Sustainable fashion has shaken off its granola image to become one of the most talked about trends at London Fashion Week. Celebrity designers like Ali Hewson and Livia Firth have made ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethical’ the buzz words in fashion circles and we, as consumers, have become more conscious of environmental protection and tired of the fast fashion treadmill with less than ethical origins. Arlette Lee is one of the new breed of designers creating a beautiful range of wearable clothing that is also both ethical and sustainable. Her line of Alapa fibre ponchos or Ruanas have shot right to the top of our winter wish list – forget any pre conceived notions you have about sustainable clothing, these babies are seriously stylish and luxurious. We caught up with Arlette to hear more about her brand and business.
Wigsandgowns -Tell us a bit about the brand and the concept behind it?
Arlette Lee - The foundations of the Arlette Lee business grew from a seed idea whilst travelling the world. I was travelling with a 14kg backpack and needed a versatile classic piece warm enough to wear all year round. While in South America, I fell in love with the mystique and people of Peru, and in particular the super-soft alpaca fibre. Alpaca fibre is 100% natural, sustainable, renewable, biodegradable and ethical. Once I began to learn more about the supreme qualities of the alpaca fibre, I decided to create a collection of practical, stylish Ruanas based on earth colours to complement and work with any wardrobe. The Ruanas and SnugaLee are all handmade in Peru by artisan weavers and can be worn multiple ways; it’s designed for contemporary life on the move.
We are committed to supporting smaller businesses in Peru, promoting fair trade and sustainability, whilst delivering exceptional quality pieces to the customer, preserving nature with style.
No alpacas are harmed when their fleece is collected (their coats are sheared just like a sheep is for its wool).
Wigsandgowns -What’s your background – did you study fashion at University?
I studied European Business and German at University and then studied Buying and Merchandise at London College of Fashion, as well as some other courses also at LCF.
Wigsandgowns -Did you always plan on setting up your own brand or did you consider working for another brand? Why?
Arlette Lee - I knew I wanted to work in fashion retail from the early years, yet my career/life-path took me in a very different direction which provided me with great experience and opportunities. I decided to set up the brand in 2011 after applying for jobs working with other fashion and lifestyle brands, but couldn’t get a start anywhere as I wasn’t coming from a traditional fashion or design background. After many rejections and feedback that I was over qualified or didn’t have the right experience for retail, I decided to simply create my own brand with a strong vision.
Wigsandgowns -What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Arlette Lee -The toughest element so far has been building relations with retailers. It is a case of going in cold and building relationships, which takes time. The challenges are numerous, namely self-discipline and motivation to keep persevering, plugging away and making small steps in the mountain climb to the top.
Switching off completely from the business is hard, so every day I make sure I do some form of exercise and meditate to start the day off on a positive note. Learning and making mistakes can be frustrating, yet is part and parcel of the growth process of any business.
Wigsandgowns -What has been the biggest highlight?
Arlette Lee -So many things have been personal ‘highs’ – for instance the creation of the logo, the finished products, the relationships built with Peru, an invitation to Lima Fashion Week this year, a podcast with Australia Radio to name a few. All exciting firsts for the brand.
Wigsandgowns -Who would you like to see wearing one of your Ruanas and why?
I would like to see role models with an ethical, philanthropist side to their work wearing a Ruana; Laura Bailey, Elle Macpherson, Jessica Alba. I’m delighted when I see ladies wearing the Ruana, wearing it with their own edge, everyone wears their Ruana differently. We’ve added photos of Ruanas being worn by our customers on our website and social media pages, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Wigsandgowns -Where would you like to see the brand in five years time? Do you foresee the brand expanding into other clothing areas?
Arlette Lee - In 5 years, we would like to be selling to retailers internationally. Yes, we have plans to expand the range of products, maintaining the focus on one size pieces made from natural fibres, showcasing artisanship from across the globe. It is a slow strategy for now ensuring we build from a strong foundation.
Wigsandgowns -Any tips for emerging designers?
Arlette Lee -Ask yourself, do you believe in yourself and your ideas? If there is any hesitation or doubt in your mind, go away and reflect a little more. You need all the belief and passion in the world to conquer and ignore the naysayers that will come out of the woodwork. Follow your instinct, get out there, be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone and extend your network. Contacts are so important, be prepared to make new contacts every time you step outside, or pick up the phone.
Start doing and keep moving. Actions speak louder than words. Take your first step and see where the path goes!
You can read more about Arlette and purchase her beautiful Ruannas and Snugalees here!