March’s – ‘The Sustainability Issue’ – Download Now
E.L.V. DENIM is the only denim brand globally to use 100 per cent upcycled denim. With over 20 years’ experience in the fashion industry, founder Anna Foster discusses building a truly sustainable brand from the ground-up.
What inspired you to go into the world of fashion?
I had a love of clothes from an early stage that was passed down to me by my mother. She was a model in the ‘70s and she had such a personal sense of style that was so effortless. She used to make clothes for me and my siblings when we were young, and I remember being in John Lewis in the fabric department choosing the patterns and material. I produced fashion shows at university, but I didn’t realise there was an actual career such as a stylist until I had left university. To have a career in an industry that I loved, well I was single-minded from then. I hand-delivered letters to fashion directors, and i-D magazine came back to me, and that was it, I was where I was supposed to be.
Can you talk us through your career prior to launching E.L.V. Denim?
I am currently Fashion Director at Large at RUSSH magazine, having been a stylist for over 20 years. I have loved my career, and it gave me the skill set, the experience and the confidence to launch E.L.V. DENIM.
How did E.L.V. come to fruition – what was the inspiration for the brand?
It was threefold really. As a stylist, I was occasionally given a sample or one-off piece that wouldn’t be produced again, and the strong emotional connection and value I put on these unique pieces were so special, it made me want to pass on this concept of having a unique piece to others. I knew that by taking second-hand or vintage clothing I would be able to create unique pieces. I started to look into second-hand garments, and when discovered the shocking statistics around denim I knew I had found my fabric. Two facts that stuck out for me, and what I really want everyone to know – 1) There are more jeans than people in the world, most of which are discarded, and 2) the jaw-dropping fact that it took 10,000 litres of water to make one pair, which is the same amount that one person drinks in 13 years. Denim was designed as a functioning work fabric, however, the environmental and socio-economic costs of producing this fabric, means we have to right this wrong, we have a responsibility to make as much of this material viable again. In addition to this, I have been Denim obsessive all my life and found it so frustrating when I found a style I loved and then a brand would change it, so this frustration turned into a really special part of the brand’s manifesto! We have three styles, and these will never change, and we will just add more colourways. You can always turn a frustration into something special!
Can you talk us through the concept?
We only use discarded post-consumer waste denim to make our jeans. These are misshapen, large, damaged jeans which have very little value at all given to them, they can’t be re-sold in their current state, so I wanted to use this as my ‘raw material’ to create a brand. These are the jeans that I want, what no one else does, and they are restructured… upcycled and turned into what I believe are truly beautiful timeless pieces.
Not only that, we only work with local ateliers, who are within a five-mile radius of the business to manufacture E.L.V. DENIM. For me as a British Brand, it’s essential to support the restoration of UK manufacturing. And not only that, it means it keeps our carbon footprint at its lowest.
How have things evolved since you launched E.L.V. DENIM in 2018?
When I launched the brand, I had one style of jean, The Straight Jean – where two large unwanted jeans (Grade A) are turned into two E.L.V. DENIM jeans. But as the brand developed I realized that I could take Grade B jeans and extract the undamaged part so The Boyfriend and The Flare were born. And then I went further down the grades and started to take Grade C & D denim and turn them into The Jumpsuit & The Dress. I design from a point of waste, but whereas others see this as a problem, I see this as potential.
We now have a Made To Order Studio where we are able to make custom pairs, and it has allowed us to take the first steps into becoming fully circular. The studio, which was made possible with an award from the British Fashion Trust, allows us to repair or replace parts of existing E.L.V. DENIM jeans that have been damaged or need a refresh. We will also offer consumers the opportunity to return jeans to us with a takeback scheme with ReSkinned. But the long term goal and most exciting part of our circular journey is the plan to start research in regenerative technology, to create 100 per cent recycled denim, and at the same time start processes to help the Textile Association’s sort waste at source.
How would you describe the E.L.V. DENIM woman?
She believes in the possibility of being an environmental enthusiast without having to compromise her effortless style. She carefully curates a wardrobe of individuality, choosing to find pieces that will last a lifetime. She believes in quality and knows that even hidden details that only she knows bring a level of sophistication.
How are you scaling E.L.V.’s business model when it comes to the Middle Eastern market and what does this region mean to you?
I came to Dubai in October and it was completely inspiring. It was the first time we had been able to visit our retailers out there, and the warm reception I received was really humbling. Everyone was so genuinely interested in the brand’s ethos and what I am trying to do to sort out the denim textile waste problem. I want to take what I have learnt and inspire other countries to do the same by developing my reputation as a thought leader in upcycling. My dream is to blueprint our East London atelier and create studios across the world, starting in the Middle East!
In business, what is a philosophy you live by?
Treat people that you work with as you would your family. Be kind, as social sustainability is just as vital as environmental sustainability.
Do you have any mentors who have helped guide you during your career?
Yes, many! Mimma Viglezio who is a journalist and broadcaster, but previously was EVP of Communications at the Gucci Group, prior to becoming Kering. She has been such a strong female figure to me, even though I was completely intimidated by her when we first met! She is the first person I go to for advice. Sir Paul Smith, who I had the pleasure of meeting when I was one of the Vogue Fashion Fund finalists. He invited me to his offices, and I absorbed every word he said. During that meeting, he gave me a great bit of advice on a piece I was working on, and I said to him, I will have to pay you royalties, and he said, “No Anna, that’s friendship.” It was a great lesson, that if you have confidence in what you do, you should have no concerns in being completely generous in sharing advice and knowledge.
What have been the hurdles you’ve had to overcome throughout your career?
Finding an atelier that would believe in my concept, to individually cut each piece from existing garments and to produce jeans to a pattern and at scale. That many people said that upcycling couldn’t be a successful business model.
This is The Sustainability Issue – what does this mean to you?
When I started this journey, very few people knew what this meant. Now only five years later it forms part of every industry’s development. Sometimes I worry that, especially in fashion, the definition can be lost, however, the fact it’s on everyone’s radar can only be a good thing. We must make changes in the way we consume. However, we don’t need one person to be perfect, we need 8 billion people to be one per cent better.
March’s – ‘The Sustainability Issue’ – Download Now
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