Daria Belyaeva, or Dasha as friends know her, is the creator of ENRU London, a contemporary womenswear brand designed and manufactured in London.
Beyond the respect and admiration I have for what she does and the fact that we click so well when we work together, I’ve grown to like her for her kindness, warmth and authenticity.
Dasha was born in Russia to a Belarusian mother and a Russian father. As it happens with many of us, she didn’t know what she really wanted to do from the beginning. Fashion at that time wasn’t even considered a career. As school finished she steered towards a path that focused on the English language and after she finished university in Belarus she tried hard to find a job. Fashion was still far in the future.
During this time she desperately tried to achieve something on various levels and find work. She had good education, but no experience and after various jobs she realised the work market was not for her, she felt she didn’t fit anywhere.
After her daughter was born she moved to London with her husband and oriented herself towards fashion. She continued her education on this field and it was in this way that she learnt that anything can be art and art was the thing that brought her freedom.
‘Fashion is often perceived as a very easy subject. You do it if you’re not good at anything else, it’s not very academic like history or chemistry or physics’, she told me at some point and this is how our conversation unfolded.
Isn’t fashion technical too in certain regards?
It can be totally mind spinning and that’s how it should be because making clothes is all about technical things – every seam and every thread and how far you stitch it from the edge, the thickness of the thread, how long is the stitch, is the seam right here, is it right for this fabric, is this fabric right for this design? It’s a whole universe. Every piece of clothing you pick has all that information in it, but we don’t see it and at that level you don’t need it because everything is made somewhere else, so nobody cares. All you have to do is come up with an idea, send it to China if you find some reliable people and ask them to make it. You’re not the expert, they are the experts because they have gone through this again and again all these years.
And don’t you also have to know this? I guess I always imagined if you study fashion you have to learn all these things.
It’s extremely important to know it because the more you know the more it helps you with your design. For example, you want to make a t-shirt and you draw the shape and then you start thinking what would go into it. Unfortunately, because production has been outsourced almost completely this knowledge is pretty much lost here. It exists but it’s not so spread. There are few factories in London and in Britain who still know how to do this, but most often it’s not considered important to know this. All you need to do is make a sketch or a technical drawing, find the right fabric or even just an idea and say I like this how can we make it? and they can recommend fabrics, threads, designs etc.
Let’s talk about your work. Why do you do the things you do?
It makes me feel happy when I do something like this, it makes me feel good, like I’ve created something. I obviously don’t think everything looks great and there’s a lot of doubt, especially when I try to make ready-to-wear items that are supposed to fit different shapes and ages.
How do you feel about this doubts and fears?
I think you can’t get away from it, you just have to live with it and just carry on moving. It’s a constant search, it never ends. There’s isn’t an ideal product for everybody, but you still have to try and improve your product and so more women look at it and say that’s great, that’s very pretty, although it’s also very subjective.
What was the first piece of clothing that you created?
In my early teens I decided that I wanted something as simple as a black top and I couldn’t find it anywhere, there weren’t basics like that back then, nobody produced them. Then I remembered my aunt gave me a black knitted skirt and it was two layers of fabric, folded and then up again so it was really good quality. I didn’t like it so I took it apart and I cut out a top out of it and then there wasn’t enough fabric for the sleeves so i knitted them and the neckline and I loved it. I wore it for many years, someone even borrowed it.
Who do you make clothes for?
That’s a question that returns every now and again. I want to make clothes for all the women I know – my friends, neighbours. As a demographic I could describe them as professional women in any country. Basically I want whoever is wearing them to feel good in them.
How would you describe your clothes?
I want whoever is wearing them to feel good in them. They are elegant, simple but flattering, easy to wear and comfortable and mostly driven by the city.
Do the clothes borrow something from the city?
To me, city clothes mean elegance. Every time I go to London to meet somebody or for work I always try to put on something nicer than what I wear to take the kids to school for example, so I treat every trip to London as a nice experience. That’s the type of clothes I try to make and that’s, I suppose, what I think the city clothes look like and there can be a mixture of styles.
Do you use any Russian cultural elements in your work?
