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how COVID-19 is truly affecting emerging creatives and 'what's next?'


words Filipe Phitzgerard - images courtesy of Iolo Lewis Edwards

Iolo Lewis Edwards is the Wales-born multifaceted creative whose impression and contributions to the contemporary fashion scene are recognisable without much overthinking. Edwards' ongoing influence has proven to be highly positive as he has been able to discover, adapt, and grow within one of the most competitive and fast-passed industries in the world, and yet, he has cemented his presence by becoming something close to a "guru" of digital creativity and high fashion expertise.

Edwards' career in the fashion industry started in photography and led him to develop his skills in video creation and direction but he didn't stop there; Iolo is highly skilled and knowledgeable in matters such as social media and digital content creation which have led him to direct High Fashion Talk, one of the most active social media platforms in current days. From Facebook to Instagram, High Fashion Talk sees thousands of fashion aficionados coming together to discuss the current movements in the fashion industry, critique what should be looked at with honesty and, sometimes, rooflessness, as well as inspire one another through daily outfit posts and competitions that stimulate and propel creativity.

The Welsh creative has worked with some of the most recognisable names in the industry, from SHOWstudio, Leanne Elliott Young of CommuneEast and streetwear favourite Liam Hodges to emerging designers by the likes of Caitlin Yates and Joshua James Small. Edwards is young and yet driven by the dream of becoming someone in the industry who is there to inspire and support many. Amid the current uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, Iolo, along with the HFT team, has been thinking of ways to support graduate designers and emerging brands that are being negatively affected by the lockdown being unable to plan and execute their highly expected graduate showcases. As a young creative who has a real passion for the industry as a whole; Iolo took the time to talk to us about his views on the current pandemic, how he sees the massive changes the fashion industry is going for and what High Fashion Talk is looking to do to support graduate and emerging designers. He has also shared some candid images he took while in isolation.

Filipe Phitzgerard: How are you dealing with the whole self-isolation thing?

Iolo Edwards: I am doing okay, or as best as one can. I am more frustrated with how everything

has stopped and you just don’t know how long this will take or how to plan life. It is really hard to know what to do.

F.P: How do you feel about the government response?

I.E: [Laughs]

F.P: Yes, I’m going straight there. [Laughs]

I.E: I think they are figuring out what to do as they go. It’s weird because now only essential

workers can work but then you have companies like ASOS who are according to sources still shooting their e-commerce so it just feels like a mess. It is really hard to know what to do. With leaks alleging ASOS sales are higher than before and Boohoo as well, we found out that they even allegedly threatened their staff if they didn’t come in for shoots and stuff. Like, what the fuck?

F.P: But that’s the thing, online retail is skyrocketing. I don’t really get this with people, if the whole point right now is to preserve yourself and you don’t know how long this is going to last; why spend money on things you don’t need right now?

I.E: Yeah. That’s the effect of boredom. People went from panic buying to pure boredom buying. It’s so strange.

F.P: Yeah, that’s true. I feel like there will be a lot of regret after this whole thing is over. People are going to end up with a lot of stuff they bought during isolation and that they won’t even use.

F.P: How have you been managing your time?

I.E: It’s weird because most of my work is done in “quarantine” anyway. I work from home in the

computer all day long so that hasn’t changed much. I am just not great at managing my time so I end up working till 2 am in the morning.

F.P: Have you noticed any difference with the people you engage with at High Fashion Talk? Especially the overall mood?

I.E: It’s funny because the engagement has gone through the roof. At the beginning everybody was a bit on panic mode and now everyone just seems to be tired, fed-up and angry. Some people are apathetic as well and that comes out in their posts. Which is shit. You get some people taking their frustrations on other’s posts but you know...

F.P: You mentioned there were a lot of people using their time to create their own stuff.

I.E: Yeah. I think those who have noticed that this situation might take some time to end they’re

using their time to create stuff. There is someone who started doing tapestry and it looks so good. People are making clothes, painting, drawing, and making music. It’s very cool. But I guess you need to have those things in the house or order on Amazon.

F.P: This is the time for online retail.

I.E: Oh yeah. If there is one industry that won’t be in trouble after this is the online retailers.

F.P: I want to ask you about your thoughts in regards to the situation of freelance creatives and the long-term effect of the lockdown.

I.E: What I have heard is that there is going to be some relief provided, but you have to apply for it based on your tax returns and that would be paid in June, which is useless because the freelances will not have money until June; and it is taxable as well. I think with the emerging and freelance creatives it isn’t just an issue of money; most freelances are always working to build themselves as well, so growing their business and getting bigger jobs. With this whole situation, unless you are really smart and find a way to do what you do but online, it’s putting everyone’s career on hold. I am lucky because I managed to develop other areas creatively. I am not just a photographer and because I have HFT I can focus my time in doing this. I think I would struggle a lot if I was just a photographer right now. This is definitely not a good situation to be in but we got to find ways to navigate this. If anything, I think this is going to teach us how to plan ahead in case of a disaster.

