The Ecologist meets… eco designer Alice Asquith
28th February, 2012
The queen of green yoga wear talks to Ruth Styles about the brilliance of bamboo textiles and explains why it’s time to give your iron a break
Alice Asquith is in full flood. Passionate, enthusiastic and utterly in love with the concept of yoga clothes that don’t cost the planet, she gesticulates wildly as she talks; pointing out pieces and rubbing fabric between forefinger and thumb with obvious pride. And Asquith has reason to be proud as her brand, Asquith London, is unique. OK, so yoga and leisure clothes might not be a particularly unfamiliar concept but the material Asquith employs – bamboo – is. And it’s the fabric that is key to the brand’s appeal, stylish though its output is, with the silk-like feel of the bamboo cloth turning common perceptions of eco-fabric upside down. Softer than cotton, smooth as silk; bamboo is a material that makes general as well as eco sense. The only difficulty, says Asquith, is how convince people of the benefits of bamboo online.
‘I think the hardest thing [about] selling it online is to convey the feel and maybe I need to go onto Synonym.com because there’s only a certain number of times you can say “soft”, and “silky”, “drapey”, “tactile”. I think the key thing for me is its yoga capacity - yoga teachers wearing it in front of groups of students - because they model it very well, love it and they’re very open about how much they love it. They’re great walking, talking people and I think for me word of mouth has been fantastic,’ smiles Asquith. ‘I write on the website about the process of how bamboo is made and the properties of bamboo because I think it’s important for people to understand that they are doing something useful for themselves and for the environment and actually, it’s not just about how soft it feels but about how well it wears and how versatile it is and how practical it is for yoga and [general] lifestyle.’
It isn’t just longevity and softness that make bamboo an appealing fabric either. It also has antibacterial properties, so can help minimise the sweaty smell produced during exercise, and has great insulating properties, making it comfortable to wear all year round. In short, as long as you avoid bamboo-rayon mixtures (which take a lot of chemicals to produce), bamboo is environmentally and practically brilliant – none of which is lost on eco-conscious Alice.
‘I’m a big recycler, I don’t throw things away, I don’t actually drive, and I find that we are all bloody wasteful! I come from a family where my grandmothers were around in a war so they make do, they mend, they knit, they sew,’ she says. ‘I remember when I was little, everything was handmade: my Cindy dolls, all their clothes... everything was bloody handmade. I had a sort of backlash to that where I wanted to buy synthetic things when I was 10 and then swung the other way and thought, “actually, it is important how we look after ourselves.” You know, I wouldn’t put a ready meal in my body, so why would I put shitty, cheap, nylon clothes on my body?’ She has a point. Apart from Stella McCartney’s beautifully designed – if not entirely synthetic free – range for Adidas, and Nike’s Considered Design range, which is made from recycled plastic bottles, there’s very little out there for eco-conscious sports fans, let alone pieces made from sustainable, natural fabrics. 'I think a lot of sportswear looks bad,' adds Asquith. 'It looks like cheap tat and it wears like cheap tat.'
In her own brand, she doesn't just stop at natural fabrics and uses an ethical factory in Turkey to produce her pieces. And Asquith doesn't just talk the talk either. Both in her home life and in her work, the emphasis is on longevity, naturalness and pieces that can be mixed, matched, worn and loved for season after season. ‘I don’t believe or like the throw away culture that we live in,’ she says firmly, ‘and - it sounds really weird and it’s not a morbid thing - but because my family designed such great clothes and as I can still wear a skirt 50 or 60 years on, I think if you find something and the quality is good and the fabric is good and the feel is good and the fit is good, it will last.’ Today, Asquith is resplendent in a vivid yellow skirt – courtesy of Grandma Asquith – teamed with pieces from her own line. Despite being, on paper at least, an odd melange on sportswear and granny chic, the overall effect is undeniably chic. It does help, of course, to be a statuesque six-footer with a slim shape and a cascade of glossy, nut-brown hair, but the lesson still stands: eco chic and vintage are a fashion dream team.
The old-fashioned wear, love and wear again ethos championed by Asquith is visible in her designs too. Everything is classic, simple and comes in a choice of ultra-wearable colours. This, says Asquith, means her pieces can be slotted in to any wardrobe, worn with any clothes and loved forever, without ever looking out of date. I fell in love with the wonderfully vivid tomato-coloured scarf crafted from silky soft bamboo and able to be worn in at least 20 different ways. It isn’t cheap but it is fantastically useful and utterly gorgeous to boot. Not to mention easy to care for. ‘I like its [bamboo’s] drapey softness,’ comments Asquith. ‘You can mould it into great shapes. It has to be soft, and it has to be practical as well. You know, ironing - people haven’t got time for ironing. You want something that will wash well, wear well, and you can just wash it, leave it to dry, wash it, leave it to dry. I don’t believe in ironing - waste of time!’ And that, along with the commitment to sustainable textiles and passion for forever fashion is why Asquith London looks set to be the next big thing in eco-sportswear. Take that, Stella McCartney.
For more information and stockists, see www.asquith-yoga-clothing.co.uk
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