Talk About A Revolution
Meet Natasha Grays, the British designer behind new premium jeans and womenswear brand Graysey. Graysey’s non-seasonal designs take their inspiration from a carefree, effortless 1970s aesthetic but with comfort and sustainability at their core. Their highly technical, hero product Jeaks™ jeans was born out of Natasha’s wish to find supremely comfortable, well-designed denim to travel in. She couldn’t, so she designed them herself in the form of Jeaks™ – flattering, high quality jeans with a stretch panel around the inner leg seam, which eradicates any uncomfortable hard seams for the wearer – a wonder product in the making. In this edition of What She Does, I talk to Natasha and her business partner husband Doug about their vision for the brand, their backgrounds in design and manufacturing and their uncompromising approach to sustainable practices for Graysey.
What prompted you to start Graysey?
Seventeen years ago, I said to my husband Doug “Wouldn’t it be great one day if I could design stuff and you could sell it?!” I had a strong feeling even then, that with my design & creative skills and Doug’s sales, marketing & business strategy skills – it would be a winning combination! I didn’t imagine my dream of having a brand would come to fruition in the way it did.
I’d done a degree in Fashion & Textile Design, travelled the world working in hospitality based in the Middle East and then ran an Interior design company for years. Doug had built up one of the biggest promotional merchandise companies in the U.K. We relocated to Hong Kong to turn it into a global business.
Our circumstances changed and he decided to sell the business. We relocated to London, then Brighton to start fresh. We were finally in a position to set up Graysey together. I feel everything we’ve accomplished and learnt in life so far career- wise, was leading to this point where we have the passion, concept and complementary skill sets and drive to make a successful brand. I also felt there was a gap in the market for our brand and what we can bring to market.
What is it about the 70s aesthetic that so appeals to you?
For me, there was a certain glamour and feeling of magic in the way clothes came across in the 70s. A combination of the colours, the textures, the sparkle. I love the styles and silhouettes which are super flattering on pretty much every body shape. From the flares worn with platforms, the swishy ‘Halstonesque’ evening dresses to the suede A-Line skirts, the clothes gave the women freedom of expression, attitude and a sense of fun!
What was your background before you started Graysey and how has it helped you develop the brand?
Natasha – My fashion and textiles degree, and love of illustration was a good base. I worked in fashion for a short time and then travelled the world. I got into interior design and continued designing clothes and making my pieces at local tailors. Back in the U.K. I set up a soft furnishings company, which grew organically into an interior design company. I took it to Hong Kong when we lived there as a family and continued fashion designing and having pieces made there. I have a natural affinity for working with fabrics and proportion and a strong sense now of what I look for in clothes in terms of cut, quality and ethics. I feel doing my degree, travelling to exotic countries and getting inspired by the textiles and art was a great inspiration. The experience of having my own business for years, working with fabrics, attention to detail and dealing with people of all nationalities and walks of life has equipped me with the skills I need to develop the brand with my husband.
Doug – I started my career as a young boy working on the shop floor in the family fashion retailers Chelsea Male and Denim City (One of Britain’s first chain of denim boutiques). After an interlude in the city, I set up my own business: Dukes of London, one of the largest promotional merchandise and apparel companies in the UK, which worked with brands including Bacardi, Diageo, BMW and McLaren. After a stint in Hong Kong I sold the business in 2015 returning to London and my denim roots, joining forces with Natasha to launch Graysey. With Natasha’s eye for design and my business and manufacturing skills and experience we felt there was a natural fit to work together and set up Graysey.
Strong ethics and sustainability are at the forefront of your brand ethos – how important is sustainability to you and how easy is it to take this route in a difficult market?
Years ago, when I was in my teens, my Dad was very aware that the earth was being destroyed by the pollution man creates. So recycling, trying to minimise single use plastic, being aware of buying seasonal local produce and buying quality over quantity & vintage has always been part of my life. Developing a brand was an extension of how we live as a family. It does take more time to source manufacturers that have all the requirements we were looking for but this is the only way to have a responsible business that you can feel good about and that your customers can trust.
