everyone is starting to do now.
Yeah, hopefully it becomes the norm and not the exception.
When you’re designing clothes, who are you imagining wearing them? Who are you designing for?
I tend to design with a creative person in mind. Somebody who has their own creative practice—artists, illustrators, architects. They tend to be people who create things of their own, even if it’s not their full-time vocation—even if it’s something they do on the side. Yeah, they tend to be quite big personalities. Somewhat of what we’re seeing in the store, they’ve got a sort of color, so we always try to keep everything very colorful.
Last question: what’s next for the brand? What are you working on now that you’re really excited about?
Well, the next thing would be probably another shop in the near future. And maybe in then in the next few years, even a US store if we can. We are growing our accessories line forward—we’ve got one style of sunglasses in and adding a lot more different kinds of accessories. And we’re even working on a sister line—which details will be available soon.
Images courtesy of Lauren Maccabee
Stay tuned to Milk for more sustainable fashion.