"I had been working for the Truman Brewery since 1996, some designers came looking for studio spaces. It was an exciting time. The East End was exploding with lots of art and music events, but I tended to naturally gravitate towards the fashion side because I knew some of the designers," remembers the quietly spoken Kennedy. Another common thread lay in the fact that they - the designers - and Kennedy all drank in the same pub, The Bricklayer's Arms. "It all leads back to that really," she says - which is kind of brilliant.
Kennedy hadn't actually planned on working in fashion - her background was in organising raves - and what we know today as Fashion East and a highlight of the London Fashion Week schedule, started out as a "project".
"We were looking to do something philanthropic anyway, and they [Truman Brewery] were, like, 'Get on with it, stop driving us mad'," she laughs. Armed with said madness - aka enthusiasm - Kennedy got to it. "I had a beginner's ignorance - 'It's going to be fine - just shove a massive sound system in it and have a party afterwards.' I wasn't concerned about the nice, glossy details, it was all very raw, noisy and raucous. I just didn't get my knickers in a twist about it" - which is all part of Fashion East's charm and, ultimately, why it's worked.
Fashion East is renowned for plucking bright new names - those still a bit rough around the edges, that have an idea and need help with what to do with it; those with a leftfield point of view - and giving them a chance to be heard. "There was all this great talent going on, it felt great to bring it together in a showcase, people who might have got missed," she thinks back.
That first season, spring/summer 2001 in September 2000, saw Blaak, Camilla Staerk, IE Uniform and Patrick Thomson take to Fashion East's catwalk. House of Jazz, Roksanda Ilincic, Jonathan Saunders, Richard Nicoll, Gareth Pugh, Marios Schwab, Danielle Scutt, Meadham Kirchhoff, Louise Gray, Holly Fulton - and the list goes on - followed.
"The fact that we brought it all together in a really easy format for people to see - instead of having to find this weird show in the middle of nowhere [a common problem associated with East End locations back at the beginning of the millennium, keeping in mind that LFW used to take place in South Kensington] - meant they just responded well to it."
"Our first show with Fashion East was fast and furious; it was cold, with raw white walls and a massive sound system," continues Molyneaux of her experience. "Backstage was open, so you saw the other designers and teams fighting with rollers and zips - not unlike ourselves - and the choreographer had a voice to be reckoned with. I remember the Russian models all wanting to wear our hooded sheepskin coats and there were major tantrums as it was freezing, but they walked like gazelles, so I forgave them."
It was all part of the fun; that's also a strong part of what Fashion East is about. There's a humanity and humility to it. One of Kennedy's favourite venues was the Electric Ballroom in Camden, which prompted reviewers to note that if you hadn't bothered to trek there, you really had missed a great show.
"One of my first memories was when Lulu lent me the studio at the Truman Brewery to use before my first show," recollects Holly Fulton, who showed with the initiative twice - for autumn/winter 2009 and for spring/summer 2010. "I arrived from Edinburgh with the collection in a suitcase, knowing I was about to make my debut as a designer at LFW, to find that I couldn't open the lock on the door. Hardly cool. I had to phone Lulu to talk me through opening the padlock. That moment sums up the experience of being part of Fashion East: there was so much I didn't know yet but Lulu never made you feel like that and just gently guided you through it all. I would never have taken the jump without the framework that Fashion East gave me; it was the best possible start and afforded me the foundation on which to build my brand."
For Kennedy, that's the overriding point of it all. "It's not about growing so much as staying relevant and honing what we do and connecting the designers. While it feels relevant and the designers tell us that it is, we'll keep going because there's no point doing a vanity project," she says. And she's famously not one for front-row politics - a "pet peeve" - you'll spot her somewhere at the back of the room, just as nervous as the designers themselves.
"Fashion East and Lulu are the reason I have a career in fashion and a fashion label - without her asking me to show as part of the initiative who knows if I would have ever done more than T-shirts!" says Henry Holland whose first collection was famously based quite simply on rhyming fashion slogan T-shirts (´Wham bamm, than you Stam´: ´My flies are undone, Lily Donaldson´),"The support that Lulu gives, both financially and emotionally, lasts so much longer than the two seasons. You are under her wing and it's an honour and a privilege to be a part of the stable!" He's not the only one to feel that way.
"Lulu really believed in me from the beginning. Unlike most Fashion East alumni, I didn't study an MA or do any collaborations before, I had zero press and no one had ever heard of me," points out Ryan Lo, who has since gone on to garner acclaim for his hyper-sweet collections. "She treats every designer differently, it's never one size fits all, so I felt really special."
So what is the winning formula that makes a designer stand out? Is there even one? "It hasn't really changed over the years, it's fairly easy to spot. I can't really explain it," says Kennedy. It's that fashion X-factor thing. "You can be intrigued by their clothes but then when you meet them you start to get a better idea of where they're going."
She fondly recalls the time that Jonathan Saunders turned up with "not a bin bag but something tatty" of clothes, none of which were on hangers, "but you could see so much". It was his energy, his spark; it was a done deal. "He was always covered in print, where his hands were in a bucket of dye; he was always filthy, but it would be Hermès or Balenciaga," she remembers.
And, of course, there were some names that just stood out. "I could see early on that JW Anderson would be offered a big gig, you could see… you could place bets on it." The designer showed as part of the MAN line-up (a collaboration between Fashion East and Topman) for the autumn/winter 2009 season.
Fifteen years later, did she ever imagine all this? Aside from helping to launch some of London's most noted womenswear names, the initiative has introduced its own menswear category too.
"I don't think there was ever really a plan," she laughs. But, as she says, while it's working for the designers, it's working full stop. "It's those little moments really - when they've touched the audience and left them thinking, 'I want that jumper'. Or a clever reference. Or in the reviews - a great adjective can make my day. It's the small things. I know we're only a small organisation so there's only so much we can do, but we can still."