Interview: Emma Garner, Founder of Isla Risa
Margot Worsley
Margot Worsley • Oct 21

Interview: Emma Garner, Founder of Isla Risa

by Margot Worsley

Emma with her Isla Risa creations.

Isla Risa is a handbag brand designed and made in London by founder Emma Garner. Each piece is uniquely and lovingly hand crocheted by Emma using a single piece of satin ribbon. The brand's debut bag the Hive is inspired by sculpture and natural forms, masterfully knotted together in an array of vibrant colours to create an accessory for any occasion. With slow fashion and low waste being the driving force behind the brand, these satin sculptures that swing from your arm are beautiful, ethical and one of a kind. 

Margot: Today I'm chatting to Emma, the founder of Isla Risa, and she's going to tell us a little bit about her brand. Thank you so much for chatting to us.

Join the Waitlist

First, I'd love to hear the process of creating this brand, and the story that led to its creation.

Emma: So I started developing it about a year ago. I was put on furlough and I thought, "This is the best time to start a brand". I wanted to do it for years but didn't have time to do it, with life getting in the way and other things.

I absolutely love hand-making products, and I knew I wanted everything to be handmade by myself.

I absolutely love hand-making products, and I knew I wanted everything to be handmade by myself. I did a lot of crochet at uni, and I thought, “everything I create is sculptural, basically”. I wanted to create a product that could stand up on its own, and I'm obsessed with the bucket bag. I wanted everything to tap back to nature, to be organic and, aesthetically, nice to look at. I also wanted what I made to evoke that feeling when you're holding an object and it feels like a piece of art. 

As I said in like the tagline, "You've got your friends, the sun, and your bag by you in sun lounger," and I wanted the whole brand to nod back to that really. Isla Risa does mean 'island of laughter' in Spanish, so that's the meaning behind everything.

Isla Risa does mean 'island of laughter' in Spanish, so that's the meaning behind everything.

I feel like this is only the start. I feel like it's got a long way to go, which will be nice. And yeah, it's good, the first project is The Hive. And then the second, which is about to launch in a few months, is called The Nest. Everything is a nod back to nature and sculptural, organic form.

Margot: That is so interesting to hear about. Do you feel like nature and fashion are things that are interconnected, in that fashion can always be inspired by nature and ties back to nature?

Emma: Oh definitely. I'm always inspired by the natural forms that we find around us. But then it also coincides with the modern way of living. I think that's what's so important: we're always thinking forward, but we need to take care of nature and the environment around us. Loads of brands are thinking more about this, especially the slow side of the industry, and finding ways to upcycle.

That would definitely be the next thing on the list: I want to look at more materials that are existing in the world, using what’s already out there, rather than creating anything brand new.

Margot: What has been the most surprising thing since you created this brand? Has it been something to do with the creation itself, or the marketing, or something else?

Emma: Oh my God, quite a lot of things. I think it's all a learning curve. Doing everything on your own is a lot more challenging than you realise. My friends and family have obviously been very supportive, but it’s doing everything for the first time that you're just not prepared for.

I think putting yourself out there is really daunting. I'm not a massive fan of Instagram and social media. I don't think it does amazing things to you mentally, but obviously if you’re starting a brand, it's the only way you can get yourself out there. You have to be thankful for it because it's a free piece of marketing and advertising.

I'm not a massive fan of Instagram and social media. I don't think it does amazing things to you mentally, but obviously if you’re starting a brand, it's the only way you can get yourself out there.

But it does come with a lot of anxiety, stress and worry. You just have to do it in stages and take it all with a pinch of salt. There can be some negativity, and I think with a personal account, I didn't receive much of that because I just had my friends following me.

But there is the constant comparing yourself to other brands. I never experienced that before. But overall, you're never prepared for anything and you just have to keep on going and pushing yourself, and don't say no to any opportunities. There have been some I've had to turn down due to time, mainly.

It still is a learning experience. It's great fun, but it's not plain sailing.

Margot: Do you notice more small brands that are focusing on sustainability and these beautiful, individual pieces? Have you noticed more of them in the past few years, or even in the last year since you've launched, as some people might have undertaken similar projects in lockdown? How do you think the industry is moving?

Emma: Oh, yes. I come from both sides of the industry now, because I've been working in it from a fashion perspective since I graduated five or six years ago. That was another reason I wanted to start something on the side, because I don't agree with a lot of what's going on.

Since starting Isla Risa, and indeed since lockdown, I've noticed so many small businesses are popping up and it's so refreshing. 

Since starting Isla Risa, and indeed since lockdown, I've noticed so many small businesses are popping up and it's so refreshing. Making all these connections with these people, and other women doing the same thing as me, is just a really nice environment to be in.

I think there's a lot of good and a lot of change happening from the slow fashion side of the industry, from small businesses, but also fast fashion brands are trying to slow down. There are some brands out there that obviously aren't gonna change like Boohoo and Missguided. But then there are a lot of high street brands that are making a difference, with sustainable sections. 

Just connecting with all these small brands that are using their creativity in a way that's really interesting and inspiring the next generation is wonderful. I feel that what's exciting about what's to come in the next generation: they're all focusing on being way more sustainable.

There's an app called Sojo App. It's run by Josephine and she's doing so many good things. She only launched it a few months ago, but it's mad how far she's already gone. She's all about repairing what you have, not having to buy a new pair of jeans if you've got a hole in them. 

Unfortunately, there are loads of brands out there that won't change, they're just focused on making money. And even as things are changing, it's a long process, I think, because too many different people out there want to do different things.

Margot: Do you notice consumer attitudes changing? Or is this something that has to happen from the brands in order to have an impact?

Emma: I think that it’s both really, because it's about educating people, which I think we started to do now and we didn't really offer a few years ago. As awful as the last year has been, I think it has allowed a lot of people to rethink their attitude towards consumption and buying necessary products. It’s not about buying a lot of something, but spending the same amount on one piece of clothing if it's from somewhere sustainable, compared to buying five pieces that are fast fashion.

But there's also a lot of other platforms out there that are just kind of churning out the fast fashion side of it.

I'm now following and engaging with platforms that are doing something that I want to be part of, and they're doing good. But there's also a lot of other platforms out there that are just kind of churning out the fast fashion side of it. I don't see it as much because I don't follow them. But then and hearing the buyers talk about these numbers they're ordering from overseas is quite scary.

I think it's about educating, but I think it has to come mainly from the brands, and especially the bigger, fast fashion brands. I think the brands have a big part to play in it, bigger than the consumers, really, because it ultimately comes from the top.

Margot: And attitudes will change if people notice that the places they're buying from are suddenly changing. 

What's next for Isla Risa?

Emma: It's hard to believe that in October it will have been a year since Isla Risa launched! It has grown so much faster than I could ever have imagined and I am so grateful for that and hope the next year might be a bit more of the same (keeping everything crossed!) Over the coming months we are excited to be partnering with a few new stockists both in the UK and abroad, my tiny team (just me!) is growing and I hope to start creating new shapes and working with new materials in the very near future too. Lots going on, lots to do, but I love it! 

Join the Conversation

Join the waitlist to share your thoughts and join the conversation.

Mike Perez Perez
chris dickens
Tim Attenburrow
Aymen Merabta
Scott Broughton
Margot Worsley
Margot Worsley

Margot is a lusophile + hispanophile + bibliophile.

Join the Waitlist

Join the waitlist today and help us build something extraordinary.