If you’ve ever needed maternity wear, you might be aware of its award-winning sister brand, Isabella Oliver. But Baukjen - pronounced Bau-key-en - is quietly ticking all the boxes for women who want carefully considered, well-made clothes that are stylish without being faddy.
And with new Head of Design, Natalie Grant, at the helm, Baukjen is a name worth learning to pronounce properly.
As brands far and wide clamour to up their ethical game, Baukjen has always had an innate sustainability; from its belief in the importance of foundation pieces with a strong classic element that will outlast seasonal trends, to its ethically-sound manufacturing processes, personally overseen by the small, dedicated design team.
We met Natalie at the brand’s London studio to talk about her first full collection for Baukjen, launched this week.
What’s your starting point when you’re creating a collection?
“What Baukjen offers is a very easy, high-quality capsule wardrobe. That’s what we aim to do best. That’s always our start of the season.
“If something is selling really well, we’ll repeat it next season. It might be the same if we still like it, or it might have a slightly different element, but there will always be those cornerstones of the collection, like the white shirt.
"Really, our starting point is always thinking back to the Baukjen woman and what we stand for as a brand, which is to be your friend - right there in your wardrobe! When we create the collection, hopefully you have all the key elements there.
"AW18 is my first full season here, and I started by going right back to the foundations, and asking, what do you really need in your wardrobe? Adding the straight-legged jeans seemed really important, that was a key part of the denim foundation.
"We’ve also redesigned the skinny jean (the Wren), with a slightly higher waist, just to be the perfect shape.
"Our collections have to work across ages. I don’t really have an age in mind when I’m designing."
"We're defnitely a women's, not a girls' brand. But once you reach your womanhood, hopefully there’s the whole scope of the brand to wear, and you can just dip in depending on your personal taste. I think it’s generally the pieces that span, say, your late 20s, right through to your 70s and 80s. We’ve ended up being quite a mother and daughter brand because of that.
How long does the design process take from start to finish?
"It takes quite a long time because we have a small team, but generally the format’s always the same in that you have to build a colour palette, decide what fabrics you’re going to use, then find a theme. Right now I am thinking about autumn/winter 2019.
"We'll create moodboards, and then as we design we start to populate what we think is in that drop, and then we edit it - not all of it makes it in. Everything has to work with the other pieces. I use sketches to show how I see things outfitting and working.
"At the start of the season I go to fabric fairs, get inspiration from shops, I’ll be looking at magazines when the September issues come out, catwalks at the same time… there will be little things that capture your imagination and spark off ideas almost subconsciously.
"What I’m also seeing is that trends aren’t passing as quickly and they’re not that faddy. For example, polka dots, which we’re doing this summer...we’ll take that right through winter and probably have it next summer as well. The same with animal print, and pink.
"So I think what we’re noticing, and particularly with this brand because we’re not a faddy, fashion brand, is that trends stick around if we like them, and if they feel right. They just kind of morph into different things, different colourways.
“When we’re designing or making things, the last thing we want to be is throwaway."
Which piece are you most proud of?
"Probably the Milan coat. We had an image in our heads of this beautiful coat, but we couldn’t find the right fabric, so in the end we designed it ourselves out of Italy. There was no time to get the handloom in and get a sample, so we just went in blind hoping that this fabric would turn out perfectly... and it did! It’s turned out so well, so that’s really exciting.
"The Milan coat is quite an early purchase in this weather! But for the biggest choice, August/September is the best time to buy your coat, even though you probably won’t be wearing it until December."
Which are your favourite pieces from this collection?
Definitely one of my favourites and on my personal shopping list!
I'd wear these turned up (I'm short so I turn most things up!) When I wore my white t-shirt the other week with these jeans, so many people said ‘oh, you look really good!' And I was literally wearing a white t-shirt and jeans. I think we have Victoria Beckham to thank for that, when she came out in those jeans and a white t-shirt...
This would look really cool with trainers and a white t-shirt, but I also think it will look great with knitwear underneath later on. Pink doesn’t seem to be going anywhere; I think we’re going to see another season of it being rather prominent.
All of the leather’s really stunning this season. The factory we use is really high quality, and they check each skin meticulously for any flaws and carefully hand-make each piece. We don't order many because of the high price point...
I think I’m drawn to quite classic pieces in general. We’ve made it a slightly boxier fit, that I think will look really cool with jeans. It’s a yarn dyed stripe so it’s got that beautiful sheen. We’ve got a more fitted one which is always very popular for work, whereas this is quite cool for weekend, I think. I’d definitely wear it with jeans, probably skinnies and high tops.
