Introducing Dionne Thomas, founder of Puckoo Couture
People end up at Hamilton House by all sorts of routes, but Dionne’s has to be one of the most unique and inspiring. As a young soon-to-be mum, Dionne, who runs the Puckoo Couture label, ended up in the world of fashion design largely by accident:
‘I had to leave my job because it was unsafe for me to work there’, she explains. ‘I was working in a pawn brokers on Stapleton Road, which was pretty full on. We got robbed one day: two guys came in and beat my boss up with a brick and held me up whilst I was five weeks pregnant.’
While an experience like that might derail many people, Dionne recounts it matter-of-factly, as just a step in her journey. After the birth of her son, she was working in a bar when she decided to show one of her colleagues some clothing designs she had done, sewing having always been a love of hers.
Her colleague encouraged Dionne to apply to the same course that she was on — the BTEC in Fashion & Clothing at City of Bristol College. Despite having left school with no qualifications, Dionne’s obvious talent was enough to get her accepted onto the course as an adult learner. From there, it was a mix of happy accidents and dedication to her craft that saw her eventually setting up her own business:
I started off making stuff for my friends. I had a lot of friends who were DJs, so I used to go to loads of clubs and festivals and stuff like that and people would see me in clothes that I’d made for myself and friends of mine were like ‘can you make me this, can you make me that?!’ and it’s kind of accidentally happened from that really.
Starting out making custom-designed leggings, Dionne went on to develop more elaborate designs. She collaborated with fellow Bristol designers Tapt, using screen-printing onto nylon for the first time, before going on to create a series of couture pieces inspired by the movie Blade Runner. Realising that high-end couture fashion was out of most people’s reach, she then began making simpler, more accessible items, guided by a desire to design ‘clothes that make people feel good, that are really high quality and as ethical as possible’.
Having initially been based out of her two-bed flat, she recalls the huge step it was to move into a permanent studio space:
I literally couldn’t afford the first month’s rent at all. I think I had to borrow money from friends or boyfriend or something like that! And then I paid the first month’s rent and probably owed them some rent for a long time. But then once I got in here I started to run it as a label and that’s when I started it properly as Puckoo Couture.
Dionne is now a highly sought-after designer, and is currently snowed under with orders for the upcoming festival season, her studio overflowing with samples and designs. While her website and social media provide the main marketplace for her work, she is also one of the collective of designers running Stokes Croft pop-up shop Paradiso.
As a long-term Hamilton House resident, she feels that ‘being around so many creative and lovely people’ has been a supportive environment for her business to grow. But she doesn’t romanticise the life of a fashion designer, recognising that her creativity has sometimes had to take a back seat to the realities of running a business on her own in order to support herself and her son. But for those with enough passion, who are keen to make their way in the field, Dionne has the following advice:
If you’re doing it, do it because you really love it not because you think it’s easy money or you think it’s easier than having an office job. It’s really hard work. Be original. Use your own ideas. Don’t think just see what somebody else is doing and think ‘that’s really cool, I’ll just do the same thing!’ that’s bullshit! Anyone can do that. Be original, be true to yourself and just work hard, and enjoy it. That’s what I’d say.
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