Interview with Anna Foster, Creative Director & Founder of E.L.V. Denim
I am sure a lot of work has gone into E.L.V. DENIM since it's conception to where it is now. I would love to hear the story of how E.L.V. DENIM originated and what it was like transitioning from stylist to designer.
There were two reasons for setting up the brand which went hand in hand. Firstly, I knew that I wanted to use post-consumer textile waste. There are more jeans than people in the world, most of which end up in landfill. Without a doubt, it’s not easy, but I feel we have a duty to use up all the viable textiles that already exist in the world before creating more fibres. Secondly as a stylist I had the lucky opportunity to get one-off pieces from designers, and I knew that these one-of-a-kind pieces had a priceless value to me. So, by creating E.L.V. DENIM pieces from discarded vintage denim, it means that everyone can have the opportunity to have something that is unique to them. As consumers, we are often desensitised to the thrill of purchasing something new, so by having their unique piece I hope that this means they will love it forever. With E.L.V. DENIM you can find a jean that looks great, is unique to you, and has a direct positive effect on the environment.
I have been wearing my boyfriend E.L.V. DENIM jeans most days since the AJ Boutique started stocking them. They are, hands down, the best jeans I have ever worn! They hold their shape really well and are comfortable and flattering. Can you take us through the design process of getting the right fit and cut from two separate jeans?
Firstly, I am so delighted to hear that, as hearing positive feedback from people wearing the jeans is the highest reward. Abbie, you are an #ELVgirl! I wanted to create 3 jeans that won’t change. For me as a consumer it was so frustrating when my favourite jean was cancelled, so that is why our shapes won’t change and you can just add a new colourway as and when you desire, knowing it will fit perfectly! I was also conscious that there are so many body types and it can be demoralising trying on jean after jean that doesn’t quite fit properly, so by designing each jean with 4 seams down the front & back panels, it means that each customer can easily adapt the shape to their own style. Our bodies will all change and evolve, so our designs mean that the jean can change with you. We only use 100 rigid cotton, as ‘stretch-denim’ will eventually stretch out of shape as the elastane degrades. This means that you will end up having to replace your stretch jeans more frequently. Rigid cotton will last a lifetime, which is good for the planet, plus it’s good for your wallet.
E.L.V. DENIM is a no-waste denim company and your sustainability choices run a lot deeper than simply using vintage denim. What other practices to you implement to be a truly sustainable brand?
We are unique, unlike other brands who design and then find the material, I look at what has been thrown away and then create the jean! It’s taken 40 years (ish!) but I have found my talent! We only produce locally, within a 5-mile radius of my office (and my home) in Hackney, East London. E.L.V. DENIM stands for ‘East London Vintage Denim’ and I am very proud of where I am from, especially as it is part of London’s re-emerging manufacturing industry and as a British brand, I feel a duty to produce here and support the local communities. Producing locally also means our carbon footprint is the lowest possible. Plus, as a bit of a control freak, the locality of the ateliers mean that I am always around to make sure thing go smoothly, I have to ensure that all the material we ‘rescue’ can right the wrong of the environmental damage it caused in the first place. Also, this season we launched into new textiles and categories so we launched E.L.V. DENIM as an upcycling concept. We want to prove upcycling can be a successful business model and pave the way for other brands to follow our footsteps.
Why denim jeans? There are so many clothing options, styles and fabrics to choose from. What was it that drew you to denim?
The terrible statistics. The world produces 4 billion (YES 4 billion) pairs of jeans a year, and traditionally it takes 10,000 litres of water to make 1 pair. This is the same amount of water as you drink in 13 years. Quantifying this was a huge milestone as it means that people can really understand how much this material took from the environment. As the brand has evolved, we take more jeans that are damaged, each time extracting the good part even as small as a 10cm square (which we construct into metres of material, see image) as I want to make sure that all discarded jeans can have a new life.
You have been known to say that a lot of sustainable fashion has a "hemp-vibe". Why is it so important to you to create something that appeals to people who may not want to look traditionally sustainable?
You can try and make the ultimate ‘sustainable’ item, but if it doesn’t look good or make you feel good (we also have to think about looking after ourselves here!) it won’t be accepted and then we end up making more pieces that will eventually be discarded. We live in a very aesthetic world and a successful brand has to marry the two. I won’t compromise my values, it’s just a harder process, but I don’t see that as a problem, only a challenge!
Was there a tipping point that changed your trajectory into sustainable fashion or have you always had a focus on sustainability?
First hand, as a stylist I had seen how toxic the fashion industry can be, but you just accepted it, it was just the norm. I feel that I literally ‘woke’ up to the nonsensical journeys that garments can take, and at the horrific price to the environment and socio-economic climate – suffered the most by people who make those clothes. I have never been an over-consumer, I really consider my purchases and I have pieces that I still have from when I was 16. And even though my personal style has evolved, it doesn’t
mean I don’t still recognize the value of my clothes. When my daughter turns 16, she will be presented with a box of my most treasured pieces with notes on where I wore them and why they are so special. Of course, they shouldn’t be saved just for the best, they have to be worn and loved – but at the same time, the person who owns it must look after it. Not washing excessively – steaming gets out all the bacteria. Repairing – find a local tailor. All these little things mean that you keep clothes for a lifetime and beyond. We must start to revalue what we own already.
What is your favourite thing to style with your E.L.V. denim jeans?
Cowboy boots and a black camisole and an oversized blazer.
What does the average workday look like for you?
We are all up at 6.30am, well I aim to get up 15 mins earlier as I try to meditate for 10 mins each day first thing using the Calm app. I have a very busy brain, but this really does make a difference, that and 10 mins of breathing in the evening and trying to get 7-8 hours of sleep (saying that I am typing these answers at 11.30pm, it’s a work in progress – but I do try!). My eldest child gets himself to school, myself or my husband drop the other two, and then I head to the studio. Each day at the studio is different, whether it’s designing new collections, sourcing the discarded vintage jeans, producing our pieces, or working on collaborations. I have an incredible team, and we have a very strong bond based on that we all believe making a positive change within the fashion industry is essential. I absolutely love what I do, and I never take that for granted. And the biggest joy is seeing people wearing my jeans. We are launching Art Of Upcycling on our social media where we hope that everyone will post a photo of themselves in their jeans, and we can spread the word that upcycling IS the way forward for change.
I believe we can learn a lot from books. Do you have a favourite book that has helpedyou in your journey that you can share with us?
Aja Barber – Consumed. Honestly read it, I don’t need to add anything more!
What is something most people don't know about you?
I was RUSSH Magazine’s Fashion Director-at-Large for 4 years. And so, with that I have a great love of creativity in Australia. I feel very proud that my jeans are in your beautiful store!