by Alexander Brand
Sarah-Leigh Mclaughlin is the owner of the Stellenbosch-based slow clothing brand, Freckle & co. The brand was founded in 2020 with the purpose of providing quality, stylish clothing produced true to the principles of the slow movement.
Tell us a bit about your background, your journey, and how you ended up where you are now.
I grew up in Somerset West, which is a beautiful little town not far from Stellenbosch. I went to Chatter Box Pre-primary School and then went onto Beaumont for primary school. During my younger years, I spent my time playing sports, dancing, going to piano lessons, and going on playdates.
I then went to Rhenish for high school which is an all-girl high school based in Stellenbosch. We continued to live in Somerset West and I went to and from school by bus. When I was in grade 10 we decided to move to Stellenbosch for various reasons.
After receiving my Matric qualification, I went off to study Fashion Design at Elizabeth Galloway Academy of Fashion Design, a private creative academy based in Stellenbosch. I flourished most during my three years of studies and then graduated with a distinction in my BA degree in Fashion Design in 2019.
It was early in 2020 that I launched my own slow clothing brand called Freckle & co. It is doing extremely well and I am proud of what it is becoming. I am currently also studying French on the side-line as I have always been interested in learning another language.
How was your experience at Elizabeth Galloway?
After school, I always saw myself going into a creative field; there was no doubt about it. I had an interest in art and clothing and that’s why I decided to combine the two. After attending the open day at Elizabeth Galloway my soul felt at home and I knew this is what I had to do. I am so grateful to my mom Alison and my dad Gavin for putting me through my years of studies and also my sister Megan for always being by my side.
Elizabeth Galloway is a prestigious academy and only consisted of a small group of students. At first, this could be seen as intimidating but as you find your feet and get to know the people is amazing. It is here that I connected with many people and started growing as a person. It was not an easy course. I started the course not knowing how to sew, make patterns, or be able to use Adobe. It took me a long time to learn all the necessary skills, but after lots of practice, learning, growing, and maybe the few odd tears (or more ha-ha), I was able to get through it and learn so much along the way.
During my three years at Elizabeth Galloway, I started realizing the direction I wanted to go into. I have always had a keen interest in the environment and sustainability and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a difference even if it was in a small way.
What pushed you to start your own clothing brand, rather than go into a more corporate field?
After receiving my degree in fashion design, I felt that my only option was to go out and find a job in the so-called “real-world” as that had been entrenched in our minds from a young age.
This did not go as planned for me as I have very strong opinions on sustainability and slow fashion, and I felt that I was going against everything I believed in. I also felt that no one understood me and my so-called “strange ideas”. This left me feeling depleted and unfulfilled.
This meaningless feeling that overwhelmed me during this difficult time forced me to look in another direction. This new way of seeing things allowed me to follow my dreams, beliefs, and a way of life that suited me as a person. By starting my own slow clothing brand, Freckle & co, and by following the slow movement method I was able to step out of the conventional way of living as well as to live by practices that I stand by and that are important to me.
During my studies, I took notice of the 6 processes that went into creating garments and the amount of waste fabric. I wanted to change this. I wanted to start a brand that takes the environment as well as the people into consideration. That is why I decided to start a slow clothing brand. I also wanted to follow a more natural approach in all aspects, from naturally fitting flowy items to using natural models.
What exactly is slow fashion or the slow movement and how do you incorporate it in your brand and clothing?
Slow fashion, the alternative to fast fashion and part of what has been called “the slow movement” is a more sustainable approach to fashion and everything it entails. Slow fashion is an awareness and approach to fashion, which considers the process and resources required to make clothing, this does not mean that all the fabrics used are 100% sustainable but we try our best where we can. It involves buying better quality garments that will last for longer and values fair treatment of animals, people, and the planet, leaving everyone and everything feeling happy. Slow fashion emphasizes the art of making clothing and celebrates the skills of those who make them. I believe that fashion is ART and it should be valued as such. I am proud and excited to have a brand of my own that follows the slow fashion movement, a brand that is open to the changes the world is facing.
We follow the movement, by firstly, sourcing all our fabrics locally. Then, our patternmaking, cutting, sewing, and garment production all takes place by the people in our community, and are now a part of the Freckle & co family.
