Illustration by Beth Nicol
Elizabeth Whibley defines herself as a freelance creative as her practice is so broad. Although mainly known for her ‘Love Myself’ earrings and textile design, Elizabeth also models and sells illustration prints and apparel on her online shop. She is currently completing an MA in Fashion but her strong aesthetic and online presence has led to a fruitful freelance career alongside her studies.
We spoke to Elizabeth about her creative efforts, strong style and the effects of COVID-19 on both her studies and shop.
Hey Elizabeth! You do loads of great and varied creative work, tell us a little bit about what you do! Hellooo! I’m Elizabeth Whibley, I am a plant-based and pink-fanatic creative. I am a textile and fashion designer, I create feminine-wear aimed to make you feel fabulous. I have had my own small but certainly growing business for a few years now. I am best known for my jewellery design, I made my self-proclaimed ‘Love Myself’ earrings nearly three years ago and that really was a strong starting point to build my brand on. I am continually developing my brand, under my own name, and hope to expand into selling clothing too as soon as possible. You have created a name for yourself, what do you stand for as a creative and a brand? Thank you ! My brand very much encapsulates my personal ethos. I celebrate crafts(wo)manship and the slow fashion revival. My quirky and playful illustration style often highlights animals voices, which compassionately nods to my love and respect to all animals. An example of this is “Don’t Milk It Babe” which is a ditch-dairy statement. I like to illustrate to challenge and often heal my own issues and feelings, art is a really helpful outlet for me. Being able to share it helps others too and starts conversations about self-love and acceptance and understanding emotions. I want my artwork to be engaging for its choice of girl-style colours and emotive imagery but I like them to also have a meaning to them as well. For example, a favourite print of mine “My Measurements Are Not A Measure Of My Worth” aims to value every body in any dimension, similarly to “Your Best Is Always Good Enough” which proves a useful phrase in a world that often makes people feel like they are not good enough. I want my brand to allow you a space to say: YOU ARE ENOUGH, AND SO MUCH MORE WITH A CHERRY ON TOP !!!! My brand exists for people to express their confidence and personality though a kitsch and fun way. Running your own business is tough, especially as young women, how do you navigate the industry?
Running my own business is the hardest thing, but equally the most rewarding ongoing project I’ve ever done. It truly has become my lifestyle and I know my life-long calling is to continue to be my own boss and fulfil my creative output by designing and sharing those designs with the world. The fact that people love and are keen to engage with my designs is the fuel to keep me going through the really difficult times. There is an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes work for the brand, I do try and show snippets of this as much as possible to keep things realistic and transparent. For myself, I am my own brand and my own muse, so I am answering and responding to my own desires as a human being and designing for what I want to see. I have work experience and am transitioning through a few different sub-categories within the fashion industry, eg. modelling (seeing from the inside how fashion brands work), jewellery and print design. I have the ultimate goal to predominantly run my own clothing brand, but this experience and activness on social media means I’ve been able to build up my brand story and customer profile without launching my clothes yet, so I am hoping they are highly anticipated and will be well received when FINALLY they are saleable. It really has been my project for years to get to a point where I can sell. If I could click my fingers and have my designs a reality tomorrow of course I would, but the work involved to make sure I do it right, and its eco-conscious and size inclusive and doesn’t compromise my designs sometimes feels like an impossible task.
Every day I am a step closer and that’s what I have to remind myself. Thank goodness I took the plunge and started my brand years ago even though that was scary, I have learnt so much. I try and dive into as many aspects of the fashion industry as a whole to gauge a well rounded perspective. Modelling, styling freelance work and interning have helped my understanding of the industry, but I really believe most of it has to be learnt and developed on a personal basis. Knowing trial and error is a huge part of the process and getting things wrong is unavoidable, as well as the good things not going to plan! No one really tells you how to work in the industry, and even if they did it’s probably best not to duplicate their behaviour as each person and brand and experience is so different. There have obviously been some great moments but being a freelance creative is never smooth sailing. What are some of the challenges you have faced working for yourself?
Some of the biggest challenges often seem to be ones out of my control. For example, stock arriving damaged, late or simply incorrect. Another example could be samples or designs not working out as planned, or perhaps services that are crucial to my brand are not done right. Being the boss and main person of a brand means those problems come down to to me ultimately. Mis-cuts or damage to my stock financially has actually been the biggest thing for me to overcome, especially as I am very attached and fond of my work.