Not really, I’m not a big fan of using direct cultural references. Whenever you see something with traditional Russian embroidery you think it’s a bit literal, can there be more sophisticated ways to express it? So no, I don’t think I’d like to reference directly.
What sort of materials do you enjoy working with?
I like wool and wool blend because you can do many things with it and it looks good. My partner, Simon, had a big influence on my view on fashion. When I met him in Moscow I saw him as a cool foreign man, who dressed and wore nice, quality clothes. Also, when I worked in Moscow in an investment bank in a nice office district called Moscow City, I observed especially how the men dressed – smart suits and shirts and nice shoes. I really like that look, a nicely tailored suit to me is top of the game. They look incredibly attractive and I think that influenced my taste and I would really like to try and use wool blend more in women’s wear.
What is your work process from the initial idea to the final product?
My process varies. I usually do a lot of planning in my mind. Basically since I start doing it, I never stop thinking and re-thinking my design ideas. It keeps on going at the back of my mind every day when I am working at home or when I am out. It can be distracting at times and I am learning how to select and then stay focused on a few ideas. I tend to make simple sketches quite a lot as it helps me to remember my ideas and when I sketch I sometimes refine or develop them and think about technical and practical side of design.
Parallel to that I think about fabric. In fact, the design process can start from fabric if I happened to buy some I really liked. Then I start working on a flat pattern, making a toile, trying it on, then going back and correcting any issues and possibly toiling again. If I am happy with the second toile I make a sample in real fabric. If there were some issues during the sampling, I have to go back and polish the design again. It’s trial and error.
What part of your work do you find most stimulating?
I especially like when an initial idea starts taking a physical shape. Usually it happens at the toiling stage when I put it on the mannequin or myself and see the lines and shapes coming together. I also enjoy thinking about various design ideas. When I look at the way people dress I get very inspired. I then have to sketch my thoughts down, otherwise they will be lost forever.
In your opinion is it a good time to work in fashion? Do you find it challenging and competitive?
I find it challenging, there are too many people doing it and there’s certainly too much clothes around. My cynical view says there are too many people doing this and not enough jobs and it’s just the way the society and the work market is turning. There seem to be fewer and fewer decent jobs in the world so it seems to me that’s why everyone is crowding the fashion industry. As I said at the level of education I think a number of people went into it because they didn’t know what to do with themselves and it’s treated as one of the easiest subjects.
Is the fashion world a hard one to be in?
It’s not an easy world, but I had no idea when I was studying that I would try and do my own business because I never thought I was the “my business” type of person. I always thought I would work for someone, but discovered I don’t fit in this system.
How much attention do you pay to the rest of the fashion industry? Is there something that interests you in particular?
I definitely keep an eye on the fashion industry in general. I am interested in trends and follow some. But I also like mixing them up with retro design. I particularly enjoy that fashion scene in London is very diverse and you can wear as well as design whatever style clothes you like. I look up at classic French masters like Dior and Chanel and I admire the now lost style of the old British heritage brands for example Mulberry, Joseph, Jaeger.
What have you learned about yourself by doing what you do?
I’m trying to learn that I am resilient and persistent because it requires that. In a way it’s easier to go to a regular job because you don’t have to make rules you only have to follow and the main rule is that you have to come to work every day and you come out of it and you don’t care. In my case, not only do I care, but I care about it every day, even in my sleep, I think about it every moment of my life. Another think I’m trying to learn is to control it, not to go completely crazy because I think you can do that.
It’s also not what I’ve learned rather what I’m trying to learn. How long I can sustain it and do it for. Obviously, I want to make it a lifetime choice, but them I’m asking myself what should the attitude be to do it for a long time and not to say on Monday ‘Ok, I’ve had enough’. I’m also trying to be a good decision maker and not to rush, I try to be firm with people and learn to trust. By default I trust people, but I also worry a lot that they can take advantage of you, especially money wise. I’m learning what it’s actually like to be a businesswoman or if I’m good at it. I don’t know yet.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in fashion?
To be patient and persistent resilient it’s not a fun industry even if it might seem so at the beginning. It’s very technical and as much any other career and you have to spend years and years learning it and improving it and polishing it and maybe in the end you will be able to make a living out of it.