Womenswear designer Alice Early is evangelical about sustainability. “It’s the only option for the fashion industry, and the world, right now. It would be irresponsible to start a new label and not care about the process and the environment.” When we meet for coffee in a café near her south London studio, Early explains her extensive research into sustainable options for her eponymous label, launched at the end of 2018. From the recycled fusing used in the cuffs of her shirts to technological improvements in the fabric dyeing process, every aspect of production is scrutinised.
One detail I find especially fascinating is Early’s use of corozo buttons derived from the nut of the tagua palm, found (among other places) in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Often referred to as “vegetable ivory”, its environmental importance and appeal is emphasised by the young designer. “A lot of buttons are polyester or plastic, but there are other options. Corozo buttons have a lovely grain and come in all shapes and sizes. The nuts drop from the palm and are harvested from the ground, so there’s no deforestation involved.”
Early’s inaugural capsule collection is equally considered, consisting of four different styles in four different colourways, all made in the UK from 100 per cent GOTS-certified organic cotton. Versatility and longevity are key to her ethos. “The clothes are very stripped back, designed for women on the go who do a lot of different things every day.” Each individual item coordinates with the other: the Raminta shirt dress (£260), for example, is designed to be worn as is, or unfastened and layered over the Rachael top (£135) and Ford trousers (£235). The collarless Bethan shirt (£195) has a box pleat at the centre back and a tunic shape that complements the cropped trouser.
Descended from a dynasty of weavers – Early Warm Blankets began manufacturing in Oxfordshire in 1669 and continued father-to-son for nine generations – 30-year-old Early is putting a modern spin on family tradition. After a masters at Parsons School of Art and Design in New York, she returned to the UK to freelance for Preen and the couturier Deborah Milner, before setting up her own label.
As a small independent designer, Early says she is determined to put in the groundwork to ensure her business model is transparent. “There’s so much greenwashing – and so much stuff on the market,” she says. “But I keep asking the questions ‘Why not?’ and ‘What if?’ to ensure I’m going down the right route.”