Phyllis Taylor, 40, is the creative director of ethical fashion brand Sika, which she founded in 2005. Her clothes combine traditional African prints with modern cuts and are made sustainably in Ghana. She lives in London with her partner and six-year-old daughter.
My mother is a seamstress and taught me to sew. I’d chop up clothes and make outfits to go clubbing in. After studying pattern-cutting at the London College of Fashion, I worked two part-time jobs in marketing and in a shop.
It was 2004, and I often wore African prints — my parents are Ghanaian — but used the traditional fabric in edgier designs. People always asked where my clothes were from, and eventually I thought: I should start my own label.
Phyllis Taylor (pictured), 40, from London, was inspired to launch ethical fashion brand Sika, after receiving positive feedback to the clothes she would make for herself
I had confidence in my designs, but solo, I couldn’t produce enough stock. Every summer, when I visited Ghana, I’d see tailors and seamstresses at work — garment workers there can cut patterns free-hand, so why not source the fabric and have the designs handmade in Ghana?
It was a brilliant way to showcase their talent to a new market. That was my light bulb moment. I quit my marketing job and went to Ghana to make my first collection using savings. I was in my 20s and didn’t appreciate the risk. Now I think, ‘Wow, that was bold!’ A year later, Sika launched.
I started with a website and a stall at Spitalfields Market, then went out with my samples, cold-calling intimidating boutiques. I must have tried 50 shops; I got so many knockbacks, but some orders, too.
Sika was one of the first brands to experiment with African prints and people loved it. Three years later, I left my department store job to work full-time on the label, opening a shop in Greenwich.
Chic: Strawberry batik dress, £189, sikadesigns.co.uk
That year, I won an Ethical Fashion Forum award. It was great to be recognised for creating sustainable employment — paying workers fairly is at the heart of the brand.
By 2011, Sika had appeared in Vogue Italia and I’d moved to a bigger shop. Then, in 2014, I collaborated with Asos on a collection. It was a huge achievement, but I was stretched in too many directions and bogged down in logistics. High Street retail was getting tougher, so I decided to go online-only.
It was scary, but the right call. Business is booming and it’s given me the time and financial freedom to expand into children’s clothes and menswear. I design from home, then visit our Ghana factory every four weeks. We have a big following in the UK, U.S. and France: people who like print love our designs.