Brand Feature: Alice + Whittles
Consumers are both ready and actively seeking out businesses that practice ethical social entrepreneurship.
Founded by Sofi Khwaja and Nicholas Horekens in 2013, the two former UN relief workers were seeing first hand how economic unrest was affecting the world and in starting their brand Alice + Whittles, made a commitment to do something about it. Based in both Toronto and Geneva, the lifestyle brand favours business transparency, ethical manufacturing practices, and worker empowerment.
Self-funding the production of their premiere product, a colourful, unisex espadrille, through a Kickstarter campaign, the duo has since gone on to include a selection of rain boots arriving to market just in time for Fall.
We recently got a chance to sit down with Alice + Whittles co-founder Sofi Khwaja to chat about everything from sustainable and ethical production practices to what’s next for the future of the brand.
Please introduce Alice + Whittles to someone who’s never heard of the brand before
Alice + Whittles is a lifestyle brand established on the fundamentals of clean, functional design, and the careful use of sustainable materials. The brand is very much a reflection of Nick [Horekens] and myself as co-founders.
We are very hands on from product conception through to delivery! Most of the time this means taking on the creative components and traveling to meet partners (NGOs [non-governmental organizations], producers, buyers). But there remains many a night spent in our warehouse checking quality and packing shipments!
Both you and your co-founder Nick Horekens don’t have a traditional background in fashion, but you both decided to dive in head first. Why did you decide to pursue fashion as a vehicle to drive social change over any other industry?
Fashion is an industry where we could make the biggest impact through small incremental changes. Unable to find the fashion essentials that fit our aesthetic, practical needs, and ethical sensibilities, we took the plunge.
How do you think your past life as a UN worker contributes to the work you do at Alice + Whittles?
It certainly thickened our skin - it made us undaunted by challenges and attune to the cultural nuances of living and working in different regions around the world. Equally, it made us people who view production of fashion as an opportunity to support communities we partner with – wherever in the world they may be.
As a brand we are focused on building long-term partnerships. We search for the best raw materials, we seek out NGOs, producers, and communities that have the specializations we’re looking for and then work together to create amazing collections. For our rubber collection, we’re working with the Fair Rubber Association and, from the outset, immersed ourselves in research to better understand the complexities of production. We chose to work with specific communities in Sri Lanka because we realized we could make an impact there.
Because your company focuses on being completely transparent regarding sourcing and production methods, have you noticed any backlash from the industry at all?
So far the industry has been extremely supportive. Nick and I were recently invited to sit on a panel hosted by the AAFA at Magic in Las Vegas called “Greening the Supply Chain” where we were extremely well received.
On the whole, industry experts have realized how important socially and environmentally responsible manufacturing is. Not only to manage risk, but also as a means of addressing the wants and needs of an ever growing demographic of people who are educated and thoughtful in their consumption choices - people who want to know their purchases are contributing positively.
Living sustainably is complex. Consumers want to make responsible choices but don’t have the time or resources to assess the full impact of their purchases. Alice + Whittles fills this gap.
A phrase that came up in your Kickstarter campaign quite often is, “Made With Respect.” What does that mean to you personally?
To me the phrase means having respect for the people and places we work within, regardless of geography or regulatory environment. There are no simple solutions to complex problems - social justice, environmental preservation, responsible innovation, and long lasting change. We think about this incessantly and it is fundamental to every decision we make. In doing so, we help consumers make small changes in their lifestyles that have a big impact globally.
You’ve mentioned in a past interview that you eventually want to expand Alice + Whittles to include a full clothing line. Do you have any ideas as to when that will be? Do you have any ideas as to what you’d like to make first?
Our next collection will adhere to our signature design principles. We will consider all things so consumers don’t have to sacrifice contemporary design and function for true sustainability. Stay tuned for more on this; there are loads in the works!
What types of stores are currently stocking your product?
Our line is being carried in a variety of stores across North America from contemporary fashion boutiques to upscale outdoor retailers to the likes of Holt Renfrew.
What tradeshows are you planning on attending and which showrooms can buyers expect to find your product?
We are attending Capsule this September 2016 and Coterie next Spring 17. In Canada we are represented by Bigtime in Vancouver and in the US we’re represented by By Land And Sea showroom in NYC and LA.
Alice + Whittles on CUT & SHOW