While our scouting trips take us deep into the hidden treasure troves of the local fashion community in Europe, we are still yet to find a designer who is deeply passionate about sustainability and makes clothing that is chic, elegant AND wearable. Designer Isabel Manns, however, may just come close; team AISPI loves her chic line of clothing finished in buttery satin that has sustainability written all over it. From the fabrics that she uses or her clever construction techniques to the creative waste management solutions that she has effected, Isabel Manns is one to watch out for. Catch our interview with her below.
Hi, let’s begin our interview today by hearing a little bit about Isabel Manns. How did it all begin for the brand?
After graduating from Parsons in New York, I worked for a couple of brands out there and when I returned to London, I started designing custom dresses for private clients as I knew that I wanted to set up my own label at some point in the near future. After a few months of being back in London I decided to take the plunge and start my own label offically!
Tell us about your time at Parsons and the subsequent years you spent working for the top designers in the US and Europe. What did you feel was lacking in the fashion industry that you thought you could add value to?
I had an amazing time at Parsons. Not only was it great to be living and working in New York but the teachers at Parsons were exceptional and they really got me ready to work in the industry.
I interned for a few different brands whilst I was studying at Parsons including Naeem Khan and Tanya Taylor, who gave me great experience in high-end eveningwear and print design. Before I moved to New York I had also spent a lot of time interning in London for brands such as Burberry and Emilia Wickstead during my summers as I knew that I wanted to study fashion design.
I felt there weren’t enough designers that are producing high quality clothing at an accessible price point in Britain. I also had this idea for reversible clothing and I didn’t see anyone else doing it to the quality that we do.
We can see that the brand is big on sustainability! Can you share with us your thoughts on the topic?
Sustainability is such an important topic right now and Parsons really pushed it from day one and so I was always very conscious about it.
There is so much waste that is generated from making clothing which I knew could easily be reduced by just putting a little more effort and time into the design process. Consumption is also a big issue, due to clothing being made so cheaply now. If clothes are made well from good quality fabrics then they last you a long time and diminish over consumption.
We LOVE the idea of reversible clothing! What inspired you to create something like that?
I grew up with my mother telling me to fix clothing rather than to buy something new. I thought that if I made high quality clothing from good fabrics that were also reversible, it would hopfully reduce the number of outfits that people buy from my me.
Please tell us a little bit about your manufacturing process – how do you ensure you end up with minimal wastage after the fabric has been cut and sewn?
The most important thing for me is to produce locally and so we produce all our clothing right here in London. This ensures that I have a very close relationship with the factories and my pattern makers and seamstresses. We work together to come up with styles that will fit perfectly on the fabric rolls to ensure that there is little waste left over. We have some fabrics such as our silk satin that have a wider width than other fabrics. We do not necessarily need to use the entire width and so rather than throwing it away we use it to make scarfs.
What about your clients? Do you think they have caught on to the idea of sustainable fashion or is there still some work to be done?
My clients are definitely becoming more conscious about sustainability and when I mention that we have very little waste they are always happy to hear that, and of course, they love the fact that the items are reversible. I think it will take time though for more people to actually make a conscious effort about being sustainable. One thing that is hard is that it can be expensive to use sustainaible fabrics and so the price point is not always something that everyone can afford.
What advice would you have for the new generation of designers – how do you think a new brand can work towards incorporating sustainability in the brand story?
It is a good idea to attend fabric trade shows such as Premiere Vision in Paris as there are always sustainable sections there which can be very good for research. I find that the Italian mills are really making an effort to produce more sustainable fabrics and they are often present at trade shows like these.
What are the other ways by which you ensure the brand is sustainable and eco-friendly? We hear you have some pretty cool installations at your pop-ups and fashion shows!
Yes! I wanted to be completely transparent about the waste that is generated while creating a collection and so we used all the leftover fabric (that wasn’t used for the scarfs) to make these sculptures. People seemed to be so surprised at the fact that we only had waste fabric on the tree sculpture at our London Fashion Week presentation last month.
Speaking of fashion shows, how do you think they align with the concept of sustainability? As a whole, do you think they are necessary?
Personally, I think it is necessary for a designer to showcase their collections but that doesn’t mean it has to be a catwalk show. I prefer presentations because it enables people to ask the models how the clothes feel as well as feel the quality and see how they are reversible. It is also great for me because I get to meet so many people and really get to talk to them in detail about the collection and answer any questions that they might have.
Lastly, we would love to know your thoughts on AISPI. We’ve worked with a lot of startups and brands like yours who are working towards sustainable fashion, how do you think we can work together to ensure we spread this message to a larger audience?
I love your guide to boutiques! It is great if you are travelling somwhere new to know where to find these hidden gems!
I think it is important to constantly support emerging brands, especially those who are taking sustainability seriously. It is great that you are working with so many startups as it is a tough industry to break into and we need the support! One idea would be to have an event where sustainably conscious emerging designers can showcase their items and talk about their business – that would definitely be something that we would love to be a part of!
All images courtesy of Black PR / Isabel Manns