'I wanted people to see the beauty God has given them' - How a young fashion designer from Preston found her inspiration to launch two successful brands

Anna Colivicchi talks to a young fashion designer about how her faith inspired her to start two unique and successful brands

By Anna Colivicchi
Monday, 30th March 2020, 11:45 am
Laura Jeffers and her friend Ricky wearing Stay Lit Apparel t-shirts.
Laura Jeffers and her friend Ricky wearing Stay Lit Apparel t-shirts.

When Laura Jeffers was a little girl, she used to make clothes for her dolls and teddy bears.

Her nan taught her how to sew, so she would cut pieces of fabrics from her own clothes and then transform them into something new.

“When I was younger, I didn’t really care about what other people were wearing,” she explains, “I just wanted to create.

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Asikaras signature head wraps and bow ties

“At the start, I was just expressing my love for creativity, using fabrics.”

Born in Preston to Caribbean parents, Laura was brought up in a Christian Seventh-day Adventist family.

She is a “Lancashire girl through and through” – she loves her city, and she had always wanted to bring something to this community.

During her teenage years, her creativity transformed into more concrete forms of fashion and in 2012, she decided to study fashion design at UCLan.

Laura Jeffers

The 25-year-old explains: “While I was at university, I already knew my strong fashion standpoint didn’t fit any standard criteria, and that I wanted to create a brand for myself.

“My take on fashion was very unique.

“I simply didn’t want to fit myself into a box.”

To this day, the clothing piece she’s most proud of is a ‘transforming skirt’ she made while she was at university.

Laura wearing a Stay Lit Apparel t-shirt.

As part of her degree, Laura did a placement year at a sports brand, where she had a lot of design freedom and could experiment with different fabrics and styles.

But that was an unpaid job, so in order to sustain herself financially, Laura started to make accessories, in particular African-inspired and colourful bow ties and head wraps.

She adds: “I started making accessories because I could easily work on them in my spare time.

“I had three side jobs at this point, so it was hard, but I still loved creating those items.

“Sometimes I would also buy clothes from charity shops and transform them, and then sell the final product.”

And this is how her first brand, Asikara by Laura Jane – which takes African influences and fuses them with contemporary British design – began to take shape.

She explains: “Making bow ties and head wraps was still a hobby for me at this point.

“My idea was to finish university and work for a big company, in order to gain experience – and then go on to start my own business.

“But I realised that all the brands I was interested in were based in London, and I wanted to build my brand here, up North.”

After graduating with a first class degree from UCLan, Laura started to look for jobs in the fashion industry.

After a number of rejections, her dad told her that “if she couldn’t find a job, she should make one”, and Laura started to take her hobby more seriously.

She adds: “I think almost out of discouragement, it became my job.”

Since 2016, Asikara by Laura Jane pushes the boundaries of fashion to create hand-made, colourful clothing at an affordable price, using innovative fabrics.

And those kaleidoscopic bow ties and head wraps that Laura used to make just for fun are now the signature items on her online shop.

In creating beautiful pieces of clothing, Laura has always been inspired by her fervent Christian faith.

The word ‘Asikara’ is in fact the fusion of two Zimbabwean words, ‘asika’ meaning ‘created by God’, and ‘ankara’, which means ‘fabric’.

She explains: “My faith inspires my fashion.

“At the core of what I do, there’s the belief that everyone is unique, and through my clothes, I want to help people to see the beauty God has given them.

“I want to design and make clothes that change the way we look and feel about ourselves.”

In particular, Laura was inspired by Psalm 139:14, which says that people are all “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

The fusion of two cultures, Afro-Caribbean and British, makes Laura’s brand different from everything else on the market, and every piece of her collection is handmade.

Laura says: “I think what makes this brand unique is the fusion of cultures and heritage I can bring to the table.”

In September 2019, together with her best friend Ricky, Laura launched her second brand, Stay Lit Apparel, which is completely different from Asikara and boldly reflects her Christian inspiration.

A Christian clothing brand, Stay Lit Apparel was designed by Laura and Ricky to “empower a lukewarm generation into sparking conversations about Jesus”, and features printed t-shirts and hoodies with Bible-inspired quotes.

Laura explains: “It was practically impossible to find Christian clothing here in the UK, and shipping from the US is often more expensive than the item itself.

“So my best friend challenged me, and said ‘why don’t we make our own Christian clothing brand’?

“And I felt ready to speak out about my faith, and fashion is the only way I know.”

To young fashion enthusiasts who are tired of fast fashion items that look the same over and over, and want to start their own brand, she says: “Go for it! What’s the worst thing that can happen?

“If you have a dream, give it a go – I never thought I would create and run two brands, and here I am.

“And I’m really grateful I could turn my hobby into my career but I’m not going to lie, it is hard and you need to be mentally prepared for it.

“Because when you create a brand for yourself, most of the time you have no colleagues, no certainties, and it can feel quite lonely – and you need to be prepared for that.

“This whole lockdown experience [due to the coronavirus emergency] is not new at all to me – I work for myself so that’s what most of my days look like and it can feel quite isolating.”

She also explains that it’s crucial for young entrepreneurs to do research and do it well before starting your own brand.

She says: “When I started, I wasn’t really tracking customers, so I didn’t know how to get back in touch with them.

“I wasn’t necessarily sure about how to do effective marketing either.

“It’s really important to track your progress, because if you don’t have a record of your achievements, you don’t know what you are doing wrong and you’ll never be able to fix what is broken.”

A lot of Laura’s drive to start her own brands also came from the fact that most of the shops in the Northern high streets sell ‘fast fashion’ clothes.

These clothing items are inexpensive because they are produced rapidly by mass-market retailers, in response to the latest trends.

The aim is to get the newest style on the market as soon as possible, often using low-quality materials .

Laura, with her passion for unique and handmade accessories like her beautiful bow ties and head wraps, just didn’t see herself designing clothes for such brands.

She explains: “Fast fashion basically imitates the kind of fashion that is presented in mainstream media.

“And is not sustainable at all.

“I just couldn’t see myself working for a fast fashion brand, because I think the whole concept is wrong, as it takes away from smaller, more sustainable brands.”

Learn more about Laura’s brands and shop on www.asikarabylaurajane.co.uk and www.staylitapparel.co.uk