Step Inside: An Alternative Photoshoot | Riley Studio

Step Inside: An Alternative Photoshoot

by Riley Studio |

A note from our CEO Olivia Dowie, about our journey through lockdown and our pivot to an alternative photoshoot. 


We are now into our 8th week of lockdown and what a rollercoaster it has been for everyone. Like so many small start ups, this period has been incredibly challenging for us. Before lockdown we were on a really exciting journey with serious momentum. It felt like all our hard work from our first year was finally coming to fruition. And then suddenly within a matter of days everything came to a screeching halt and all our best laid plans just vanished. 

In the last two months, we had a photoshoot planned, a video campaign to execute, new packaging to develop, a two week pop up to run, the launch of our new collection, and numerous activations around Earth Day and Fashion Revolution. It was fair to say we’d potentially bitten off more than we could chew but we were raring to go! 

Like everyone else, when lockdown started my primary concern was the health of my team, family and friends. But running a small business is all consuming at the best of times and suddenly our whole world had been turned upside down. One of our biggest concerns was how we would now bring to life our new collection, something the whole team had been working tirelessly on for well over 6 months and were particularly excited about as it showed off our new elevated direction and style. 

For any brand storytelling is crucial, even more so for a small brand like ours. Our content is possibly the most important part of the business and at a time when we were looking to scale up and impress buyers and investors alike, it was paramount we got this photoshoot right. We wanted to show our consumers and community how far we’d come in our short journey. 

My background is not in fashion so it still amazes me the sheer manpower and time it takes to coordinate and execute a photoshoot. Not to mention the budget that goes with it. Jenna, our Creative Lead, led the charge and with a photographer, lighting expert, hair & make up artist, two models, stylist, videographer and assistant we would have been a team of over 10 people. The photoshoot was scheduled for 23rd and 24th March, before official lockdown. By that point we had already been working from home for two weeks, but every day we got closer to the shoot it felt more and more unsafe to bring together all these people for two days in a small studio that wouldn’t lend itself to social distancing. We had to make the call quickly and the decision was taken to cancel the whole shoot. Whilst it was definitely the right thing to do there was a feeling of guilt as we didnt want to let anyone down, not to mention sadness that we couldn't execute something we were all so excited to see come to life.

Tasked with a new challenge, we needed to find a way we could showcase our new collection in lockdown. But with a crisis comes creativity. On our hunt Jenna came across Jessica Bird, an incredibly talented illustrator on Instagram. We immediately fell in love with Jessica’s illustrations and loved the idea of doing something very different. The process couldn't have been easier, we simply sent her our mood boards and our shortlist of models and she got started. 

We have been blown away by the results. Her chalk pastel drawings are full of character and her illustrations bring to life our pieces in a way we never imagined. Through her own style she manages to showcase the quality and craftsmanship that goes into each and every one of our designs. Something that is very important to us. Furthermore, she drew them on leftover paper packaging she had received from a materials order which was something we hadn’t discussed, but the perfect initiative given our company ethos. 

Vogue Italia highlighted back in January that photoshoots have a very significant carbon footprint. Whilst our photoshoots are nowhere near as big as the likes of Vogue, inevitably they still have an impact. If I am honest, we are still trying to work out exactly how much carbon emissions we would have produced from our original plans but to break it down a bit… The shoot was in London so no one would have flown (we made a decision to always use models in the country for this very reason) but it would have still involved 10 people getting there, most driving with all their equipment. Lights switched on for nearly two full days, electricity to charge the various pieces of equipment, food for 10 plus people inevitably bought from get the picture. In light of all this, from a sustainability point of view, using illustrations was perfect.

We’ve always wanted to try and challenge the norm, and on reflection it's funny how even as a ‘disruptive’ brand we had fallen into the typical notion of ‘produce collection, shoot collection.’ This period of lockdown has given us time to reflect and reevaluate what we are doing as a business, and how we can improve. We always try to be as considerate as possible in everything we do, but there is always room for improvement. No one is perfect and doing these illustrations allowed us to see that. That’s not to say we won’t go back to doing photoshoots when we can, but in a different way and with a renewed sense of purpose. 

The money we have saved from not doing such a (relatively) large photoshoot has been used for a far more worthy cause which is to purchase fabric for the Emergency Design Network to make scrubs for front line workers. Our manufacturer in London has been part of their efforts making over 1,000 scrubs so far, and we wanted to make sure we were doing our bit.  

Whilst we have experienced some serious lows throughout these past 8 weeks, there are many things to be grateful for. And something we’ve taken as a real positive throughout all of this is how nimble we can be as a small brand. We can easily pivot and adapt to the ever changing circumstances should something like this happen again. 

Now that our production facilities are open again in Portugal we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our new Collection 04 (originally due to launch at the end of April) and we cannot wait to show it to our community of #KindHumans. For now, you will be able to imagine it through the wonderful work of Jessica Bird, we hope you enjoy the illustrations.  


Olivia x