Shop Sustainable: Alexander Clementine
It’s easy enough to make the switch to buying your clothes secondhand – there are plenty of sites out there like Depop, Vinted, and Ebay, as well as in-person treasure troves like charity shops and vintage stores. But what happens when you need to buy something that you probably don’t want pre-worn, like underwear? Introducing Alexander Clementine, a sustainable London-based underwear shop set up by partners, Freya and Alex, that currently specialises in two items, the Triangle Bra and the High Waisted Thong, both made from sustainable materials. I spoke to one-half of the company as part of my latest interview instalment.
First off, tell me a little bit about yourself, what your business is about and why you started it?
Hi! I’m Freya and I’m the Co-Founder of Alexander Clementine, alongside my other co-founder (and boyfriend) Alex. We met at the University of Nottingham, we lived next door to each other and the rest is history. We’ve been together for four years and business partners for one of those years. We started Alexander Clementine through a shared passion for fashion and initially set out to create “leather” jackets made from ocean plastics. Unfortunately, after a lot of time and money spent, we struggled to do this in a truly sustainable way due to supplier issues and high overheads.
We needed to pivot. We knew we wanted to shake up the sustainable fashion industry and when looking at the big picture we saw a gap in the market for underwear. It’s the first thing you put on in the morning and the last thing you take off at night, an absolute necessity, so we decided to develop our own range of style driven cotton alternatives. Most underwear around uses cotton which notoriously uses a gargantuan amount of water to create, around 3000 litres to be precise. The other sustainable alternatives looked to us to be quite stuffy and stigmatising so we made it our mission to make sustainability sexy. We want to be the Power Couple behind the Future of Fashion.
How did you get into sustainability? Were there any particular stories or events that resonated with you enough to change your habits?
As a couple enthusiastic about fashion, reading that the fashion industry is the second biggest polluter after the oil industry really resonated with us. To us it seemed hypocritical to be championing reusable water bottles and straws whilst still shopping with fast fashion brands who have such a detrimental effect on the planet and the people working for them. Sustainability to us is about education. Small changes can make a difference. No one is perfect though, and neither are we (our brand is pretty close though).
Can you tell me a bit about how you have made your business practices sustainable?
The very core of our business has always been sustainability and ethics. We use a blend of seaweed and Tencel (wood pulp) which are both naturally found and are both sustainably harvested. Our supplier is at the forefront of sustainable fabric development - 98% of their waste is recycled and they’re developing a completely closed loop system. We manufacture in London and work really closely with our factory to make sure we’re reducing our waste by using minimum waste pattern cutting etcetera and we also source all our trimmings in the UK. It’s all well and good using sustainable fabrics but unless you manufacture ethically then it defeats the point.
Are there any areas of your business that just can’t be made sustainable?
Shipping is always difficult but small choices can make a big difference. Our fabric is made in Europe but instead of flying it over we get it driven, which may take longer but is far better in terms of carbon emissions. The same goes with our packaging, it would be cheaper for us to buy non-environmentally friendly packaging but instead we’ve invested in compostable mailing bags, recyclable boxes and seed paper to write our customers personalised notes on that you can plant and grow lavender with. We’ve chosen not to use heavily branded packaging that uses a vast amount of artificial ink - instead we use brown cardboard boxes that are easily recyclable and stamp these ourselves with our logo.
Do you hope to expand your business in future or are you happy with where you are at?
Of course - we’re planning on expanding into new styles and colours but we’re cautious of falling into the trap of green capitalism. We don’t want to encourage overconsumption and more waste. Our business model is based on drops, where we only release new styles/colour on a limited run when the previous collection has sold out. As our demand increases, we’ll increase our quantity and the regularity of the drops!
What has been your favourite part about running your business so far?
I think it’s definitely been product development. It’s so crazy how we had an idea a year ago and now it’s on sale with complete strangers from around the world buying it. It’s really satisfying to think that the fabrics and sketches that were once in my bedroom are now a real thing.
What is the one cause that you are most passionate about in terms of sustainability/environmentalism?
We’re passionate about educating people about the destructive nature of the fashion industry and fast fashion culture. There’s a reason why fast fashion is so cheap and that is because somebody along the line is paying for it.
How do you think people should go about promoting sustainability in their everyday lives?
We think sustainability has a stigma of being expensive but some of the easiest sustainable switches can actually save you money as well as help the planet. Things like having a reusable coffee cup or water bottle mean you actually get discounts at coffee shops for using your own container and are small changes that lead into the bigger ones. I think also promoting less of a throw away culture is important as we have grown up with the mentality of something being cheap and single use - I think really caring about the clothes you own and shopping your own wardrobe are all really good ways of being more sustainable. The most sustainable things out there are the things you already own, right?
All images courtesy of @alexanderclementineltd on Instagram.