Amongst my childhood friends from home, who are now fully in their ‘wedding goer’ era, Never Fully Dressed has long been the first word in shopping for not just for the seemingly endless rotation of dresses needed, but all the accoutrements too: shoes, bags, jewelry…you name it! Reasonably priced, size inclusive, and made to stand out from the crowd, it’s about time the UK-based brand has made its proper debut Stateside. Founder Lucy Aylen is doing it her way too, with an eye-popping store in Nolita that’s an extension of the label’s fun-loving, bohemian nature. Aylen got her start in the markets of London’s East End, just like her parents. When I visited the then-unopened store for a media preview earlier this month, that inimitable salesmanship and charming accent was apparent, as I heard her selling one-of-kind display samples to women who wandered in off the street wondering what was going on in this sequin-fronted treasure trove. (“You’ll be the only one in the world with that,” she said of a gorgeous chartreuse suit, which the shopper duly purchased.) Some things never leave you! Here’s how it all began, and what’s yet to come…
Where did you grow up and does your love for fashion stem from your childhood?
I grew up in East London and I was always the one in the playground waiting to see what my mum would pick me up wearing. She’d come in some crazy hat or big Oliver Twist trousers, so I suppose my love of fashion stemmed from her. Luckily, she kept quite a lot from back then, so a lot of my jewelry is from her. My parents were very loving and family-oriented whilst being creative and focused. They were always encouraging us to dress how we wanted and that creativity definitely continued. My siblings actually aren’t creative in that same way, but they are still creative in how they want to express things or how they want to live.
Did you always know you’d pursue a creative career?
I was always making my own clothes. When you were younger and you couldn’t afford something, you’d make your own version of it. I remember literally using pins and studding a pair of shoes. So I think I was always creative in that sense. The eclectic mix of Never Fully Dressed comes from a mixture of inspiration and a love for fashion, but it’s more the freedom of expression that I love. I love the intricate details of color and how that will work in each piece. When you’re creating, you don’t always think methodically about how to create a business plan, so I suppose that works in my favor and helps me maintain creativity. I notice when I go through phases of that not being in a regular routine I don’t always feel as inspired as I do when I go back to my regular routine.
Take us back to 2009 when Never Fully Dressed began as a small concept store. What was this time like for you? What was the offering like back then?
I actually didn’t start a store at first; I started out in the Portobello Road markets in London in 2009. Some of the styles that we make now date back to then and are named after people in my family—including best-selling styles! I never came from a design background. I didn’t study it, but I had a sewing machine my Grandad bought me so I could make a big oversized pattern. Our popular styling videos come from being at the market and seeing how to make things work for different bodies, different women, and enjoying that process. If someone was super trendy, they could wear it this way; if someone was a bit older, they might layer it over pants or wear it in a different way. So yeah, I didn’t start with a business plan—it was more the market stalls that gave me a great sense of community, which I loved. When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s hard. Sometimes it can be a bit lonely and you’re on your own path. But everyone at the market became like my colleagues. The other stall holders were my first community and customers.
Can you recall some early moments and milestones that helped put the brand on the map?
We were originally working from my mom’s attic. And when we started damaging her stairs dragging stock up and down she said, ‘Lucy—go get a space.’ I think that was a milestone in itself because then you have a sense of responsibility! So that’s when we got our store and we ran it like an office, as well as doing our fulfillment from there. That’s when I started to think of it more as a business. Obviously, when I first set up our Instagram it was a big moment for us as well, because actually, when I first started, there was no Instagram! I used to just cold message people on Facebook. I used to get banned from Facebook messaging probably every three days because I would just write people being like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a fashion brand you would like.’ You’re only allowed to message strangers a certain amount of times or you’ll get banned—I would just get banned every two days, get it back, and then message more. The first pop-up in New York [last year] was a big milestone for us and that kind of brought us to where we are now. And then I suppose little bits of luck, like Beyonce and Kendall Jenner wearing NFD. What I’m most proud of, though, is the resilience and still being here, even though things go up and down.
What are some lessons you learned from your parents?
