Quality, sustainability, glamour, punk, elegant, empowering, timeless; an ever-expansive list commingles in the mind when Pristine is mentioned. Founder Kathryn Hewitson has honed her craft in the ateliers of some of London’s most celebrated cult designers, and a decade later, armed with passion, ethical commitment and a penchant for perfection, Pristine rises as a defiance against passing fads.
Their marriage of vintage glamour with a punk spirit stands the test of time, but does so with an enviable flair, sexy but more for the wearer than the onlooker, catering “for girls with a clean conscience and a dirty mind”. During our conversation with Kathryn, we talk all things Pristine, from the drive that powers the brand to her upcoming collection, where a teenage diary and a vintage showgirl costume meld together. The brand’s about page reads,  “The Pristine girl is confrontational but cute, sexual but sweet, she takes pride in her appearance, and uses the attention it garners her to have a positive impact on the world.”
To kick things off, you’ve mentioned that prior to your brands inauguration, you spent a decade within the studios of some of London’s most celebrated cult designers. Can you share more about your experiences, and how those years have shaped your approach to design and the character of Pristine?
I have always found it insane that in this industry, 22 year old graduates are encouraged to start businesses. Having my own brand was always the game plan, but I wanted to learn how it’s done from other people first.
Sadly the majority of the brands I worked for have since closed down, and those surviving are ran by people who are independently wealthy, which could not be further from my situation. While I definitely learned a lot about production, logistics, and the industry more broadly, I am constantly asking myself which of these experiences are a great blueprint to follow, and which of the practices I have witnessed I should run away from. There are so few success stories of small brands making it and I really want Pristine to be around for the long term. It can be overwhelming to know which route to take.
How do you envision the emotional connection between your designs and the wearer? 
I am constantly frustrated by the disappointing quality of fashion nowadays, from both high street and high end brands. It is my goal with Pristine to create pieces of exceptional quality - from gorgeous materials, and cut to compliment the wearers’ body - the neckline placed just so, the waist cinching just the right amount, the hem of the skirt hitting in that perfect place. Our pieces are sexy, but in a way that is more for the wearer than the onlooker, making them feel like a million dollars and the best they’ve ever looked; I sometimes joke that I want to make clothes for people who are sexually attracted to clothes.
While Pristine is relatively new to the scene, you’ve swiftly amassed quite a look book of collections. Each collection boasts a distinctive identity, yet there’s a real sense of cohesion - a common thread that runs through them that I feel is as though old Hollywood reminiscence blends in with a genuine sense of British charm. Could you share some influences that shape your brand?
We have been producing 2 collections a year since we started almost 3 years ago, and to be honest, we plan on slowing things down a bit. It’s so easy to get swept up in the cycle of the fashion calendar, wholesale seasons and so on and rarely get the chance to stop and ask yourself if it’s really serving you or your business in the way you want or need it to.
The new collection we are working on at the moment, I am really taking my time with, and don’t have a deadline in mind. I want the work to be the best it can possibly be, and whilst juggling various different production runs, and still being a team of one, it’s a lot to take on.
Having said that, our upcoming collection is following on from many of our consistent influences - beautiful, historical garments, the provocative spirit of the punk movement, and a celebration of all things feminine - be it a teenage diary or a vintage showgirl costume. But this time we’re actually taking it to the next level, as well as revisiting some of our commercial signatures, we are working on some of the most elaborate and conceptual pieces we have made to date.
When conceptualising a new collection, what typically serves as your starting point? Do you begin with a specific concept in mind and build the collection around it, or do you adopt a different approach to your creative process?
To be honest, I have so many ideas, some of which I’ve had for decades and you can sit on an idea for so long and one day; it just feels right. Those sort of ideas that are usually the starting points for a  new collection. I’m not a conceptual designer. My priority is to make gorgeous wearable clothes for myself and people like me. If you gave me 10 grand tomorrow and send me to Selfridge’s or Ssense or Farfetch or wherever, I think I would really struggle to spend it and come away satisfied. I want Pristine to help change that.
Having said that, there often are themes that crop up as a collection develops and that subconscious creative process gradually makes itself known to you. There are times I look around at my work after the event and can be like “Oh, I get it, I see what I was going for there!”
What continues to inspire you and drive your creative journey?
I really think as a society, we deserve better than the crap being pushed on us these days. Whether that’s in the clothing industry, or food, consumer goods, movies, etc. Late stage capitalism has really sucked all of the joy and quality out of stuff. And I really believe in the power of great stuff to make your life better and make you feel good!
While I can’t singlehandedly change the system we’re in, I want to dedicate my life to making beautiful things that make the wearer feel better about themself and their word.
I also, honestly, look back on everything we have done so far, and wish I could redo all of it! With hindsight, and slowly increasing resources, and the benefit of constantly learning and improving. I am really proud of what the journey Pristine has taken, however, it’s hard not to compare yourself to others with endless resources and connections and dream of what you could do given the opportunity.
Your ethos appears very well-informed and steadfast. It feels as though you’ve seamlessly navigated the industry without succumbing to the pressure of producing hastily or compromising your principles under the weight of industry demands and consumer expectations. Was there ever a moment where you had to fight to preserve your brand’s values?
Thank you for saying that, but as I previously mentioned, I have really felt those pressures.
I think they’re especially hard when you are a small team or have limited resources.  Once you have the kind of proof concept of your brand and the people like it and care about it, in an ideal world we could find the funding to really help scale the company into something that has the infrastructure to deal with these pressures.
