Drapers speaks to Urban Outfitters’ design director about her passion for the brand and why vintage is part of the DNA of the typically eclectic and experimental Urban Outfitters shopper
Ahead of a busy autumn for young fashion retailer Urban Outfitters, Drapers spoke to design director Lizzie Dawson to find out more about her role at the European arm of the US-based retailer and discover why vintage is crucial to the brand’s offering and identity.
What drew you to working in fashion?
I always wanted to work in fashion. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been drawing imaginary outfits or plotting pretend wardrobes. It was a path I clearly had mapped out from as early as I can recall.
How did you come to work at Urban Outfitters?
I graduated with a degree in fashion marketing and design from Northumbria University in 2005, and was offered a graduate job as the lingerie and swimwear designer at Topshop. I progressed to management level overseeing multiple categories in addition to counter-seasonal brand collaborations and special projects, as well as overseeing trend-colour and fabric direction.
Topshop’s fashion director moved to Urban Outfitters in May 2015 and I jumped at the chance to join her, where I headed up the womenswear design team. In September 2017, I was promoted to my current position of design director across menswear and womenswear.
What’s the best part of your job?
Travel. Without a doubt. Getting the chance to visit places I could only ever dream of when I was studying fashion is a highlight of the job.
The fact that I get to explore countries and cities for inspiration and ideas all in the name of work sometimes feels unreal.
How would you describe your design process?
It’s an incredibly collaborative process that is planned out, in some instances, up to nine months in advance of a product hitting stores. Research and inspiration are undertaken at the very start of the process and can literally be obtained from anywhere – it could be an outfit someone was wearing that day, or a vintage find from one of the design team’s inspiration trips to LA, Tokyo or Seoul.
It’s from here that the idea is sketched and discussed with the teams, before being sent to a vendor to be prototyped.
On the garment’s return, key decisions such as cloth colour, print and detail can be explored and changed dependant on how we feel at the time.
What is new at Urban Outfitters?
September is one of our busiest months. In the Manchester store, we are launching a True Vintage pop-up, where customers will have the chance to buy one-of-a-kind vintage designer pieces from brand such as Tommy Hilfiger, Christian Dior and Ralph Lauren. We’re also hosting a UO Live gig with [rapper] Gaika in the Camden store this month, in collaboration with Champion.
How would you describe your own style?
It’s an eclectic mix of vintage, designer and new-found brands, with a lot of layering of Victorian jewellery.
How would you describe the typical Urban Outfitters customer?
Eclectic, experimental and unafraid of standing out.
What is the attraction of vintage for Urban Outfitters?
Vintage is part of the Urban Outfitters brand DNA, and a key part of what the brand is known for. No other high street retailer offers a hand-curated boutique selection of vintage that can sit seamlessly next to branded and own-buy product, making it a true one-stop shop.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
You’re only as good as the team around you. Listen to each and every one’s ideas and opinions, no matter what level they may be or how many years of experience they have. Some of the best ideas I’ve heard have come from the youngest, rawest talent.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role on a day-to-day basis?
Predicting what everyone will want next. It can be a challenge, especially when your decisions have big financial commitments.
How would you describe working at Urban Outfitters?
Creative, fast-paced and rewarding.
What does your typical working week involve?
Each week is varied with no day is the same. Much of my time is spent looking at future collections with the teams, deciding colour, print or fabric.
What advice would you give to yourself at the start of your career?
Follow your gut instinct.
Where would you like to progress in your career in the next five, 10 or 20 years?
I would love to work with the next generation of talent, building on their dreams of fashion and what it looks like, helping them to pave the trends of the future.
Favourite places to shop
Liberty, La Galeria Elefante in Ibiza and Retrouvé vintage store in Hackney. Portobello [Market] is also a must.
Last fashion purchase
Eco-friendly vegan sandals from Nomadic State of Mind. I’m proud to say I own four pairs in different styles and colours.
A long weekend in Ibiza in a secluded finca [estate] on the north-west of the island.
Last book you read
I’m with the Band by Pamela des Barres
Last film you watched
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Making cards – not very well, may I add – at 13 to sell to local galleries and shops to pay for a much-coveted pair of cherry Dr Martens
The dream is to own a little boutique shop on a beach in India, selling local arts and rare finds from my travels around the world
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
My boyfriend and I have been renovating and restoring our converted Warehouse in a hidden mews in Bethnal Green back to its original state, so you’ll mostly find us covered in dust, searching reclaim sites and boot-sales for gems to put in it