Clara Francis And Tania Hindmarch

The North London duo behind O Pioneers explain how they came to launch their collection of beautiful forever dresses, and tell us what’s next for the British-made fashion label

Clara Francis And Tania Hindmarch O Pioneers

What was the first piece you designed together?
The first piece we designed was the Clara dress – still one of our classic designs and a hands down favourite amongst our customers. It is a very simple, wearable design that can be dressed up for a special occasion or worn daily with trainers or boots, and we create it in a variety of different Liberty prints – sometimes in a full print, sometimes mixing clashing prints together and other times adding a contrast plain colour trim. It has such a feminine silhouette with puff shoulders and a nipped in waist that it really looks amazing on everyone – but (very importantly for us) it is also practical – we make it in Liberty print cottons, so it is machine washable and as with all our dresses it has large pockets!

Tell us a little about your background and how O Pioneers came to be?
We have always shared a love of clothing. We both love vintage, particularly feminine frocks that hark back to another era when people would dress up on a daily basis. We love things that are individual, that have provenance, that were made to last, with care and attention.

Both of us had been designing and making our own clothes for a few years as we were unable to find the types of dresses we liked. We would often get compliments and requests from friends to make things for them. So after a lot of talking, we decided to make it official and came up with the seed of an idea to create O Pioneers  – a sustainable, vintage inspired dress label making the types of dresses that we wanted to wear, created in small runs, using end of roll heritage fabrics from the likes  of Liberty, and beautifully made by local seamstresses and makers.

Our whole philosophy is dressing for fun – injecting a sense of playfulness and to an extent, theatricality, into what we wear. Because what you wear can entirely alter how you feel about yourself and how you experience the world around you.

The design was an iteration of the classic party dress that we both remember wearing in our childhoods – but were only allowed to wear for that special occasion, and then we had to take it off in case it got ruined!

How has the collection developed since then?
Our collection has developed enormously but always with a very definite O Pioneers vibe. We like to describe our style as a modern take on the elegant, sometimes eccentric, classic English Victoriana style. We only ever design things that we want to wear ourselves and we always like to inject a bit of playfulness into it. We often use the same silhouettes but adapt a neckline, a hem length, or a sleeve style. We are both incredibly thrifty and cannot bear to waste even the tiniest scraps of print, so we use these in embellishments such as appliqué as well as smaller items like knickers, hair ties and ribbons. We started out focusing very much on the perfect dresses but we’ve expanded our offering to include beautiful hand-knitted jumpers and tank tops, designed especially to go with the silhouette of our dresses; a few separates and more recently knickers, socks and hair ribbons.

What’s your brand philosophy?  We want O Pioneers to reflect our core beliefs in slow, sustainable fashion, timeless style, flattering designs, quality making and attention to detail. The antithesis of ‘fast fashion’, O Pioneers is based on the philosophy that if an item of clothing is desirable, well-made, and stylishly classic it will be a loved item in a wardrobe that gets revisited time  and again, for years to come.

How do you want women wearing your clothes to feel
Fun, feminine and flirty! We are firm believers in the power of dressing. This is one of the reasons we set up the label and why we focus very heavily on dresses. The dress is the perfect, low maintenance item – a whole outfit in one, with minimal hassle – but one that has the power to make you feel amazing. We both have strong nostalgia for the wonderful feeling of wearing a special dress to a party when we were younger. We wanted to recreate that feeling in our dresses, for women to enjoy feeling that way everyday – not just on special occasions!

Is there anyone you’d really love to see wearing one of your pieces?
We have been very lucky in seeing our pieces bought and worn by some truly incredible women – both well-known and not. Sophie Ellis- Bextor, Anna Maxwell Martin, Gizzi Erskine, Emma Barnett, Katherine Ryan, Beanie Feldstein to name a few. But there’s one lady that we have both worshipped as a total style inspiration and icon since we were in our twenties, and that’s Sarah Jessica Parker. She actually came into the shop recently and bought a few things! She was utterly delightful, very down to earth and so supportive of what we are trying to achieve with the brand. We were in seventh heaven having her hang out in the shop and trying on our collection!

Can you tell us about the role of sustainability in your business
Right from the start we always intended O Pioneers to be a ‘slow fashion’ label – creating quality, individual pieces to wear, live life in, love in and treasure forever.

Using past season and end of line fabrics from quality textile icons such as Liberty, we focus on making our clothes as individual as possible whilst retaining a very definite O Pioneers vibe. We only make small runs of each item in any particular fabric design or colour-way and we avoid waste wherever possible.

We keep our designs simple – all of our dresses are based on the same bodice block with variations in dress length, neckline and sleeve style – so we are not reinventing the design and pattern making process every time.

We make everything in the UK. As working mums, it is important to us to collaborate and work with other female businesses and artisans as we aim to support female-led business and understand the fine balance between work and family. We work with talented women in and around London and beyond who share our vision and help us create our beautiful dresses and knitwear.

All our woollens are hand-knitted, many by our wonderful mums and our ever-growing team of women who knit for us from home. Each  item of clothing is hand finished and, as a mark of respect and provenance, it includes the name of the maker  on the handwritten label.

Tell us about your repair and alteration service
We stand by our ‘forever dress’ promise and are committed to helping our customers get the absolute most out of their purchases so they can enjoy them for years to come. So, we have teamed up with national repairs and alterations service, Sojo, to offer an incredibly easy and great value way for our customers to get their O Pioneers items tailored, altered or (heaven forbid) repaired if something goes wrong. The service is super easy to book through the alterations section on our website or we can book it in store. It’s a door-to-door service so super hassle free! It means that if a customer’s shape has changed or they just fancy a shorter hemline or an alteration to create their ‘perfect’ dress and get more wear out of it, they can do so very easily!

What’s next for O Pioneers?
We have to pinch ourselves sometimes when we think of how far we’ve come in such a short space of time. We are still small, we both work on the brand day to day – we’re in the shop, we answer emails, chat to customers – and we love that.

We both adore what we do and are passionate about the brand and what we create. We have a lot of fun and this is really important to us.

We have lots of exciting new things in the pipeline! Our new drops for spring and summer will be launching soon with some brand-new designs that we’re very eager  to introduce. Keep an eye out for our designs on screen too – both here in the UK and across the pond!

O Pioneers FASHION

ON FASHION: Clara Francis And Tania Hindmarch

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Words by Liz Skone James