"But it’s always quite fun to mix it up, I’ve also got a white wrap skirt I might pop that with.
"I just think, always, rules are made to be broken. Until you try something on, you don’t know how you’re going to feel or how you’re going to look and I really think that everyone should try something that they wouldn’t normally.
"I’m so pleased that attitudes are changing. Instagram has definitely made fashion more inclusive. It really frustrates me more than anything that there’s an idea that you have to wear something one way or another. It’s all about experimenting and trying stuff. Maybe I don’t care if something makes me look bigger, maybe I want to look bigger! There's this persistent idea that you must always want to look thinner...
"It’s good to know what you’ll perhaps look better in, but also, I wouldn’t not put myself in a colour because it doesn’t enhance me. Sometimes I might just want to wear something, even if it doesn’t set off my eyes; maybe I just love that shade of yellow this year."
What do you think women need from their clothes?
"I think comfort’s always important. We lead very busy lives and if you’ve got a busy day, some days you choose an outfit because it’s easy, it’s fast, and you don’t have to think about it.
"And then sometimes you need an outfit that’s going to take you through 3 different types of day in 18 hours and you don’t want to be carrying loads of changes, so you just need something that’s really versatile. And some days you just want to be really comfortable because maybe you’re doing something at home or you’ve got something really active planned with the kids...
"I think those challenges have always existed, and maybe clothing has just got better at adapting to it.
"There are some trends that have really worked in our favour recently and that's been key to their longevity - like trainers. Flat footwear in the last 5-10 years has been really important and the trainers trend hasn’t gone away and I think that is because it’s just so practical. You can put them on with a nice floral dress, and then all you might need if you’re going out for dinner is to change your shoes.
Do you have any plans to include shoes?
"Not at the moment, but we are launching jewellery this season which is quite exciting. We’ve started with about 6 little pieces, in gold-plate, and they’re just easy pendants you can layer on. They launch in September.
What would go in your capsule wardrobe?
"A suit. A great t-shirt. A great pair of jeans. A classic sweater, or sweatshirt - probably both. A white shirt. And then, your little black dress I guess. And then I’m having a big debate at the moment - I might have to buy both of these things coming into autumn/winter - I still don’t have a trench coat, and I’m desperate to own one, and we’ve just launched the Ashton trench. But I also haven’t had a proper winter coat for a while so I’m thinking I might need the Milan coat (arriving mid-August), which I've been waiting to buy since we designed it!
What do you wear to work?
"I am such a chameleon. Sometimes I want to look really minimal - that Cos thing - and other times I want to pile it on like I’m wearing Gucci head to toe. Which I don't have, but I’ve got this dress that I’ve sewn lots of buttons onto, and I put a turban with it the other day, and loads of jewels... When I leave the house my three year-old girls are asking, ‘can we just have all that stuff you’re wearing?!'
"And then next day I just want to pare it back. Today I’m wearing my Baukjen jeans and I was just trying to channel Lady Di from the 1980s!
"But you need those basic pieces like the jeans and the white top and then you can layer on whatever level of crazy or fashion you want."
You’ve recently added ‘how your garment was made’ stories to the website. Was that in response to customer curiousity?
"People are increasingly interested in how their garments are made and, as this was already a really good, ethical brand, it was really nice to be able to show that. We use small, established factories in Portugal, where it definitely costs more to manufacture than somewhere in the far east, where the wages aren’t as high, but you also get a better skill set in terms of the people who make the garments.
"They really pride themselves on quality, so you are getting a better quality garment. Also for us, it means the garments aren’t travelling so far, so that’s another plus.
"Nothing is perfect yet on the sustainability track, but this brand already ticks a lot of boxes."
"There are already pieces throughout the collection, for example, made of Tencel (a environmentally-responsible fabric derived from sustainable wood sources that recycles almost all the water and solvent used in its production.) The Ellen safari shirt is 100% Tencel, so you can feel really good buying and wearing that.
"And we’re continuing to find more sustainable fabrics, with a view to creating a capsule collection, so that if that’s something that’s really important to someone, as well as where and how they’re made, they know that if they buy from that capsule they can feel really good about it.
What’s the best thing about working for Baukjen?
"Nothing is off limits in a tiny company."
“I was at M&S for 5 years prior to Baukjen but when I came here I just knew it was going to be perfect for me. In a smaller company, you can do everything and we DO do everything: get involved in photoshoots, styling... if you have ideas to do something new, you can go ahead and do it. Time’s always an issue but that’s an issue anywhere. I’ve never designed jewellery before, so to be able to do that was amazing. And I think we’re going to try and do some bags for next season. So there’s always more scope."