At the end of this month we plan to launch our first ever Annual Collection. The collection will be made up of a small selection of curated versatile pieces, designed to see you through the year.
Design of course sits at the forefront of the collection, but one key element which feeds into the design is the fabric.
Over the last four years our previous main collections have consisted of a cotton blend or 100% cotton. I know what you are thinking….’So why is AL trying more synthetic fabrics when the most ‘eco’ independent brands and bigger high street brands have more marketing around their eco fabrics?’. I can see that on paper it looks like we are taking steps backwards. We actually could source eco fabrics….we have even looked into it…but the price of the product would certainly double. When costing fabric, it also has implications for other business decisions we make; for example if the price of the raw materials go up then as a small business we can afford less meterage of the raw material because we only have so much budget available each month. I will do a separate blog around pricing to explain it in more detail, but at this point in time as the price of raw materials is increasing, we are doing our absolute best to keep our costs down.
Putting price to one side, there are other factors - which a lot of the time feel like hurdles - that contribute to the fabrics we can utilise.
The first is the sourcing of the fabrics. When we made the decision to bring our production in-house, we also decided to only source fabrics from the UK, keeping the initial carbon footprint low and also ensuring we are working with smaller, local (often family run) businesses.
It is however fair to say that the selection of fabrics in the UK are limited. The number of fabric businesses and mills are limited, which automatically makes the choice of fabric limited and the price more expensive. In terms of fabric limitations, we struggle to find ‘eco’ fabrics which are within the price range that our customer base will pay.
I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that we are doing our best to keep our costs down. Our reluctance to increase prices comes from our mission to bridge the gap between fast and slower sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion is more than just the raw material (fabric), but also the types of products people buy, how often they buy them and the quantities that are consumed. We strongly believe that shopping more sustainably can only be done by removing the barriers to change - which includes price point - and to allow everyone at least a chance to shop differently.
At the moment a business of our size will always struggle to find ‘eco’ fabrics. The mills which are offering these fabrics in the UK are not only out of our price range, but they would most likely not touch us with a barge pole, as their minimum order quantity (MOQ) is far beyond what we can afford / need.
It is worth noting that we remain positive that at some point these fabrics will be more accessible. There has definitely been a switch in the conversation surrounding the high street and the fabrics utilised by the bigger businesses. As the industry starts to make a shift on a larger scale, some of the smaller mills and suppliers are utillising these new technologies and methods to bring forward more innovative and sustainable fabrics in smaller quantities. It is this industry shift that is going to make these fabrics more accessible and in turn the price and MOQ’s for the fabrics will reduce.
AL will always strive to offer long lasting clothing which is still affordable and so in the meantime we will focus on long-lasting fabrics. Long-lasting fabrics tend to contain more synthetic materials, which although are often man-made, does mean that they are more durable. AL’s designs are transitional over trend which means that these long-lasting fabrics are beneficial. We are very much at the early stages of beginning to offer even longer lasting designs and finished garments, with our goal being for garments to be worn and washed over and over again.
Despite knowing that both the sourcing location and price would reduce our selection in fabric, one thing we didn’t predict was the requirement for a supplier to commit to production of a certain fabric for a minimum of 12 months. Because the industry typically works within seasons, our suppliers are used to switching out fabrics and so are more used to committing to a six month window of production.
We are lucky enough to have a very good relationship with our main fabric supplier. This means that they allow us to predict a season in terms of the fabric meterage required, but then allow us to ‘call off’ the fabric as and when we need in. This essentially means that they hold the fabric for us and only once we need it do we request it is sent to us and thus pay for what we actually consume.
When a supplier cannot commit to a specific fabric being available all year round, they instead require us to pay for the entire amount of raw materials we require upfront. Not only is this difficult from a financial point, but when you are launching a collection with new fabrics for the first time it is incredibly difficult to predict how it will sell (particularly when the entire concept for the new collection is that the garments will be available for a minimum of 1 year!). The best example here is a new wide leg trouser design Heidi has trialled. Having sourced a gorgeous, lightweight slightly textured fabric, the sample of the wide leg trouser couldn’t have looked better. However when it came to ordering the fabric, the supplier could not commit to getting more of this fabric in, so we had to decide whether we wanted to buy the entire amount that they have upfront. Sadly this just wasn’t viable and although we have searched high and low, we were unable to source a similar fabric.
That said, we do have a few different fabrics optioned. We have purposely chosen to bring in two new fabrics that are quite different in price point (viscose and cotton blend loopback). By bringing fabrics of different price points we aim to highlight the differences in these fabrics; these differences include the composition and weight of the fabric, which in turn impacts the design, the hang, and silhouettes of the garments themselves.
So despite the hurdles, we have a selection of 4-5 (final number is design dependent) fabrics we are really happy with. All have been sourced in the UK, each of them contributes to making up an eclectic collection of garments and varying price points. Our goal with this collection was to create something which was available for year, accessible to all and give you some staple all year round pieces, all of which is possible through the fabrics we have chosen.