There was a time when ethical fashion was considered to be high in price and low in style… The “green” factor wasn’t quite enough to encourage fashion lovers to part with their hard-earned cash, as they could freely access on-trend clothing at a more realistic price, and they could simply avoid the un-savoury aspects of the rag trade.
However, fast-forward a few years and ethical fashion is on the rise! Recently, I attended The Good Fashion Show, London Fashion Week’s largest off-schedule event, which showcased the best in ethical fashion, where I had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face with a number of designers who are dedicated to creating ethical clothing that doesn’t compromise on style.
Anne Wiggins, the creator of the ethical nightwear and loungewear brand Anne Wiggins London, is one of the designers who caught my eye. What’s most exciting about her brand is that both quality and a strong ethical ethos are of equal importance. Anne insists that not only is no person exploited during the production of her beautiful silk garments, but also that no silk worm suffers! Embodying understated sophistication, her clothes are investment pieces made to an exceptionally high standard using traditional artisan techniques. They are not been coated in softeners, elastomers, synthetic resins, or been subject to chemical treatments that are toxic and contain suspected carcinogens.
With all of this in mind, I simply had to catch up again with Anne in order to find out why she decided to launch the collection, how long it took to create each piece, what her plans are for the brand in the future, and where we can keep up to date with her new collections.
Hi Anne, thank you so much for talking with In-spireLS. My team and I instantly fell in love with your beautiful collection of silk night wear and loungewear. I know that you are a Buddhist and that this philosophy pays a major part in your choice to be an ethical designer, but what encouraged you to launch this business?
AW: Thank you, Sasha! It’s both a pleasure and a privilege to be asked to discuss my label with you. You know, I think I was destined to begin this business. From when I was a little girl, I designed and made my own clothes, often cutting my own patterns from outfits I saw in newspapers and magazines. Aesthetics and design have always been very important to me, but over the years, this process honed my appreciation of beautiful craftsmanship, fabrics, textures and draping.
For nearly a decade-and-a-half, until quite recently, I ran my own IT consulting business. Whilst that doesn’t sound analogous, the business’ main clients were museums, galleries, design agencies and luxury goods companies. So, I do feel that my professional career has helped empower me to found and run my label. Certainly, it enabled me to found it and fund it without making compromises on either ethics or quality.
Your classic, timeless designs are intricately designed and created. On average, how long does it take to make one of the silk nighties from the collection?
AW: That’s a very good question! But, difficult to answer. I have other, ongoing work commitments, I have tended to process and visualise my ideas for designs in the back of my mind for some time, before I even make a sketch and certainly before I cut a pattern. And once that happens, the sampling stage can either happen quickly or take quite some time, as I want to ensure that I get every aspect of a garment just right before I send it for sampling or into production.
For instance, just very recently I was working on a forthcoming collection that features lace that is hand-made in Bruges. Now, I took what seemed to be a very long time indeed, and several iterations until the lace exactly matched my designs. However, once that milestone was passed, the fabric patterning and sample creation stage went very quickly. I’m very fortunate in that I can take whatever time is needed to get each aspect just right. As my collections are both classic and trans-seasonal, I’m not racing against the clock to get something out by a certain date.
There are a number of emerging brands that promote their ethical status. What separates your brand from the others?
AW: I refuse to compromise on either quality or ethics. My clothes are of the highest quality fabric and construction. No creature was harmed in the process of their making. No toxins are used. They are as timeless and beautiful as they are elegant.
Are there any designers that you look up to? If yes, who are they and what do you appreciate most about their work?
AW: I really love the clothes that Oleg Cassini made during the late 1950s and early 1960s, especially the beautiful outfits he constructed for Jackie Kennedy whilst she was First Lady. In fact, I wore a vintage Oleg Cassini dress for my PhD viva! I also greatly admire Ceil Chapman’s clothes from the 1940s to the 1960s. Her design skills were akin to engineering, so skillfully could she drape, tuck and fold fabric. And I have to mention my enormous respect for Hubert de Givenchy’s clothes, not least those he designed for Audrey Hepburn. His clean, structured and almost architectural lines really appeal to me.
You are highly educated, having attained two degrees in medieval history as well as a masters and doctorate in Information Systems. You also ran your own London-based IT consulting business, and you are now the Deputy Director of a research centre developing ecologically sustainable technologies. How would you say all of this combined experience prepared you for launching your brand?
AW: Well, with my IT business I had to juggle several projects simultaneously. And I worked throughout the entire period that I studied. So both my professional and academic careers have been immeasurably useful in-training me to organise my time, thoughts and energy. It’s definitely possible – ideally preferable, in fact! – To do several quite different things in tandem. But it’s crucial to ensure that when you have allocated time to a task, you give it your full attention.
For those who are not fully aware of the benefits of ethical clothing, how would you promote it to them?
AW: Whilst the quality of the fabric, patterns and construction of my garments is obvious to all who see them, I also ensured that no person or creature suffered as are result of their creation. Traditionally, silk farmers boil cocoons in large vats. The moths shrivel and die in the process and come away from their cocoons. However, in the approach I use, the moths mature and emerge alive and unscathed from their cocoons, thus able to complete their natural life cycle without interference. In this process, because the silk fibre woven by the silkworm has been broken into many smaller strands by the emerging moth, the cocoon is degummed to remove the sericin (or raw silk), which then must be spun like cotton or hemp, rather than being reeled onto spools in one continuous silk strand. Whilst it’s a considerably more labour-intensive process, it’s infinitely more humane.
Cruelty-free sericulture is still only a small fraction of one per cent of total silk production, though. I am sure that this figure will change with increased knowledge. I believe that people are increasingly tending to make more holistic choices across all areas of their lives.
I also consider quality to be the cornerstone of every choice I make regarding my collection. I feel that producing objects of a high quality that will last for many years amounts to a fundamental contribution to the environment: to manufacture clothing that will be disposed of after a few years of use – no matter how green the process of their manufacture and disposal – misses the point. Our landfills contain so much discarded clothing, and most fabric production produces a great deal of pollution. The figures are astounding! Ethics and quality should go hand-in-hand… I believe that the right approach to this issue is essential to our future.
What are the prices ranges of your collection?
AW: My current collection, The Essentials Collection, contains what I believe are the six night-wear and loungewear items essential for everywoman. The garments range in price from £180 for the short gown to £270 for the robe.
What type of person wears Anne Wiggins London nightwear and loungewear?
AW: I have spent a great deal of time working and studying at home wearing silk pyjamas, gowns and robes. Ultimately, never finding quite what I wanted inspired me. And as I was free from the constraints of having to produce on a large scale, I could concentrate on artisanal quality without making any ethical compromises. So in a way, I represent my client base: the woman who wears my label does not want to compromise on quality, design or ethics for the private pleasure of wearing something beautiful that will envelop her in comfort whilst flattering her.
What are your plans for the brand overall?
AW: My intention is to build the Anne Wiggins London label into a global ethical luxury lifestyle brand.
Where is your brand currently being stocked?
AW: I will shortly be announcing a host of new stockists, but my current ones are:
· London – Night Owls in the Fulham Road, Mayfair Quarters, Style with Heart and Tell Us Fashion
· Suffolk – Caressa
· York – Ella Georgia
· Geneva – Theodora Parfumerie and Spa
How and where can we keep up with you?
The website – www.annewiggins.com – is live in English, French and German, and on the Anne Wiggins London Facebook page -
Keep up with In-spireLS Editor Sasha Shantel on TWITTER@Sashashantelvip
W| Interview by Sasha Shantel