F.P: Have you seen the news about the fashion houses who are putting money aside to help small business? I read that Pyer Moss has put fifty thousand dollars to help small business make payroll. Do you think the industry can do more for the emerging and freelance creatives? Is there money to be spent in this?

I.E: It’s tricky because I think that supporting actual business that are fully integrated in the industry probably makes more sense. The question is ‘is the money going to trickle down?’ or Is it just going to just for the full-time employees? I think that even then, there will be a lot of people who will be made redundant. I have been speaking to some people who work for big fashion retailers and they are just expecting a letter or email saying they’ have been made redundant. Everybody is kind of in the same situation. It sucks because there is a lack of support for small independent creatives but I kind of understand that the industry wants to support and maintain the infrastructure that will theoretically support the individuals themselves. I get where the big companies are coming from but there will definitely be people who will fall through the cracks.

F.P: What are your thoughts on fashion weeks being cancelled?

I.E: I mean, if we are being honest, even if the outbreak ends by like June, the virus isn’t going to just drop dead in one day. I guess the virus will still be around and we wouldn’t be able to be in big gatherings anyway. I think the decision to cancel or postpone fashion weeks is wise and at the moment it suits the needs of the many, if you know what I mean. Especially when you think about all the internationals who attend fashion weeks. It wouldn’t be safe to have everyone rushing back in again. It does suck that we don’t have fashion week this season.

F.P: And also, if we are in lockdown the designers might not be able to finish their collections anyway.

I.E: Yes. It is virtually impossible to finish a collection while in lockdown. I was talking to Liam Hodges and he was saying how he is taking a break right now. He is doing some rugs and crochet to occupy his time; they are actually really cool. You can’t open the studios right now because it would be a breeding ground for the virus. It will be interesting to see how the industry and everyone really comes back into the work routine. How they are integrated into the workforce again. Maybe have the ones who have had the virus already coming back to work and they do the work...

F.P: Yeah but how do you know who’s got it?

I.E: [Laughs] Yes, and it would be one side for the ones who had the virus already and the other for the ones who haven’t been infected yet. [Laughs] I don’t know... this is too complicated to think about.

F.P: The fashion universities are also having to adapt massively right now. You guys started an initiative to support the graduate designers through HFT, right?

I.E: Yeah. Initially, for me, I considered the fact that the students would be missing out on the opportunity to showcase their work to the industry and many designers made their name from these graduate shows. Fredrik Tjærandsen’s when he did his parachute inflatable dresses and showed on the runway, that made his career; he went to work with Nick Night. So these graduate shows are really important and it is a shame that the industry can’t do anything at the moment. It sucks because all these students are missing out on the opportunity to do it. It’s a shame. And I thought “what can I do to offer that to people?” Of course, we have all the platforms at HFT which it isn’t as big as some other people but I thought we could try and do something online to help them and to give them some exposure to show the work they have been working on for three years.

F.P: I think this is a brilliant idea and initiative. We do recognise the challenges that the lockdown implicates on the whole process as well.

I.E: It is, obviously, hard to get the collection finished and get content done in this lockdown. I mean, we have to learn to work with what we have right now. Hopefully by the summer we will be able to get out of the lockdown and go back to normal life.

F.P: Is the initiative up and running already?

I.E: The students aren’t meant to finish their collections for the next two months anyway, so there is nothing to show yet. I have talked with a few designers and even photographers who had their shows cancelled and what we are offering is not only the space to publish their work but also the expertise and advice we can give in how to create the content and how to work with social media and take advantage of the benefits of it. If we can offer that advice then we are happy to do it. It’s difficult at the moment because, understandably, some of the students are still hung-up on the idea of having a show which at the moment is impossible. Even after, it is such a big event to organise and it costs so much money, and the logistical nightmare because of the number of students. It is really hard to put graduate shows together. There are quite a few different initiatives being birthed at the moment from students who want to show their collections...

F.P: Like collectives made by designers?

I.E: Yeah, something like that. There are one of six hundred students who got together and will try

to put their show together. There is another one who is speaking to the universities and discussing the idea of taking the budget they would take into fashion week and give that budget to the students. It is still not a huge amount of money to do something like graduate fashion week but, I guess, I would love to see them putting their energy into creating their own thing and we will find a way to communicate their work.

