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Resident Advisor: Lena McCroary, Sanne London founder

The Chelsea-based womenswear designer talks made-to-order fashion, entrepreneurship and her favourite places in the area

5 October 2022

Lena McCroary
Silk shirt, £980
Gold gown, £3,200
Silk shirt, £980
Velvet and Swarovski crystal gown, £3,700

To envision a completely different fashion system and structure a business around it is a brave and bold move, but that’s exactly what Lena McCroary has done with her label, Sanne London. Based in Cadogan Square, the small-scale womenswear brand makes everything to order and strives to reduce waste in the industry. Here, Lena discusses how she successfully weathered the pandemic, what’s involved in made-to-order clothing, and the female leader who inspired her.


Tell me about your career leading up to founding Sanne?

Well, to be honest, it’s something that I really founded when I was probably 14 years old. Of course, it was just a dream at that point, but I would make clothes and I would make my own little labels with Sanne written on them. And I always made things for friends. But it was really in 2019 that an actual business was launched with a plan and a team.

I worked on Savile Row for a lady called Fadia Aoun who took over Brian Russell & Co. from the man himself. What is really interesting about her is that she is not only female but also Lebanese, and she is at the head of a very, very traditional British tailoring house. So I had her as someone to look up to, and it was really a ‘sky’s the limit’ approach. There was nothing that was unachievable.


How did training in traditional tailoring influence the way you work?

It had a massive impact. I mean, the fabrics that I use, they’re all from very prestigious mills around the UK. So it’s cashmere from Scotland, it’s wool from the Midlands. And those are exactly the same fabrics that they use in traditional tailoring houses. And it’s so different from any fabrics that you would find from a ready-to-wear brand, or in a department store. 

Also, my love of craftsmanship really started from there. Just the attention to detail. And really having that personal relationship with each customer as well. Rather than, you know, if I was working for a big design house, my sketches would just be sent off and I’d never meet that person wearing the clothes. 


Where do you get inspiration from?

It’s an ongoing process. I watch a lot of TV – probably a bit too much. I spend a lot of time on social media, as all of us do. And my phone is full of screenshots of the things that I’ve seen. 

Recently I’m very much inspired by the future and what that might look like for us, since there is so much uncertainty now, you. But I’m looking at the future in a very positive form – in a very hopeful, playful way. 


Is everything made to order?

Yes. It has been a really tough challenge to keep it that way, because the fashion system just isn’t built like that. We don’t want to end up selling only 30% of the stock as wholesalers usually do. When you go down that route, the rest is either returned to the designer or destroyed. 

It’s difficult to get people to think in a new way, and to encourage people to shop in a new way. But we’re getting there slowly. Usually, people’s objection when it comes to made-to-order is the expectation of long lead times, but ours are very quick – roughly five days. People get quite excited when they hear that and feel like it’s a reasonable amount of time to wait. 


And what happens when someone has placed an order? Can you describe the process?

So, when a customer places an order, it comes straight through to our atelier in Battersea. The cloth is ordered directly, whether it’s one of the mills in the Midlands, or in Scotland, with next-day delivery. And then the seamstresses cut it and make it straight away, and that’s it! Because we’re not outsourcing any of our manufacturing apart from the cloth, that is how we can be so quick.


What are the challenges of working in this way?

From a business perspective, building a brand that is direct to the customer means very slow growth. Whereas if we wholesaled, we would reach a much bigger audience much faster– for example, if we sold with one of the big fashion e-commerce retailers. 


Do you do entirely bespoke garments too?

Yes. Our made-to-order clothes come in standard sizes, like 8, 10, 12, and so on, and then we also do fully bespoke.


With such a personalised approach to your business, how did you weather the pandemic?

Yes, that was a struggle. As a small business, we were able to pivot and think of new offerings that our customers wanted during that time. So we focused more on interiors. We made a collection of ‘save the species’ pillows, and 15% of the profits went to the World Land Trust, which is the charity that David Attenborough supports. I was inspired when his Netflix documentary A Life on Our Planet came out during lockdown – it was so beautiful. 


How can people move away from buying clothes that are mass-produced?

I do think a lot of the responsibility lies with the brands more than customers. Because if the choice isn’t there for the consumer, then what are they going to do? They’re just going to carry on buying clothes as they usually do. So in that sense, I think the responsibility really does lie with the brands to make big changes to how they operate. 

But otherwise, I would say, don’t buy from huge conglomerates. The prices are going in one direction and the quality is going in another, so you’re just not getting value for money. They’re not doing any favours for the environment either, and they’re feeding a system that is broken. When you buy from independent brands, they’ll care much more about their customer and each order that comes through. 


What do you enjoy most about running Sanne?

I think it’s just the excitement of building something from the ground up. It’s finally getting its rhythm. My team is 1,000% behind it, they believe in it. You know, we’re a little army of people who are really trying to change the way people shop. We are also aiming to implement more technology to reduce our lead times even more. And even with the bespoke service, having 3D body scanners and automatic cutting machines that could make for such a fun shopping experience. 


Who would you most like to see wearing Sanne?

Oh, it has to be Zendaya – she has great fashion sense and is a woman who stands for the right forces. 


What are your favourite boutiques in the area to find the finishing touches to a Sanne outfit?

Kujten on the King’s Road sells the most beautiful cashmere.


Where else would you recommend in Chelsea?

It’s got to be Bread Ahead on Pavilion Road for croissants and a coconut flat white. Then I would say Villa Mamas London on Elystan Street – it’s such a good restaurant. 


How can people find out more about Sanne?

We have a business WhatsApp chat – if people want instant answers, then we will probably respond within a few minutes and then we can set up a call. We also have a small showroom just off Sloane Street which is by appointment only.

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