A blessing - but also a problem - is I am very independent and find it hard to accept help sometimes, but I’ve been learning, especially recently, I simply CANNOT do every single aspect of my brand all by myself. I am learning to want to celebrate other peoples skills. I think collaborating is a really fantastic key thing to do in a brand. I, like others, have a specialism and that’s what I should focus on. It’s really important to outline strengths and struggles. The biggest challenge personally is recognising when I’ve done enough to prevent burning out. I’m still working on this. A workaholic lifestyle is often glamorised especially in fashion. To me it feels like a trap, because when I reflect on my successes it's because the run up to that was me exhausting and overworking myself, so I naturally worry that taking care of myself better would affect the success of my brand. I’ve fallen into that trap by basing my worth on my productivity, I have a lot to unpack and work on here and it certainly is my biggest personal issue being freelance. I need to switch in a few “no, I can’t take that on right now” where I would usually scream “YES OF COURSE!!” I must remember I cannot give my best self to my projects if I am burnout. In light of recent events, what effect do you think this will have on the fashion industry? Especially small independent designers like yourself? This pandemic has turned much of my world upside down, everything I love and that makes up my routine has been stripped from me, University, both my part time jobs, access to my friends and mum, my gym, pubs (lol) ect! All the things we sometimes forget to say thank you for. I am so grateful I have hobbies, a creative mind that won’t allow me to be bored, and of course internet connection ! Sadly my whole store is closed at the moment, I was still planning on selling prints but I don’t want to take unnecessary trips to the Post Office when my silly quirky prints are not crucial, I don’t want to risk compromising the health of others or put a strain on the postage services. I had planned a couple months break from selling earrings anyway over March and April so I could focus on new product developments and making new stock but of course that has been halted by the COVID-19 crisis because I cannot order from my acrylic stockist or get acrylic laser cut ect. This has also really hindered the development of my clothing range as inevitably I cannot access my university studio, fabric samples, or places to print. I’m also cut off from my seamstress so everything is paused for now.
On a positive note I am able to focus my time on digital works and lovely intimate interviews like the one you are reading right now. It’s hard to predict how this will affect the fashion industry, some fast fashion companies seem to be battling through and ignoring the advice, I won't spend much time talking of them as it literally infuriates me, but I really wish something will change enough for the fast fashion system to break down or slow down, without it hitting the low-paid but high-skilled works abroad in factories the hardest. The problem when fashion chains get so long and complex is that it’s very hard to trace them. So many people also rely on them, therefore if something really dramatic did happen more people would be affected and this may be harder to amend. For small business like myself who may not employ anyone or only a few people, it’s much easier to control and plan in many ways. I really hope that small business don’t take a colossal finical hit and are still able to survive and come back better than ever when we can open again. My biggest worry is that I won’t be earning any money for the next few months, and I worry about the state of the economy once this is over. Just as I felt my life dreams were really coming together and my planning for clothing was nearly at completion, this crisis occurred and has affected anyone and everyone. Even when the virus has died down, the aftermath will affect us for many, many years. I hope people appreciate local craft and business greatly after this crisis is over. I usually live in my own little naive bubble and echo-chamber of good thoughts, but I genuinely believe most people will learn to be more grateful and less greedy after this. With all the problems at the moment and the government's current lack of support for freelancers, what is your advice for people in the same position as you?
I sit in a tricky place. The government wouldn’t be able to define me as self-employed or freelance officially, although literally all of my income is based on my own work, all of which has been cancelled and much of the future work has totally dried up. I am still a full-time student so I am not able to claim any financial help from the government, but if you are registered self-employed, take time to do some research and see what help you can get, it is out there ! Speak to others too, discussing concerns and issues really helps, but always check in and ask if that individual is in a mindset to discuss these worrying times.
We are all going to cope finically, emotionally and physically with this crisis in a different ways so the best thing to do is to respect the way someone does that. As freelancers and creative’s we need to remember we built and continue to build our own community, so look within that for positivity and hope. If you struggle to see light at the end of this mysterious and dark tunnel, write down and reflect on your brand or individual achievements, write down your goals and steps to get there – see which of these can be done from home. Keep up the online network and keep inspired. I’m going to take this time to look back. I am always driven by not only the now, but the future and what can I constantly plan and look forward to. Seeing as this is proving difficult at the moment, I am going to take time to reflect on the past that I never made time for because I was always pushing onto the next thing. I am going to look at past sketchbooks, exhibitions and arty podcasts and use this as a time to get more clued up on my area of study. I wrote a panic-reducing guide which you can find on my instagram via an illustration of a bottle of hand sanitiser, don’t feel pressured to do any, they are totally there voluntarily if you need them.
How can we as consumers support you and smaller independent creatives in this time of need?
For myself the best way to support me right now would be telling me! Drop me a message, repost my artwork or comment on my posts! This is a free and easy way of supporting a brand, because a mood-boost will help creative’s to feel valued and needed. Secondly, it would be fantastic if you are finically able to, to purchase a gift voucher from my store as this gives me payment right now but then you are able to spend it when my store reopens. Look at it as a gift to yourself and myself ! Gift vouchers are the only thing to purchase on my store until this crisis alleviates. Many independent brands stores are still open, so check them out and consider purchasing form them too ! Especially for the poor hunnies (like me and my Aries friends) who have their birthdays in this lockdown haha ! Also see if your favourite creatives are taking on or are open to commissions, this might be a really great time to get an exclusive interview or piece of artwork ! Finally, just remembering why you love that artist is important, so when some kind of “normality” resumes, you know why you want to support them.
Sending love and virtual hugs and happy and healthy vibes to you all and all those you know, Follow my creative and fashionista journey via my instagram @elizabethwhibley and www.elizabethwhibley.co.uk