Each of my items has a deeply thought out message behind them which makes each garment unique and special. My clothing items are handcrafted on order and therefore these items are made slowly and with care. Also, less waste of fabric is used due to items made individually to each and everyone’s unique size. This means your order may take longer to arrive but it is all part of the beautiful process that you can be a part of.
I am very passionate about buying my fabrics locally. There is something so special about supporting your community every step of the way. I purchase most of my fabrics in the surrounding areas. I have close relationships with my suppliers and we all help each other where we can.
Everything is custom made for Freckle & co. My brand is small and intimate and it will therefore grow slowly while supporting the slow movement practices. Support small, support dreams, and support a world that needs each and everyone’s help. At the end of this process, you will treasure your items as well as feel happy with your purchasing decisions. My brand will be transparent and my customers will be a part of the Freckle & co journey.
Who is part of the team behind Freckle & co.?
When I first launched my brand I was doing all the sewing and making of the garments myself. As my brand began to grow and the demand for my products increased, I decided that I needed help as I could not keep up with the orders by myself. I found myself a tailor. His name is Noel Ruwoko and he does my sewing for me and is excellent at his job. He prides himself on his quality work and always puts his everything into what he does. We work closely together to make sure we get the quality, unique items we imagine.
I have another seamstress who is new to the team, Chipo Chikandiwa, who also does extremely impressive work. We need to celebrate the craftsmanship of the people in our community and support them so we can all flourish and grow together.
Freckle & co is a transparent brand and makes sure to be fair with everything we do. We aim to create job opportunities as well as allow people to practice and show their talents to the world. I am in close contact with all the people that are part of the Freckle & co family and we are all helping each other and creating a happy world and life for everyone.
Armin Prinsloo, my photographer, does a great job of capturing the true essence of Freckle & co. We understand each other and communicate the ideas we want and then we make them come to life. Armin is extremely talented and I’m so happy to have him as part of the Freckle & co team. My cousin, Chiara Trenti, also does some of my photography and photo shoots.
Besides the sewing of the garments and the photography, I do everything else myself from running my social media platforms to doing my books. I have a sewing room at home and this is where I do all my work. Noel and Chipo work independently from Somerset West.
Where does the name Freckle & co come from?
Many people ask me if the name is related to me having freckles. Yes, it is but there is so much more behind the name. People used to see freckles as imperfections but through my range, I want to share the beauty of something so magical and unique. Freckles are natural and pure and many people are against this. Your natural beauty must shine through. All things are best in their pure and rare form.
What was the first piece of clothing you made yourself?
The first-ever piece of clothing I made myself was a very basic straight skirt. We had to make one in the first year of my degree. Let’s just say it was not fabulous. From then on I had lots of practice and started making more and more things for myself. One of my favourite items I made for myself was a yellow bohemian skirt that I still wear all the time. If you ever see me wearing a yellow flowy skirt you will know exactly which one I’m talking about.
What struggles have you faced?
Along the way there have been many ups and downs. One of my biggest challenges was coming straight out of my studies and not having money. Sometimes when I have large amounts of orders it is difficult to first purchase all fabrics… Another challenge has been communication with my seamstresses. Although we have good communication sometimes it is difficult over the phone.
Personally, the lockdown was a blessing in disguise. I launched my brand in lockdown. This time at home allowed me to put my head down and work on my dream brand. I also got lots of inspiration during the lockdown period. With regards to sales during this time, my aunty Belinda Trenti and I created an online website so this is where I would do most of my sales and then also through social media platforms such as Instagram. I would then use a courier of PostNet to get the deliveries to customers.
I love being a part of markets no matter how big or small. The Urban Experience Market was a lovely market filled with alternative people and groovy music. Markets are good to get your name out and advertise. I have also been at the Sunday Dorp Street Market, the Meeting Place pop up, Courtyard Café, and hopefully many more to come.
What can we expect from Freckle & co and Sarah-Leigh Mclaughlin in the near future?
Although when having a business you do have to plan for the future, I have decided to just go with the flow and see where the brand goes. My dream is to educate people on slow or sustainable fashion and I feel that if I carry on doing what I’m doing then I will start to make a difference even if it is one small step at a time.
What advice do you have for someone thinking of starting their own business?
To anyone wanting to start their own business, I would say just go for it. You don’t have much to lose only so much to gain. I can’t tell you how much I have grown as a person through my business.