In this month’s issue, we shine a light on Sheffield-based fashion designer Ellis Harrison who is the founder of Vitae, a clothing company dedicated to encouraging people to be more than just ordinary.
What inspired you to create Vitae?
Essentially, I’d left school when I wasn’t 100% set on what I really wanted to do, and jumped into doing a degree apprenticeship. I progressed quite quickly and stepped into a management role. When I got there, I thought, ‘Is this it?’ I spent a lot of time self-reflecting, thinking, ‘What am I feeling? I pinpointed it as fearing becoming ordinary.
I wanted to create something to give people like myself a vehicle to express that feeling, something to empower them and inspire them to escape that feeling of being ordinary, in the kind of way that I’m passionate about. And what led me to do that was through fashion and creating my own brand.
Why did you pick fashion and creating your own designs?
It had been an unlit fire from a young age. I had a big family sporting background and sport was always sort of the thing that I said I wanted to do. A massive thing for me was in the summer when the new [football] kits would come out; I would spend so much time looking at the kits. I used to find myself fascinated with the designs. I remember at the time it was a big thing on the Nike website where you could create concepts of football boots and kits. I used to spend hours on there, designing kits and concepts and found it really fun.
Growing up through high school, I always had a very creative side and I enjoyed art. I think, if I’m being 100% honest, I probably wasn’t honest with myself and fell into a bit of sort of stereotype where, for me, it felt like success was either playing sport or doing something stereotypically business related. I think in essence it was the pain of realising I was doing something that I didn’t want to do and thinking I need to do some soul searching to figure out what I really want to do.
During Covid, when I was kind of twiddling my thumbs and there wasn’t much else to do, I started drawing and designing clothes, kind of just out of boredom. It was probably the most fulfilled and happy that I’d felt for years and I thought this is something that I want to bring to life. I combined that feeling of my enjoyment for fashion and how I think it can make other people feel with a mental state that I wanted to do something with a bigger purpose.
What is your creative process for coming up with your designs? What do you draw inspiration from?
I try to build my designs from is mindsets that I think resonate with my customers. I look at periods when I’m designing and how I’m feeling in my life. At the minute, my latest collection is titled ‘Take The Risk’ and the inspiration came from making this jump, starting my own brand. It’s been a huge challenge, probably the biggest challenge that I’ve ever taken on in my life, but it’s brought me so much joy, fulfillment and a lot of opportunity, and that came from that mindset of saying to myself, go for it and take that risk.
From a more business-centred side of things, how has it been building your brand from the ground up?
It’s been a massive challenge. I was quite lucky that a couple of years ago, I was helping a friend out who had a business, so in terms of building some of the concrete things, like a website, I had a bit of experience. I come from a professional background in supply chain, so in terms of suppliers, managing manufacturers, managing deadlines, managing finances, etc, I had some experience. But the marketing side of things, that’s been a massive challenge for me.
When I first started, I took on a lot of pressure saying I’ve got to do this all myself and that it all came down to me. But I think, as simple as it sounds, you’ve got to make yourself vulnerable and really put yourself out there and ask for help. And that’s something that I didn’t do for a long time which held me back, and something that I’ve tried to do a lot more recently, to fill in gaps where I’m going ‘Well, I’m not great at this’ rather than beating myself up over it and putting loads of pressure on myself. It’s understanding that there are people out there who are willing to help and by getting their expertise I can accelerate.
What advice would you give to any other creatives, looking to get their foot in the door in the fashion industry?
It’s extremely competitive, but I think to just do it. Go for it. A lot of concerns that you probably have when you get started, for example how do I design, how do I find a manufacturer, how do I bring this idea to life, the quickest way to learn is to start and actually go out there and do it. Even if you can’t see what’s around the corner, just start putting one foot in front of the other and start building that journey for yourself.
Vitae’s next show, VITAE X JAMES KING, will be held on 18th August at Revolution Sheffield and is in support of a friend with a terminal brain tumour. More info about the event can be found here.