Alice Made This Q&A

Luxury men’s accessories brand Alice Made This won the Rise Newcomer Award at the UK Fashion & Textile Awards 2015 earlier this year. Here, Alice Walsh, who co-founded the brand with her husband Ed in 2012, tells Rise the story of their early success.

Introduce us to the brand

When Ed and I were searching for cufflinks for him to wear at our wedding, we realised there was a need to develop something fresh; no-one had done anything new with cufflinks for a while. Having previously worked as a product designer for the likes of Tom Dixon, Habitat and Conran, I’ve always loved visiting and working with factories. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world, exploring new materials and engineering methods. At Alice Made This, we use British industrial engineering methods to create clean and honest accessories inspired by architecture and geometry.

We have expanded from cufflinks to a full collection of British-made accessories and have a collection of lapel pins and shirt studs and will launch belts and bracelets in the autumn.  

How many stockists do you have now?  

We have built up a network of over 40 stockists worldwide, including Liberty, Selfridges and Fortnum & Masons in London, as well as Bloomingdales in New York and Isetan in Japan. We are also stocked online at Mr Porter and in a wonderful store in New Zealand called Crane Brothers.   

What did winning UKFT Rise Newcomer Award mean to you?

It sounds a bit predictable, but we honestly didn’t expect to win! We were in a category with some strong brands and it was a privilege to be acknowledged for the hard work our team puts in and the products that we produce. We are constantly growing and developing so this award was a nice reminder that we are moving in the right direction.

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Why did you start your own business?  

I have always been keen to start my own brand; I am a good multi-tasker and I have a huge amount of drive. Working with the manufacturing industry pushed this further, as I found people knew little or nothing about how their products were produced and who was responsible for the time and skill put into making them. This was something I was keen to highlight. 

Why do you manufacture in the UK? What impact does this have on your balance sheet?

We are proud to be British. Being able to work with and showcase the incredible factories we work with is pivotal to our business. It is great to be able to hop on a train to go and visit our military armoury in Birmingham or catch the tube to our casting house in Hatton Garden. Our factories are at the center of everything we do, from the very start of the design process right up until our finished products arrive.  Having them just a couple of hours away makes absolute sense for us.

I also think it’s important to celebrate the factories and industrial processes that we have here in the UK. Whether that’s a historical process dating back to the industrial revolution or a modern advancement in technology, we want to take these ways of working and adapt them for our collections.

In terms of cost, manufacturing in Britain can be tough, but we have to incorporate this into our briefs early on. We set target prices that we want to try and achieve and this may influence the materials or techniques within a production method. As long as we are efficient with our order quantities, tooling and number of production stages, we tend to meet our requirements. The benefit of manufacturing here is you have no import tax, low transport costs and very little is lost in translation.

What are biggest challenges facing fashion and accessories startups?  

I think the biggest challenge is separating yourself from your contemporaries, finding your niche and finding what works for you. We are very conscious that we want to maintain our aesthetic and our core values, while still expanding and experimenting with new processes and product categories. There is so much choice these days and brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be. With so many different ways of marketing yourself, whether that be on social media, in the press or a physical presence, you have to make sure that everything is aligned and in keeping with what your brand is all about. 

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following in your footsteps?

The worst thing that could happen is that you will fail. If you can accept this then you can do anything. One of my hero’s, graphic designer Alan Fletcher, has a great quote that I live by:

“You’ve got to have the courage to close your eyes and jump in the dark aware that you may land on your face and have to get up smiling.”

Oh… and write a business plan!

Author: Kirsty McGregor - Rise Committee Member & News Editor of Drapers