First Published June 2020
A MODEL ENTREPRENEUR
If you think there’s nothing more to modelling than just standing around and looking pretty, then you actually don’t know anything at all about what the profession calls for. But if you ever had the chance to spend some time watching one of the industry’s top professionals in action, you’d come away with a whole different viewpoint of what being a model entails, and an appreciation for just how well the best in the business do their job. A couple of years back I had just such an opportunity when I joined my good friend, the designer Charlotte Lucas, at the photoshoot for her latest collection. Modelling for Charlotte that day in Charleville Castle was a young lady from Clare named HARLEIGH BUXTON.
Watching Harleigh work, effortlessly making the most minute yet precise adjustments to her poses, all with the confidence of someone who knew exactly what was needed to make this second’s shot something entirely different from the last, and the next something different again to this, was actually fascinating. Much like Charlotte’s gorgeous designs, everything is in the detail. But there was something more to Harleigh, too. You could just tell by chatting with her. And in the last few weeks, that feeling was proved right as the Clare woman revealed the news that, as well as continuing to be one of Ireland’s most in-demand young models, she was also launching her own fashion label, the ultra-cool, fabulously titled, and also designed by Harleigh herself, RIOT FROM BIRTH.
Luckily for me, I had the pleasure of catching up with Harleigh again last week. Aside from everything that’s happening in the world right now, the name of her label immediately catches your attention. So, to get our chat under way, I began by asking Harleigh from where was Riot From Birth born?
“When I was about sixteen years old, it was always a dream for me to do my own clothing line. And I’ve worked in fashion for so long, it was always something I wanted to do. I was coming up with concepts for different names, and I had a few different ideas. But Riot From Birth came from the fact that with growing up in this day and age, even with social media, I feel that people can be very suppressed. I’ve experienced a lot of things where I’ve been told I can’t do this because I’m a woman, or things like that. So I really wanted the name of my clothing brand to be something that had a message and could be inspiring. So I came up with that name and I checked online and actually managed to get the domain name and the Instagram when I was just sixteen. So I’ve kinda had it hidden in the works for a few years [laughs]. So yeah, that’s basically where it came from!”
As mentioned earlier, I first met Harleigh when she modelled on a photoshoot for a very good friend of mine, the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards nominated designer Charlotte Lucas, at Charleville Castle a year or so ago. So I know from Charlotte how big and challenging a task it is to start a label and get things off the ground. So for Harleigh, when did she first know that this was something she wanted to do, and then, when did she decide she was going to do it? Was there, I wondered, a specific moment that acted as the catalyst?
“Yeah, it was always something I had in the back of my head that I wanted to do. Because I’m very, very passionate about fashion. So from a very, very young age, it was always something that I had in the back of my head. I guess sixteen was when I was beginning to think about it, but obviously it’s a very expensive and a very time-consuming thing to do, and I really wanted to have full creative-control. I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to work with other brands and maybe have my own collection and things like that within them, but I wanted to have full creative-control of what I was doing. If I was going to put something out there, I wanted to do it myself entirely at the beginning. I wanted to make sure everything was exactly how I wanted it to be. So I started working and designing, and producing, and getting samples – because obviously that’s such a time-consuming thing as well – about two years ago. And then we launched officially about two or three weeks ago! But the company started to be built about two years ago, building my own website and everything like that. so It takes a lot, for sure! [laughs].”
Harleigh is also a very successful and much in-demand model, of course. How much did being in the fashion world in that sense influence her to want to be involved as a creator, too?
“I struggled in school, but I was always a very creatively minded person. And also, my parents were in the fashion and the music industries. That was a big inspiration to me. And then I started modelling from fourteen. And even though you’re working and shooting and things like that, you also get to see a lot of other things, like creative directors working, the actual designers themselves too. You get to see behind the scenes of the fashion industry, you get to see how it all works. So yeah, modelling, and getting to meet and work with so many amazing designers, and companies. It all helped me in finding styles that I like, because there’s so many different fashion brands and labels, and so many different styles of clothing. It’s so diverse that you can really do anything with it.”
So even though Harleigh started modelling at such a young age, she was clearly paying attention to everything that was going on around her, she wasn’t just showing up to do a job?
“Yeah, definitely. And I’m so grateful because I’ve got to make a lot of friends from my work. And I’ve been able to meet a lot of people who have been able to guide me and give me advice on certain things. So it’s actually been very helpful being a model and wanting to pursue a career in another part of the fashion industry.”
Staying with the modelling side of Harleigh’s life for a moment, how did her modelling career actually begin at fourteen?
“Well there’s lots of different ways that people can get into modelling, but I was scouted. That means an agent came to me, and said look, we want you to model. It was something I’ve literally wanted to do since I was tiny. I remember when I was younger, I actually went on a shoot with a friend of mine in London when I was really, really small. Then I begged my mum, I was like, “But mum, this agency is soooooo interested in me”, but she was like, absolutely not! [laughs]. Not until you’re a teenager! So yeah, I got scouted when I was fourteen, and I was with that agency until the beginning of this year when I decided to actually go freelance. I’m at that stage now where I’m quite busy with everything else that’s going on in my life as well, so I just needed to have a bit more freedom. And it was kind of unfair of me to dedicate myself to an agency when I was turning down a lot of work.”
Going back to Harleigh’s new label, Riot From Birth, in as much as it’s a creative outlet – and adventure – it’s also very much a business. When she was thinking about doing this, how much was she being driven by the belief that it would be a good, solid business idea as opposed to how creative it would allow her to be? What was the balance of thought in that regard?
