I have to start with the inspiration behind the name Electronic Sheep. Where did that come from?
Brenda & Helen: "The name was inspired by the film ‘Bladerunner,’ which was based on the book ‘Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep."
Did you both always want to work in fashion?
Brenda: "From an early age I made dresses for my dolls and Helen’s Yorkshire Terriers! My mother is a great dressmaker and knitter and made me lots of cool clothes when I was a kid. That was probably the beginnings of my interest in fashion. I was always drawing/making things and by the time I became a teenager I knew I wanted to go to art college."
Helen: "I loved clothes early on and likewise my mother had a big influence on me. She worked in window display for a fashion department store and always had new, sometimes crazy 80s outfits when I was a kid. As teenage friends, Brenda and I would buy vintage clothes and were obsessed with our music and our look. As much as I liked the idea of studying fashion I decided to study graphic design as I preferred drawing and ideas and had no interest in pattern cutting, etc."
How did the company come about?
Brenda: "In 1998 I won a knitwear design award and with the bursary I set up the label Electronic Sheep. Helen was involved at the beginning with the label’s identity and graphics. After a year I wanted to use some of her prints for T-shirts and from then on we just started to design together full time."
You’ve spent a lot of your lives in each other’s company. Does that make working together difficult?
Helen: "I think it makes it easier. We’ve known each other since childhood so we share similar tastes, humour and attitude. We have both lived in different countries for many years so we are not in each others pockets but we do have a great friendship, which means we get to speak about things often. Our conversations obviously have to get serious when it comes to business decision-making but for the most part we have fun. We especially love coming up with design ideas and new products together."
You do some men and children’s clothes but mainly it’s all about women’s knitwear. What made you decide to focus on that?
Brenda: "We initially designed most of our collections as unisex pieces but it made it more complicated for buyers. The nature of most department stores and boutiques is to separate menswear and womenswear so it was really determined by that. We decided to focus more on womenswear so it was easier to market and sell. We do, however, still do unisex pieces and actually depending on the person all of our pieces can be worn by any gender. We are planning to focus on more menswear pieces including a collaboration with a London-based menswear designer for our AW17 collection."
How challenging is the world of fashion?
Helen: "It is quite challenging but it is also addictive and rewarding at the same time. The markets are constantly changing but we have learnt to go with the flow. We have also stayed true to our concepts and personal design aesthetic, which has really stood to us in the long term."
Is it any easier or harder as female designers?
Brenda: "I don’t see any difference. In the early days Helen and I did some more menswear street-style trade fairs and it was a bit of a boys club. But for the most part I think this is an industry that male and females are treated equally."
What are the main drivers for you as designers?
Helen: "Seeing our designs produced – our initial sketches and drawings turning into something colourful and patterned; one medium changing into another…and then the product taking another journey into someone’s wardrobe. And seeing someone walking down the street in an Electronic Sheep piece, that is a great feeling – especially when they look happy. Which is usually the case of course!"
From where do you take your inspiration?
Brenda & Helen: "Everywhere. From our travels, our personal objects that we have collected and our own wardrobes with pieces from all over the world. For our new collection ‘Airships & Spaghetti,’ which will be instore/online in August we were inspired by the lifestyles of artist from 100 years ago – their dress, their parties and interiors. Sometimes our collections are more concept-based, like our ‘Pink Noir’ collection that was inspired by a short film that we wrote. Each scarf depicted a scene for each film still. We subsequently made the images of the scarves into a film with Irish artist, Cliona Harmey."
Are you both based in London now and if so how does the city compare to other cities you have worked in?
Helen: "I am based in London and Brenda lives in Dublin. They are very different cities, but we are hugely inspired by both. I love the diversity of London and that each area is so different. I live in Notting Hill and work in Dalston so I get to see two very different places on a regular basis. In Dublin the city centre is much smaller and that is pretty much the centre of it all. It is great for getting around with some beautiful architecture and bustling pubs on every corner. I have also lived in New York and Rome and they are both amazing cities. In terms of work the design industry in London is bursting with creativity and as a result is hugely inspiring as well as competitive. I also love the fact that London is within easy reach of seaside towns like Brighton to get away from it all! For example I get to be a mermaid for the day at 'March of the Mermaids' on 23 July – a sea-inspired parade on Brighton seafront. www.marchofthemermaids.com"
Fashion is obviously a fulltime career but what do you do to unwind outside of work?
Brenda: "I love shopping. I have recently been buying pieces from both contemporary Irish designers (Nathalie B Coleman, Edge Only and Love & Robots) and London ones too. I also enjoy shopping online. In Dublin I regularly visit IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art). I like a good party too of course and will spend hours customising an outfit/hat for the occasion!"
Helen: "I like going to nearby parks or galleries/museums - Holland Park or the V&A museum. I also like a good night out and will normally travel to east London for food or bars in Dalston or Shoreditch. Places like The Old Shoreditch Station or Jaguar Shoes on Kingsland Road. www.jaguarshoes.com"
Do you have any hobbies?
Brenda: "Going to car boot sales and writing letters."
Helen: "I like poetry and rambling around markets."
Do you enjoy music (name a few favourites)?
Helen: "Yes! I like mostly retro music - 50s, 60s and 70s in particular. Charlie Feathers, Bo Diddley, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry to name a few. I also enjoy contemporary artists and love some of my friends’ music – London-based folk singer, Conor Doherty and jazz musician, Rosie Brown for example. http://conordohertymusic.com www.rosiebrown.com"
Brenda: "Yes! Elvis for example. I also like a lot of contemporary/underground bands. I went to the launch of The Glimmermen's new album in Dublin recently and really love their music. www.glimmermen.com."
Do you like film (name a favourite)?
Helen: "Roman Polanski films: ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Chinatown’ and ‘The Tenant’."
Brenda: "Old movies like ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Dr. Zhivago."
Do you prefer to eat out or cook at home?
Helen: "I would eat out every day if I could. I like going for Thai on Portobello Road or Vietnamese on Kingsland Road. I also love having Spanish tapas in Soho."
Brenda: "I like both. My husband is a vegan so does a lot of experimental cooking at home. In Dublin my favourite place to eat out is Andersons. www.andersons.ie"
What are your star signs?
Do you both still have further ambitions?
Brenda: "For the company I would like to introduce more fabric pieces, which we are currently working on. I would also like to do weave and possibly incorporate that into Electronic Sheep somehow."
Helen: "For Electronic Sheep likewise I would like to add more products, have our Electronic Sheep comic printed and work on some more art /tapestry style pieces. On a personal level I’m interested in fine art print and old school printing presses and I like the idea of mixing these techniques with digital mediums."
Is there anyone in your industry you would like to work with?
Brenda: "Miu Miu, Vivienne Westwood and Gucci."
If you didn’t take up careers in fashion what do you think you would have done?
Helen and Brenda: "Open a shop with a bar!"
George R Vaughan