If you live in a rainy climate, you know the pain of not being able to enjoy the outdoors thanks to the weather - alternatively, to shield yourself with a coat or jacket that might perhaps not be a catwalk-worthy option in terms of style. Many were the times when lovers of the open air had to reluctantly protect themselves from the elements with outerwear that looked less than chic. But Rebecca McElligott and her brand Protected Species are here to change all of that. Offering high-performance outerwear that doesn't compromise on style, this brand will have you ready to brave the weather in no time.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert.
It was her mother's creativity that sparked Rebecca's curiosity for fashion early in life. "Despite my elder sister and I being sent to school in the eighties sporting matching luminous green felt ponchos fastened with giant wooden toggles, I didn’t seem to be scarred enough to be put off the fashion industry for life," she recalls. "My mother’s fascination with home-made 'cloth kit' style creations made its mark on me, and after leaving school I worked my way through a clothing production course at the London College of Fashion. Spending many hours crafting paper patterns and shaping toiles on mannequins, I further developed this love of the technical aspects of clothing design and development, taking a concept from paper to a finished wearable product. I gained a BA Hons in fashion design and product development at the same college. My passion for fabrics and shapes and specifically functional garments - clothing which really worked - resulted in a final collection working with a high street retailer to deliver four-way stretch suiting fabrics offering comfortable, unrestrictive tailored workwear for women."
Rebecca went on to work on a placement in Manchester, before moving into PING, a golf-focused heritage brand. This was part of the groundwork for her forthcoming own brand: "A life of visiting beautiful golf courses and working closely with the top tour players was now my world. It set the challenge to develop fabrics and manufacturing techniques which produced fully weatherproof outerwear for serious professional golf players, who required soft, noiseless fabrics which looked smart, were creaseless, easy to care for and crucially unrestrictive in movement. This reflects many of the properties incorporated in today's Protected Species collections."
It was a casual chat over a coffee with future co-founder Anne Muir that signalled the birth of Protected Species. "We started chatting about the reasons why waterproof clothing was largely only available in bright colours and unflattering, uncomfortable shapes for women," says Rebecca. "
Being outdoor lovers ourselves, we used these garments for walking or mountain climbing, but 98% of our lives played out in outdoor places where these coats weren’t at all suitable for our everyday activities – activities which often still involved being under our great British rainy skies for long periods of time. Anne, on maternity leave at the time, was pushing a buggy around Glasgow most days and this was just one of the many daily needs for a waterproof garment that made her feel good and kept her dry and comfortable. She brought this subject up knowing I worked in the industry, developing waterproof products for other global brands and it was here the seed for Protected Species was planted."
Like any start-up, Protected Species faced challenges - and investment was one of them. Rebecca remembers: "One of our biggest challenges may have been looking for investment to grow our brand. This world was new to us, and in all honesty, the implications of finding funding at an embryonic stage was harmful for us in terms of the time it took away from building what we had. We eventually walked away from the potential of a strong cash flow injection knowing that the outcome would affect the way we wanted to run our business, our stress levels on a daily basis, and even the pressure on the type of products we wanted to make. It was a very steep learning curve in knowing ourselves and our direction, and the understanding that raising money has complex risks which is not for everyone and certainly needs a lot of consideration."
Who is the person Rebecca creates for? "Our consumer has an extremely wide age range, but she is very similar in terms of her values, beliefs and outlook on the world. She is considered in her approach to her purchases, and wants to know who is making the pieces she buys and where they came from." A lot of the brand's focus is on long-lasting longevity and simplifying the customer's life: "Our collection purposely crafts iconic, timeless shapes which stand the test of time and which are fused with muted colour palettes which blend seamlessly with existing wardrobes pieces. Our customer is busy, often juggling demanding careers with family and social arrangements and she definitely needs her clothing to travel across all her many lifestyle settings, and indeed across the world on her travels, without clutter or thought, knowing that it all just works."
A day in the life of a founder is, as expected, busy. "I wake up at 7am and answer any emails from overseas (as it can be late in their day). I do know this won’t be popular, but I’m not a coffee girl, so I get out for a short run or complete a half-hour Pilates session to get my body into action before the day starts. I set off to a shared office work space which gives me discipline and sanity and here the juggling begins." And that juggling comes with its challenges: "One of the biggest challenges growing a small brand, which I wasn’t prepared for, was the number of hats that need to be worn - and not all of them fit all that well. I am a product person, so discussing patterns, fabrics, accessories and working through problems with our factory owner is my first love. Marketing and promoting the brand is challenging as it’s not been my skill set, but learning new areas demanded by the business has been rewarding and added a string to my bow. I live in a coffee shop lined leafy village four miles outside Manchester so meeting with other friends and business owners is often on the agenda at lunchtime to offload and relax and does give me a lot of support. I try to finish around 7pm. As I love to cook, I work on a new creation in the kitchen before catching up with friends and family on the phone or slumping on the sofa with a book and my current Spotify line-up."
By Sascha Camilli
Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her or listen to her podcast Catwalk Rebel. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
All images via Protected Species.
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