If you’ve ever seen a Willow and Oak piece, you know it. With the baggy structured look in her clothing, and the bent metal accessories, the brand is everything it means to be a cool and confident Caribbean woman, and Miss Willow and Oak herself, Shandelle Loregnard, is the epitome of cool and confident.
Despite the fact that she studied Fashion Design at New York’s acclaimed Fashion Institute of Technology, the brand Willow and Oak came about by somewhat of an accident. Well, I wouldn’t say an accident – but by necessity. By this I mean, in May 2016, Shandelle, while working in NYC, had been looking for a plain gold choker for herself and decided ‘why not just make it?’. A visit to the jewellery supplies store and some handiwork, and the Signature Choker emerged. She wore it to work the next day, and with some encouragement from her manager, listed it for sale on Etsy, under the name Willow Jewelry.
“I thought, ‘Etsy? I’m not a jeweler!’,” she explained. “But I did it. And in the first month, I sold one. They say it’s really difficult to get your first sale on Etsy, that it takes months, but I got one and then I continuously got.”
And so the brand was born. Although she studied clothing, and never really planned to start her brand with jewellery, she dove headfirst into Willow Jewelry, and continued selling, even when she moved home. After a few successful UpMarket shows, where she actually hired someone else to sit at the table to see if the brand would be successful without her being the face of it, she was ready to launch in Trinidad for real. Shandelle likes her brand to speak for itself, to let her products do the talking, and with that, in August 2017 she rebranded to Willow and Oak.
“Willow and Oak is a contemporary and natural brand,” she said. “It’s inspired by anything from nature that’s organic and not set in its ways. I design a lot of abstract shapes.”
This is definitely something evident in her jewellery collections. Each piece is like its own work of art, and they’re anything but ordinary. But much like the roots of the brand, the products are born out of mistakes. Typically, an error in production would result in a scrapped piece, but Shandelle turns them into something beautiful.
“If something goes wrong, I make it into something else,” Shandelle added.
“The banana leaf earrings started off with just a shape of a banana leaf, but I accidentally bent the cut pattern. I thought ‘ok, this is interesting!’. That’s basically the design ethos: it’s all based on mistakes.”
But the rebrand paved the way for her to start designing clothes too: and following the brand’s organic personality, all of the fabrics were really breathable, natural fabrics like cotton and linens.
Her first collection (or editions, as Willow and Oak calls them) featured a variety of dresses, tops, pants and accessories for the modern Caribbean woman – but that doesn’t mean her clothing can’t fit in all around the world. In fact, Shandelle opted to stay far from the quintessential Caribbean design, and really designed clothing that she’d actually wear. For her, that means a little more structured and a lot looser than things you’d typically see.
“The clothing is really based on my style. Because I have bigger legs and I’m a little thicker, I like oversized clothing,” she explained. “It has to be comfortable, it has to be loose fitting and it has to be easy to throw on.”
So Shandelle designs for those women like her. Knowing that the average Caribbean woman is not a size 2, she knows that there are likely many women who don’t want to feel restricted when shopping or wearing locally-made clothes.
“There are women out there that don’t necessarily like the fitted,” she added.
“You don’t need to show everything off. You don’t have to have the shortest of dresses or pants or tops, or the deepest of Vs to feel confident and sexy. You can feel great wearing anything – baggy or fitted.”
And someone who designs for that perfectly is Meiling, who Shandelle considers to be her local mentor and her biggest influence in the industry.
“Meiling’s legit. She took the steps, she has the experience, she got the training, she’s one of those to look up to in terms of getting where you want to be,” she explained. “She knows what works, she knows what doesn’t work, and she assists me along the way. She’s real.”
So it’s no surprise that Shandelle wants Willow and Oak to truly be clothing that you can wear any day and everyday– something that Meiling often captures in her collections.
“The idea is to allow people to shop local and it’s not buying for occasion,” she added. “It’s buying for everyday wear.”
Especially when we’re so quick to turn to foreign fashion for our cheap everyday outfits, it’s more important than ever to invest in pieces you’ll wear often and that have quality that’ll last a long time too – and that’s what Shandelle hopes will happen with her brand.
“I want people to be able to buy a piece of clothing from me, and want to buy another one,” she added, with a laugh. “It’s like ‘ok, I need this top but I need it in every colour!’”
And while she wants people to invest in her brand, her prices really aren’t that expensive. In fact, every item she sells is under $600, and every piece of jewellery is under $400.
And with the Willow and Oak brand approaching its first anniversary, Shandelle is looking forward to the future. She describes Willow and Oak as a lifestyle brand, and hopes of it branching out beyond just jewelry and clothing – soon to add footwear, home goods and eventually general lifestyle products.
“Willow and Oak represents the lady that can go anywhere. She’s not tied to a specific culture or style or aesthetic,” she explained. “She’s very Caribbean – but a neutral Caribbean.”