In Conversation: Sideline

Ellen Brookes has built the brand Sideline designing clothing for both the life we aspire to and the one we actually live. Sideline translates the global business of denim into a local, intimate and personal collection each season, embracing the familiar fabric in a new way. The strength of Sideline’s identity is born out of it’s fabrication, with clever tailoring and an indigo rich colour palette building up a versatile collection of reach-for pieces.

Launching our new series of interviews revealing more behind the brand’s we love and stock, we spoke to Ellen Brookes, Founder and Designer at Sideline, about heritage, the denim industry and designing for the women around her. With the upcoming season’s collection in store and online now, there was never a better time to talk. 

Above: Sideline Dulcie Coat

Sideline holds one of the most identifiable aesthetics of our brands in store. Can you tell us more about what makes up the signature characteristics of your collections? 

The collection is based around a core of indigo fabrics, with the concept of these items forming the base of a wardrobe in much the same way as a pair of jeans do. I use fabrics that have interest in their weave or colour to give depth to the garments. The aesthetic of the collection is always understated but interesting and unique through design and detail. I also try to look for little ways to update a garment like contrast binding or stitching - details that you might not notice straight away but will make the garment feel special.

How do you set about the design process of creating modern clothing that is both wearable and covetable? 

I try to stay true to what I believe in and not be directed by what I see other brands doing. I am very aware of trends but I try not be lead by them. I like the silhouette to be modern and right for the season so I incorporate new shapes into the collection with signature SIDELINE detailing. But most of all I try picture my friends wearing the designs as they are my muses and its women like them that I am ultimately designing for.

What elements do you consider when deciding on both the fabrication and production of each item? 

Fabric is so important to the collection and this is where I always start. I use a tight edit of fabrics to give the collection a strong identity, this also helps me be able to use interesting fabrics as I can reach the minimum order requirements if I use them across a few items. I incorporate a lot of print and embroidery in the collection to give it a unique aesthetic and to make each item feel special on its own as well as working together within the collection.  

Above: Sideline Nancy Skirt

Where did your love of denim and indigo come from? 

I started my career in America working for a huge casual wear brand and have since always worked on denim and casual wear. Working with denim is very addictive and there is a real tight group of people who work in the industry, you all get to know each other which is really nice. I feel comfortable with denim and so happy getting lost in a pile of indigo fabrics. I love that denim and indigo based fabrics change over time, I believe these fabrics get better with age. I am also super scruffy and most comfortable in a pair of jeans, I have far too many pairs than is necessary!

Denim is at the core of your brand but you’ve never designed a pair of jeans – is this a conscious decision?  

I have designed many, MANY pairs of jeans for other brands and I believe you need do something really new and innovative to launch a 5 pocket denim business, like develop a unique fabric that no one else will have. There is a lot of tech-y stuff happening in the denim industry at the moment which is exciting but its not my natural aesthetic and sometimes feels a bit gimmicky.  

I wanted to use the fabrics I know and love but do something that looks quite different to what is out there already. I have trousers in the collection that serve the same purpose of a pair of jeans but just feel a bit more special through silhouette, design and detail. I ‘might’ add jeans in the future but I want to do it in the right way for the brand; I’ll do it if and when it feels natural to do so.

Above: Sideline Edie Shirt & Alt Jean

Given your background as a denim specialist and consultant for bigger brands, what does it mean to you to now have your own brand? 

It means I am knackered but creatively satisfied. I am not going to lie, its very stressful and a lot of work, as I am on my own so if something goes wrong there’s no one else to help to fix it. Because I work on my own so much I love it when it comes to working on the photo shoot as I get to work with friends and family, my amazing sister has worked on every shoot with me and my niece was the model for AW15 and SS16.

As your fourth season drops in store, can you tell us the story behind the upcoming AW16 collection and the art direction behind its look book?  

I don’t really have a story as such, I am inspired by the everyday of people, places, art, architecture but I am mostly inspired by the end user. I think about who the customer is and what she would want from the collection.

I shot the new look book on the Sussex coast at one of my favourite beaches. I love the images as the setting is really personal to me and reminds me of so many fun times spent there with my friends and family - we all call it the magic beach! I work with a photographer called Richard Johnson who is a surfer so the beach setting also appealed to him (although he is more suited to the sunny beaches of South Africa than the wet and windy Sussex coast). The weather was perfect the day we shot the look book as it as cold and windy, I love the way the models hair is blowing across her face in some of the shots. 

Above: Sideline Danni Dungarees

What’s your favourite piece from your new collection? 

I have been wearing the dungarees non stop, they are so easy and because they are more fitted than most dungarees I find them to be really flattering.  I also love the Lola Jacket and Dulcie Coat as they are both very signature SIDELINE.

What does the future hold for Sideline? 

I hope it will continue to grow and gain a loyal customer base. I would also love to collaborate with people on other products - bags, shoes maybe. I get asked a lot about menswear from both stores and individuals so that might be something I consider in the future but first I want to establish and build the women’s brand. I prefer to do one thing well first and then move on to other areas rather than trying to do everything from the start.

Words by Rebecca Field. Shop the full collection from Sideline online and in store.