The Graysey journey. How long did it take from inception (your eureka moment regarding JEAKS) to business launch?
My desire to create a fashion brand inspired by the 70’s came from my love of the styles of that decade, but an inability to find pieces in one place. I also wanted to introduce new fabrics and cutting techniques to be relevant now.
The idea for Jeaks™ (our main launch line of denim designs and ‘hero product’) came to me on a family holiday just over two years ago. It stemmed from my personal challenge choosing an outfit to wear to travel in that is stylish but also really comfortable. I live in jeans but the hard seams make them uncomfortable when traveling and I’m not someone who feels comfortable wearing a tracksuit when traveling. I thought that if I have this problem, other women probably struggle with this. Jeans are a staple for me but I felt that they could be improved. This was my personal brief: they must flatter your legs and even make them appear slimmer. They had to make your butt look great. They had to be the most comfortable, flattering jeans ever and most importantly, resolve the issue of hard seams in the crotch area!
There haven’t been any major changes in how jeans are designed over the years apart from jeggings. I wanted to somehow take jeans to another level of evolvement. Jeaks™ would allow women to stand out from the sea of blue in a crowd with an added feature of having stretch panels incorporated into the jeans all around the inner leg seams. Eradicating denim in that area would create softer seams where you need them. It would also add a flash of colour or textile print to give a design edge. The panels also help contour the leg.
Jeaks™ took two years from inception to business launch as there was a long hard search for a fabric that would work with denim in the way we required it to. In the end, after many conversations with textile experts and manufacturers around the world and many failed samples, we worked with a company to develop this new fabric. It took time to visit factories and find the right one, sample many denims to find the right one, cut and re-cut the patterns to create a great fit.
What key advice would you give to anyone starting a fashion label in 2020?
My key advice is to understand that starting a fashion brand is not easy. You have to be 150% committed and stay focused and positive. It’s probably a good idea to have money behind you or have money coming in until it takes off. I also think it’s important to try and solve a problem that your target customer might have. Also with the world finally taking notice of the ecological mess it has created, you need to source as ethically and as sustainably as possible. With the world of social media your customer wants to know who they are buying from, what they care about and the story behind the brand.
Who is your ideal Graysey woman? Three words to describe your brand?
Our ideal Graysey woman is Smart, Adventurous, Fun!
Three words to describe our brand: Timeless, Unique, Ethical.
You work alongside your husband Doug, any advice on how to make this work without familial tension?!
I think we were both unsure of how working together would pan out. But after being together for 18 years through both happy and difficult times we’ve learned to communicate well with one other, although Doug does need a reminder every 6 months! Our shared experience has actually brought us closer. We complement each other with very different skill sets.
Running your own business start-up can be hard, what is it that keeps you going daily and inspires you to carry on?
Total belief in our brand and products. Also, it’s so important to keep mentally and physically fit, so I exercise five times a week, do positive affirmations, listen to podcasts, and eat healthily. Weekends are for letting our hair down, seeing friends, getting into nature, good food and wine. I believe if you don’t give up and keep moving towards your goal, at some point you will become successful. And we’re enjoying the journey!
Where would you like Graysey to be in five years time?
We would like to be established in London, Paris, Milan, New York and L.A and be known as the design brand who brought Jeaks to the world, alongside our amazing 70’s inspired collections. We would be working closely with our chosen charity ‘Women for Women International’, sponsoring women on their skills training programmes. We would also continue to work in an ethical and sustainable way and keep learning about new sustainable fabrics and processes that we can implement.
Jeaks™ and the latest Graysey collections are available online at www.graysey.com
They are also stocked in the following stores:
The Next Big Thing concept store in the ‘Showcase’ section – 12 Regent St, London.
Harpers on 11 The Promenade, Hale Lane, Edgware, Mddx.