“The one thing I always made sure to do, was to have it exactly how I wanted it. And I wanted it to be perfect. I spent so much time on it. We had earlier dates that it was meant to come out, and the original concept is soooo different to what we actually finally came out with. And our next collection, we’re already designing, we have that in the works now. Obviously it is a business, as you said, and you do want to make some sort of a profit! [laughs]. For me, I’ve had all these amazing people around me, friends and family, supporting me, and they were saying if I just focus on the creative side and make something that’s quality, and that you’re proud of, and that you’ll be proud of other people wearing, then you’ll succeed. A lot of it is to do with your belief, and if you believe that you’re going to do well, then hard work will always make it happen for you. So I’d say I mainly focused on being creative. I love the graphic design aspect of it. I love the whole design process itself. But yes, obviously it is a business, and you do have to keep it in the back of your mind that you want to make a bit of money [laughs].”
It sounds like Harleigh is very much a hands-on figure as far as the design side of everything to do with Riot From Birth goes…?
“Yeah! I got samples from lots of different manufacturers, and I had worked with lots of different companies. I ended up going with a manufacturing company in the U.K, so everything is printed and embroidered there. I wanted something that was quality, and was going to last a long time. That was something I was really thinking about. If I was going to put something out, it wasn’t going to be just another range that was cheap and quick. I wanted to put something out that would be a good reflection of who I am, and what I think fashion should be. I designed everything myself. I manage everything myself. I did all the website myself. It’s all 100% me. The social media, the P.R, the packaging, all designed by me. Yeah, full on! [laughs]. And just to say as well, that all of the pictures we had to shoot during quarantine, those are all of me modelling, which is not something I wanted to do. I actually wanted to have other people modelling as well. But that obviously wasn’t realistic during this time. But I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio and being a creative director and shooting something.”
Why did Harleigh not want herself to be modelling for Riot From Birth?
“I think it was because I didn’t want it to seem like it was just merch for me. I wanted people to want to buy it, not because of me in any way, but because it stands alone by itself, that it’s a quality item, and that Riot From Birth is an amazing company, and because of everything that we represent, you know.”
Speaking of the Riot From Birth website, that was launched officially a couple of weeks back. So as of right now, folks can go on there and order from Harleigh’s range. So, what exactly can people order right now, and what else is going to be coming a little further on down the road?
“Well all my items are unisex. At the minute we have an over-sized tee-shirt, a tracksuit, and a hoodie. Now this was a lot smaller than what we wanted to originally release. I had a few more items in the works, but just because of Covid we just wanted to get everything out there that we could, and to gauge what people were liking and what people weren’t liking. We have another collection coming. We had originally decided that we wanted to do swim-wear and more festival inspired clothing, but again, because of Covid that just didn’t seem right for right now. But it’s something we’re definitely going to be doing next year. The next collection that I mentioned will be very similar to this one, but we’ll have hats and socks and different designs, and there’s a new theme for that collection so that will be very exciting. We have an amazing shoot planned for it, so hopefully everything gets back to normal soon enough and we can get started!”
So for what Harleigh is designing for Riot From Birth, does each range go by season as it would in fashion generally? Or is it a little bit different than that?
“It’s a little bit different. I wouldn’t say it’s fast fashion, because the turnaround of what we make takes a very long time, because everything is embroidered on in the U.K. It’s more of an apparel, I would say, than a seasonal thing. I just wanted to make things that people would be comfortable in and would be proud to wear. And be happy! A big thing for me working in the fashion industry is I’ve got to try on a lot of clothes…and they’re not always the most comfortable! [laughs]. Or the most flattering! [laughs]. I feel like I was well-tested and knew what I wanted to do with Riot From Birth!”
So if Harleigh was asked to sum up Riot From Birth – everything that the company is, and that her clothing stands for – how would she do that?
“I would sum up Riot From Birth as a unisex, apparel brand made for comfort and confidence!”
Switching back to Harleigh’s life as a model once again, I wondered how the last few months had been for her in relation to Covid 19?
“Well I’ve been working a lot on Riot, but also I’ve been making sure to do my own little shoots at home, getting creative with different media. I have a polaroid camera, for example, so I’ve been doing crazy make-up! Just trying to keep myself occupied so that I have that creative outlet. I’ve been working-out a lot too, just because being stuck inside you really need to burn energy! I’m so used to doing so much in a day, running around to all of these different places and shooting. When you’re shooting as well, that’s so high-energy, you’re in front of a camera for such a long time. So I’ve been trying to burn my energy! [laughs].”
The day we spoke was actually Black-Out Tuesday, when people all around the world came together on social media to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and as a form of protest against the police killing of George Flyod in the United States. Like myself, Harleigh was taking part in that day’s protest, so I asked her for her thoughts on everything that had been happening…
“It’s very sad to see. I’m not someone who would tolerate any sort of violence or danger. I think it’s sad to see what’s going on. It’s crazy, because Instagram would be a massive platform for me. It’s all just so sad, and I’m sure we’re not even seeing the half of it over here, to be honest. You can only imagine what never makes it onto the internet, or isn’t allowed up. First in 202 we had Covid 19 and lost so many lives, and this is now happening. I think it’s important [the protest], I think it needs to happen. I think it’s good that people are taking a stand. There was a protest in Dublin yesterday. I think it’s important that people are finally doing something about it. I just don’t particularly like all the violence. All you can do is raise awareness, like today. It’s about educating yourself, constantly. Make sure your opinion is your own. I always say to people to keep an open mind, because you never know what you’re reading on the internet. It [racism] has been going on for years and years and years, and it’s probably going to go on happening for years and years and years still, because I don’t think the world can change – or heal – that quickly. But it has to happen.”
~ You can follow Riot From Birth, and Harleigh too, on Instagram and Facebook.