F.P: Because you have so many different designers showing during fashion week that not everyone stands out. To be honest, even the official fashion week, we attend so many shows in one day that by the end of it we remember one or two of them, three if we are being kind.

I.E: Yes, exactly. If we use an online platform to showcase their work, we can communicate their collections individually. At fashion week there are so many shows that only the ones who do something crazy and over the top end up getting attention. While I understand where the students are coming from, I also don’t fully understand why spend so much money into something that might not be as effective as if you focus on communicating their collections online. I think the most important thing is to make sure they have the exposure and recognition for their work which HFT can help with. They can always do an event and get the support from us as well. I am happy to help and support them and give advice from what I have learned and developed through HFT in the past two years.

F.P: I love that. I think there is so much realistic hope in that. I think that perhaps the ones who really have a shot are the ones who are more interested in showing their work regardless of the format. There is a saying that goes something like “the absence of something makes us discover abilities we never knew we had” and I think that is very fitting for the current climate. People will find ways and skills that before were overshadowed by the whole big fashion structure.

I.E: Yes, definitely. I think there is definitely an upside to all this. We are being able to adapt and find creative ways to make our work seen. There are a lot of great hidden benefits in the internet and social platforms. We should then use them.

F.P: I have to congratulate you guys on this. It goes to show that you don’t have to be the size of a Louis Vuitton or Prada to do something. This could be a pivotal moment for the creative industry when we will truly reinvent ourselves as a whole.

I.E: Yeah. It’s funny because this initiative isn’t something new. I always wanted to have a platform that would help propel the careers of emerging creatives. I have supported some emerging designers like Caitlin Yates and Joshua James Small even before we had this offer for the students and new designers. And the support isn’t just to showcase their work but I took Caitlin to ShowStudio for a talk we did. I want to work with all types of creatives; I took Ayoo from the Fashion Archive on YouTube to ShowStudio so HFT has been supporting many other creatives because some of them have gained more presence online because they would post on HFT and they just grew from there. They earned the right to show their stuff and share. For us, this is not something new to us but at this time we can step up and provide that place and support to more people.

F.P: And we have this opportunity to really use the online platforms as a way to communicate creativity. I find the idea of shifting things into the online format so exciting; even moving shows from the runway to the online format.

I.E: Yes. And if you think about it, a catwalk nowadays is this whole circus of social media. You go to a show and in real time you have people posting on their Instagram stories and the collections end up online anyway but you have the massive cost of putting a show together and the production that goes into it. With the social media format, you can still do something creative that showcases your work and have an impact on exposure even bigger than on the runway. I imagine even with models; are we perhaps going into a time where models shoot themselves at home (due to lockdown) and then that content gets used by brands and their platforms? I think there is a momentum to be created and developed right now. I will miss fashion week this season, though.

F.P: And fashion week is such a big part of your life, isn’t it?

I.E: [Laughs] Yes. Four months of my year are just for fashion week. So, I will miss it this time.

F.P: Have you noticed any major impact on social media usage at the moment?

I.E: Oh yes. People are using it a lot more. Of course, they are spending more time at home so

there is a lot more engagement; whether Instagram is being able to cope with it, that’s another questions. I also noticed people using it with more freedom. Like, there are a lot of “daily challenges” that people are doing right now and they seem to just be having fun with it...

F.P: Which is the reason why social media, especially Instagram, was invented...

I.E: Yes. Before the brands took over it and turned it into a business. I feel like people are going

back to that root of what social media was meant to be. It is quite refreshing to see it, though. I think creatives started using social media in so many creative ways that normal brands took advantage of it and then developed their social presence from there but they kind of took the fun out of it because social media became a marketplace. It took a completely different form to what it was originally meant to be. It’s good that people are having fun.

F.P: In terms of the service, especially on Instagram; have you noticed any change?

I.E: It is really funny because a while back Instagram used to be sensitive to nipples and breasts

and constantly, they would be removing posts or blocking accounts which showed any of them and now, there seems to be a lot more nipples and breasts on Instagram. That’s because Instagram (and Facebook) uses humans to check and confirm sensitive content and because of the lockdown they had to reduce that and are instead focusing a lot more on the very sensitive content. So, you do have a lot more of that wild-west content on social media.

F.P: Any final thoughts or words of encouragement for this time? It is time for you to be the guru of creativity...

I.E: [Laughs] I would advise people to use their time to try new things and just try and try and see what works. That is not just refreshing for yourself but you might find that you have skills in areas you never thought you did. It can be anything, playing the guitar, singing, painting or anything really. Just something that is not your obvious choice of activity. This is a time filled with opportunities to try new things.

F.P: That’s an awesome advice. Thanks for taking the time to chat to me. This was really good.

I.E: Oh no problem. It’s a pleasure.


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