My dad is very warm and lovely. He would think everything was amazing, so I take that positive energy from him. My mom is the hardest working woman I know and she had five kids. She could run a market stall like, as the song Redneck Woman by Gretchen Wilson goes, ‘With a baby on [her] hip.’ My mom actually isn’t creative, but her sense of style and her work ethic were always amazing. They’re both very honest people too. I think that actually is the foundation of how we run our business and how I think I am with people, even when there’s difficult conversations to have or things aren’t that fun. I think if you come with an honest point of view—and sometimes we’ve made mistakes as a business or been called out on things—but if you’re genuine, that’s what matters.
What was your first proper store like—and how does that compare to the new boutique in NYC!
I remember when we did the first store…my dad will still say that it took years off of his life! He was smashing a stone, pebbledash kind of flooring all by hand in the dust. It was like a sea of white! I owe him a few vacations for that. Obviously, this store had a bigger budget as we’re a larger brand now. I did a few yard sales beforehand to buy items for the first store. We just had to be creative, which is very cool and I quite like that. Back then, it was an amazing feeling when we finished it. It was infectious. And even now, the team literally built everything in the store by hand to bring this vision to life! So while the budgets are higher now, it’s still a similar creative and hands on approach.
Well done to the team, because we love the design! Tell us about what was on the moodboard for the interiors.
We’ve been to Ibiza a few times in the last couple of months, which we aimed to recreate here. I think that makes it feel European. While we’re from London, when you go back to Portobello, the root of where we started, the store has that mix of
market traders, multi-cultural influences, and travel. It feels rooted and eclectic. The gold sequin we also have on the frontage here is on our London store as well.
The brand’s social media presence is epic—with 1m followers and counting—and you already mentioned your famous styling videos. Tell us a bit about your online community and the content they gravitate towards.
I mean, I think I’m getting old and irrelevant but I also think it’s rare that you get a founder who’s so present [on an account] and involved in the community and with the customer, and I think they like that. I’m lucky now that my sister is coming into the business—and she’s a bit of a mini me, so it’s funny! Even seeing her material over the last six months to a year that has been working for us is amazing and quite beautiful. She’s just started our TikTok with our social team—and we’re hiring in that space—so she can bring more of my essence to the account and break through herself as I get completely irrelevant!
Our NYC launch party >>>>>
NFD has been lauded for its inclusive sizing. What other brand values are important to the brand?
Honesty and fun. I think that comes from that inclusivity belief. I love that people enjoy the process of dressing in color and celebrating each other. Women supporting women is amazing—so we need more of that.
This is your first US store. What types of current season pieces do you see NYC’s cool girls going crazy for, in particular?
I think New York has that kind of ‘luxe tux’ vibe to it, so we’ve seen a lot of two-piece styles [being popular], and some great jumpsuits that feel effortless and cool. I think in New York you can make anything suitable for the street, even a super dressy dress. Like when you’ve got crazy prints or a silver sequined trouser on, but you mix it with Converse sneakers and make it more grounded!
You also have swimwear, shoes, bags, and accessories, amongst other categories…is there anything you haven’t explored yet that you would like to?
Beauty is something that I would like to do one day. I’m not anywhere near there yet, but I think it could be interesting for us. In the more immediate future, hats feel like quite a natural progression for us that we haven’t done yet. I also love homewear, it’s a personal passion of mine so that, and beauty, are amazing fields for us down the road.
Love! What would you tell your younger self?
Dream bigger earlier on. I’ve always been quite an organic growth kind of person, whereas I feel like we could have done this earlier. But maybe not, you can’t change your journey because of those thoughts.
Tell us a fun fact about the brand!
We’re almost an entirely female team!
Beyond hats and homewear, what’s your biggest dream for NFD?
I genuinely believe in the potential of the brand. I just want to see that play out. I want to dominate the space where a size 2 and 22 are at the same party—just that absolute celebration [of everyone]. I love the journey that [British skincare brand] Dove has gone on; how much work they do in the female space and how they promote self-esteem. I think there’s a bigger project that we could probably start working on. We’re laying the foundation now, but there’s a bigger message. We also do a lot of charity work, so whether we start our own foundation or something along those lines, we’ll see. But for now, let’s look at how we can promote the message of women celebrating each other in the community in a bigger way.
Visit the Never Fully Dressed store at 243 Elizabeth Street now.
Imagery: Alec Kugler