Sadly with expensive products; making the type of clothes that we do, you don’t generate enough revenue purely from profit to scale the business so instead the priority for me this year and for the foreseeable future, I guess, is to do the opposite! I have big dreams for Pristine, but those dreams have always been about doing things on my own terms and trusting in my own instincts, and I feel like some of that has got lost along the way.
As well as developing new collections and pieces on our own timeline for the time being, we are pulling away from wholesale and focusing on our own direct customers, we have an amazing audience who really resonate with and believe in the brand and it can be easy to forget with all the stress and the endless to do lists that they’re the most important thing at the end of the day. This year is the year of focusing on them. I’m not saying we wouldn’t do wholesale again if it was the right store and they could do it in a way that was beneficial for us, but with limited resources, it really makes no sense to spread myself so thin when one branch of the business feels so much more positive and is so much more profitable than the other.
Turning our back on those wholesale margins will also mean being able to bring some of the more exceptional pieces we envision to our customers at slightly more reasonable price. It is never been my goal to make unattainable clothes but combined with being a snob about fabrics and construction, this can make it tricky to find the sweet spot.
Your brand seems to have a really strong commitment to sustainability. Could you elaborate on specific sustainability practices or decisions that are integral to Pristine’s identity?
In 2016 at 24 years old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was an incredibly traumatic time that really caused me to reflect on my priorities and those of the people around me; my partners and employers, and made me so determined that when I got back on my feet, I was going to do my best to make the world a little better.
Following this, I spent a few years working in the headquarters of a vintage company, overseeing the repurposing and up cycling branch of the company. It was in this time I learned so much about sustainability and really doubled down on my passions and intentions for the future.
For Pristine,  sustainability is about ethical materials; using natural fibres, deadstock heritage fabrics from French lace mills to British war Mills. We try to avoid using synthetic fibres unless absolutely necessary. Even now creating some cheaper pieces in those sort of fabrics could be great for the cash flow and growth of the brand.
It is also about creating timeless pieces that we hope to be the vintage of tomorrow treasured long-term, not just for a season, then passed down through generations the way clothes used to be.
Sustainability is also about caring for the people involved in your company. I really believe in the power of being kind and respectful towards the people that work with and for you. It’s sadly rare in this industry. I’m not sure I know anyone who hasn’t had at least one horrific experience whilst working in fashion.
Thank you so much for letting us into such a personal and impactful part of your life. As you moved forward, was it a challenge to balance sustainable practices with the pursuit for glamour and timeless designs?
Most of the amazing vintage pieces I admire; the types you see hanging in museums or the walls of a fancy vintage store with an over-the-top price tag are made from ethical materials, wool, cotton, silk.
The struggle we face when trying to apply sustainable practices to our work is the difference in price. Most small designers are making polyester spandex tube dresses. Or if they’re making tailoring, it’s acrylic or polyester, maybe viscose, and not with layers of traditional fusing, linings and interfacings that we work with. Some of our textiles cost upwards of £60 a metre.
I know that as a society people are grossly underpaid, I’ve never had a good paying job either, but I think great things are worth saving up for and we are building a community of people that feel the same.
In an industry that often prioritises fleeting trends, and given your dedication to vintage glamour, timeless pieces and high quality fabrics, have you ever encountered any difficulties in balancing these elements to maintain a contemporary appeal within your designs?
Pursuing the wholesale angle, you do get constant feedback from buyers that prices are too high, have you thought of introducing this (lower priced or trendy) item, and so on, but honestly, whenever we take that feedback on board, those pieces don’t resonate.
It’s a great feeling to feel like we have an audience that cares about the brand for what we do, rather than it feeling like the hot thing of the moment. It can be frustrating sometimes when you see a new brand that pop up and hop on the latest trend, and blow up overnight, but those businesses aren’t based on any real foundation and crash as quickly as they rise.
I am excited to take the time to build a genuine, authentic audience for the brand.
Where do you see Pristine in the next few years, both in terms of design evolution and the brand’s impact on the fashion industry? Are there any specific goals or aspirations for Pristine that you are particularly excited about?
I am super excited for the new collection. We are working on some of the pieces in development on commercially minded I just want to exist. Since starting the brands I’ve had to prioritise commerciality every step of the way as I didn’t have any money coming from somewhere else and no one else funding the brand so I had to make sure we kept surviving and paying the bills. Now that I’m in a slightly more stable position, I’m really excited to expand the worlds that were created and create some of these more crazy, heavily developed, elaborate pieces.
Another plan for the next year or so is to work on a range of leather goods. I have had some ideas in this vein I’ve been desperate to make happen for a while, and that are a really lovely complement to our clothes so I can’t wait to finally bring it to life this year.
I do dream of doing a catwalk show, but they can be so so expensive, but we have to wait until it feels like the right time for the business - and find someone else to pay for it!
That said, we are beginning talks with a few people around investing in the brand to help scale and take things to the next level. It’s so exciting to think of what we could create and achieve with more resources.
To finish off this interview, I have a really random question out of curiosity - how come your brand is named Pristine?
I loved the idea of a name that felt timeless, that you could  see being the brand name of a 1950s fridge.  I also like the idea of playing with what is pristine; what is perfect. Women are under so much pressure to look a certain way and a huge part of the brand is about a woman looking however the fuck she wants and it’s her version of perfect fuck what you think.
To use my own name would never make sense.  While I love, and wear our clothes; Pristine is not a vanity project. It’s a business making great clothes. Clothes that I want to be worn by loads of people!