Champion of UK-sourced organic tweeds and prints and was highly commended in the the esteemed RSPCA Good Business Award, Eloise Grey is gently blazing her way into a refined and thoughtful type of modern living in which she shows us that a garments’ value lies not only in its beautiful design, but in the story it evokes and the lifetime it promises. Perhaps an anomaly at present, her message is one of a growing number of creatives and consumers alike who are reclaiming their purchasing power from the myriad of fast fashion retailers, and aspiring to a more meaningful connection with the way they dress, and thus, with the world at large. Today I have the good fortune of speaking with Eloise about her inspirations, her world-views and her journey as a successful ethical fashion designer.
Elizabeth: What inspires you as a designer and how does your inspiration come through in your collections?
Eloise: My starting point is usually the fabrics. Initially it was the tweeds and more recently it has been the Ptolemy Mann prints. The fabrics dictate the cut and hang of the garment. I have also been inspired by early and mid-century writers such as Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett. I found portrait photographs of these and there is something very ‘essential’ about them – they are steeped in tradition and yet have the freedom of modernity.
I am feeling very pessimistic at the moment. Having found myself wanting to find a non-global alternative I feel I am going against an oceanic wave coming the other way. I am finding myself drawn to technology rather than a rustic localism. It is just a flavour with little form so I’m not sure where it will take me.
What are the biggest challenges of owning your own ethical fashion business?
Most consumers don’t care about the ethics or the sustainable angle. Many customers buy simply for my designs, and that’s fine.
What are the steps involved in the creation of your tweed coat and jacket collections- from the initial idea to the finished product, and where does it all happen?
I evolve rather than start a new collection from scratch. I don’t really believe in endless reinvention. I produce a few new coats a year and normally introduce some new tweeds or other textiles. I have a theme germinating before I start designing and it develops as I sketch and make toiles (a calico cotton prototype). I work from home, now in Chiswick, London. I have a wonderful tailor/manufacturer based in Edmonton (North East London) who I have worked with from the beginning. He makes my samples and production. We normally go through a few versions til we get it right. Then I plan the shoot which really expresses the emotion of the collection.
I understand you’re an advocate for animal welfare. How are the sheep that produce the wool in your tweed kept/treated and how is this different from mainstream wool production?
The organic tweeds I use are reared in an organic environment – which means they are certified to be kept in humane conditions and aren’t given antibiotics, for example. I use other non-organic tweeds also, for example my Welsh tweeds are all from farms less than 100 miles from my Welsh weaver and he knows all the farmers personally. I like that scale; even if you don’t have certification, I feel I am in safe hands as are the sheep.
Your Spring/Summer 2012 collaboration with Ptolemy Mann has resulted in some exciting new looks made from organic, naturally dyed silk. How did this collaboration come about and where have you sourced and manufactured these new creations?
I met Ptolemy Mann on the Crafted Mentoring scheme in 2009/10 – we were fellow mentees. It was wonderful witnessing the launch of her digital print collection (which come from her hand-woven artworks). When I found organic silks from Swiss firm Weisbrod, I felt that it would be right for these prints. I work with digital printers in London. It’s interesting to go down a more technological route on this; digital printing uses much less water and there is very little waste. The incredible lustre of the silk, however, comes from it’s organic nature. My same tailor in Edmonton makes the dresses and I use pleaters in Potters Bar who have generations of experience. It’s all very British made, by fine craftspeople.
Your website is a fantastic resource of information about sustainability, your inspirations and of course it is host to your made-to-measure e-commerce shop. Do you also supply ready-made pieces to brick and mortar shops in the UK?
Sadly, my main outlets closed down in the last year – which is the sad reality of many shops in these stricken times. I do meet customers in person in London by appointment.
Are you driven by any personal philosophy or belief system?
Not a monolithic belief system, but I feel a need to respect materials, people and objects. I have a strong aesthetic and rather emotional concern for the impending environmental catastrophe. As a result, I’d like to have and make just a few special things that I want to keep for a long time, that embody a thoughtfulness for who makes them and the materials out of which they have been made.
In what ways would you like to challenge yourself creatively in the future?
I would like to find a way of doing less. I have so many ideas, passions and drives but my instinct is saying that I need to refine and reduce in this way as well as in my consumption. I think the outcome could be quite interesting.
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