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We Catch Up with Co-owner of Gender-neutral Brand, Formerly Known As

Formerly Known As
March 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

North East gender-neutral brand, Formerly Known As, are all about pushing boundaries within the fashion industry

Now celebrating their first birthday, we catch up with co-owner Andrea Miller.

Originally wanting a career in media and radio, Peterlee-born Andrea studied at Cleveland College of Art and Design. ‘I then had a change of heart and wanted to do fashion as it’s something I’ve always loved, but knew it was a hard area to get into. I went back to uni in Hartlepool and did a fashion course for two years and gained my foundation degree,’ she explains.

Part of the course included connecting with people across the industry and after keeping in touch with some of the designers, Andrea heard of an assistant junior designer position in Manchester. ‘I thought I would apply just for the experience because I didn’t know what I needed for a fashion interview, but I got the job. That was in 2012, before I actually finished my two-year uni course, which was amazing. I designed for a lot of high street shops such as Primark and New Look, before moving to work for Missguided when they were taking off and launched a denim programme with them. I’m still freelancing now whilst we build the Formerly Known As brand and work for the likes of ASOS and River Island.’

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During the pandemic Andrea and her friend Felicity Adams got talking about starting a business together. Although the pair went to college together, Felicity went into finance, working for a bank. ‘She’s always wanted to be in fashion and I said she would be a really good buyer, but obviously she would have to leave her career and start from the bottom again,’ Andrea explains. After an opportunity came up for Felicity to take voluntary redundancy, the pair thought this was their moment to start their own fashion label. ‘We put our heads together and went on holiday to Dubai, throwing ideas around. By the end of the week we had a concept and a name.’

Back in the North East, Andrea and Felicity got to work on designs for their brand, Formerly Known As. ‘We work on the designs together but I draw it up and get all the packs ready for the factories. Felicity is really creative as well and she’s got some great ideas which she brings to the table. We launched the website in December 2022 and we’ve just celebrated our first birthday,’ Andrea says.

Andrea and Felicity combined their ideas to form the concept behind Formerly Known As. ‘For me it was gender neutrality, and for Felicity it was about fitting different sizes and ages. We’re not trying to follow any kind of fad or trend. We want to bring back how shopping used to be, for instance our grandparents would have items of clothing that would be in their wardrobe forever, and we want to bring that back. We want to move away from throwaway fashion,’ Andrea explains.

Now on their third collection, Formerly Known As are all about timeless pieces, but with a twist. ‘For example our classic white shirt is made with a nice, thick cotton – it isn’t see-through meaning you could literally wear a black bra underneath. We have a harness detail which goes over the top so if you want to look a bit different or edgy you can wear the harness. It’s looking at things and putting a bit of a twist on them, and playing with the multi-wear theme. I try to make a lot of our products multi-wearable so, for example, most of our trousers zip off at the knee to make shorts which take you into the summer, and all our coats are multi-wearable taking you from warmer seasons where you can take the sleeves off or make them into cropped jackets, then in winter you can have them as maxi coats with sleeves on.

‘Rather than designing things out of thin air we are flowing the collections together. We’ve gone for a neutral palate, meaning you could buy something from collection three and it will match back to collection one. I want people to be able to build a capsule wardrobe and buy pieces from all the different collections and be able to wear them together,’ Andrea says.

As well as making the clothing adaptable for the seasons, Andrea and Felicity also ensure their collections are gender neutral and inclusive of size and age. ‘I remember at one of my first office jobs I needed shoes but the only ones I liked were a men’s brogue. I’ve always shopped men’s and women’s clothing – I just shop across gender and I think that’s the way forward. [Being a gender neutral brand] is not putting people off because a guy might say “this is on the women’s floor, I can’t buy that”, so it’s really about pushing that boundary and saying a piece of clothing is a piece of clothing. It doesn’t matter who’s wearing it, as long as you want to wear it.’

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Sustainability is also an important part of Formerly Known As. ‘In an ideal world every fabric would be recyclable, but the trouble we have is that we’re a brand new company and we only buy in very small numbers. There are a lot of recyclable fabrics out there but they might not be the best fabric to choose and there is a minimum order. For instance, to make a cotton shirt you’d have to buy a thousand pieces in order to get the recycled fabric. A lot of customers don’t realise there are a lot of issues when it comes to recycled materials. It’s the same with leather. We were deciding whether to use leather on not, obviously for ethical reasons, but we went with leather because when I looked into it I found a factory which has all the certifications to guarantee the leather is a by-product of the meat industry – that factory doesn’t kill for leather but rather the skins are left over anyway. If we went down the route where we used faux leather, the majority of that is made from plastic, so it’s trying to work out the best way to be sustainable,’ says Andrea.

‘Rather than designing things out of thin air
we are flowing the collections together’

Over the last year Andrea and Felicity have been delighted with the response to their collections. ‘We’ve been so overwhelmed with the uptake on Formerly Known As because we’ve got very small collections and we’ve launched three so far, but even still, in total that’s only around 28 pieces (not including the bags or accessories). To say it’s such a small collection, we’ve had really good reaction from stylists. A lot of our followers are creatives, artists or stylists which are exactly the type of people you want to hit first because if they’re on board, everybody else will follow. Chloe Sims from TOWIE got in touch with us because she loved the leather trench and wanted to wear it at Coachella and we’ve also had people who have worn some pieces to award ceremonies and Strictly Come Dancing dancers wearing our pieces, so it’s all going in the right direction.’

Formerly Known As is currently stocked in Fenwick, Newcastle, or shop online at

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