I’m still on a high after having my second Yinz Bopo Swim meet-up! Allow me to use that energy to introduce to you, Alice Alexander, a new size inclusive (sizes 0-28 with custom sizing options too) ETHICAL clothing line. If you’re plus size and wanting fashion forward clothing with sustainable practices, you might understand what a rare gem this is. I am so excited to share an interview with Alice Alexander’s passionate designer and founder, Mary Alice Duff! And if you are in Philadelphia check out Alice Alexander’s new brick and mortar location (4056 Ridge Avenue)! Mary Alice heard our dreams and is making it a reality! I just adore her and I think you will too. Read on as Mary Alice Duff explains why her clothing is ethical and see some photos of just how chic Alice Alexander clothing is (use code JAMIE15 until Monday at Midnight to get 15% any garment purchase).
Please introduce yourself, the founder and designer, behind Alice Alexander:
Hi there! I’m Mary Alice Duff, founder and designer at Alice Alexander. I’m a bit of an idealist, typically found on my soapbox and lover of all things body positive and feminist. I live in Philadelphia (born and raised!) with my husband and daughter and our rescue dog and cat. I love all things Philly, good food, plants and anything DIY. I launched Alice Alexander in September 2017 as an e-commerce plus-size apparel line. In March 2018 we expanded to include all sizes and in June 2018 we opened our brick and mortar location in Philadelphia.
Image courtesy of Alice Alexander.
What inspired you to create Alice Alexander?
For as long as I can remember I’ve always loved clothes. My grandmother taught me to sew at an early age and my most favorite Christmas gift was a box of homemade dress-up clothes that my grandmother had created for me. As I got older and my interests started to vary I became really passionate about the social injustices that I saw happening both in my own backyard and around the world. In college I decided to pursue psychology and then social work in graduate school with an interest in anti-poverty strategies. Meanwhile I still had this incredible love of fashion I just hadn’t figured out a way to marry the two.
After graduate school I moved to southern Spain with nothing but a suitcase and a half-baked plan to teach English as a second language (completely unrelated to my degree, just needed a year off!). While there I became enraptured by the culture and fashion: bright color worn in the most sophisticated ways by confident, strong women.
When I returned to the states I picked up my social work career where I left off and quickly made my way up the career ladder. At the same time I met my husband, got married, had a baby and my body changed. I went from being a size 12/14 to a size 16/18 which I am sure your readers know is what I like to call the ‘fashion cliff’. With that size difference you go from being able to fit into the majority of chain stores to fitting mostly in exclusively plus size stores. I went from shopping at places like J Crew and Banana Republic where I bought wool pencil skirts, linen tops and silk blouses to being unable to find really high quality materials in my newer, larger size. For awhile there I felt really stuck. I hadn’t yet found the body positive movement and was feeling really resentful about my new body.
Around that same time I started googling “sewing your own clothes”. I’d always known how to sew I just never thought I would be good enough to actually sew something for myself to wear (out in public no less!). With just a few minutes searching on the internet I found an entire world of women, including lots and lots of plus size women designing and sewing their very own wardrobes. So I went to the fabric store, dusted off my sewing machine and got to work. Learning to sew my own clothes and getting very familiar with my body was pivotal in my journey towards body positivity AND fashion design. When I say ‘sewing my own clothes changed my life’ it is not an exaggeration. At this time I started a blog, wellsewnstyle.com, documenting everything I was learning.
As I got better and better at sewing and started getting loads of compliments on my new clothes I had an epiphany. What if I could find a way to marry my love of fashion with my love of all things social justice, feminism and body positivity? That’s when the idea for Alice Alexander was born. While working my full-time nonprofit job, I enrolled in a fashion design design program, learned everything I could about the industry, came up with a business plan, saved up some money and launched the biz. A year later and I’m confident that starting this business and leaving my old career behind was the best decision I ever made.
What is Alice Alexander’s aesthetic?
Bright, bold, unapologetic, a little sass and edge–all while still being 100% totally wearable and able to integrate into your existing wardrobe. These are clothes meant to be loved, worn, washed and worn over and over again. I’m fanatical about quality materials and top notch construction. My clothing is body aware, meaning I’m intentional about how it fits the body, there are no shapeless frocks here. I’m also really intentional about the design. I don’t design one set for plus and one set for non-plus (as many big brands do). It’s one design, tested and sized to fit our extensive size range. I allow the consumer to decide how she wants to dress and present herself to the world.
Image courtesy of Alice Alexander.
What sizes do you offer?
We currently offer sizes 0-28 and can accommodate a diversity of body shapes and sizes through custom orders. We are working on introducing a line of petite and tall sizes as well! Being 6ft tall finding items that are long enough in the arms and legs is always a challenge and when I talk to my petite plus size customers they are always frustrated with the proportions of plus size clothes. Since we pattern, cut and sew all our own designs we can easily accommodate a variety of figures. And for our local customers we’re able to do alterations free of charge.
What fabrics do you use?
For our warm weather collection we use 100% linen, 100% cotton, 100% silk and 100% lyocell, or commonly referred to as Tencel, all of these fabrics are eco-friendly. We’ll soon release a seasonless collection that includes fabrics like tencel and silk which adjust to your body temperature keeping your comfortable. In the cooler months we’ll launch wool pieces and some heartier cottons to keep you warm.
I source all of my fabrics from the US and Canada and I use a lot of deadstock fabric sourced from a warehouse in LA. For the time being I’ve eliminated all use of polyester as it’s rough on the planet and frankly it’s really sweaty to wear! Since we use natural fibers they tend to wrinkle more (which is definitely an adjustment if you’re used to wearing polyester) but these fibers are more breathable (and more earth-friendly).
I am pretty fabric obsessed so if it doesn’t feel amazing to the touch or feels yucky on the body I just won’t use it no matter how visually interesting the fabric may be.
Image courtesy of Alice Alexander.
Can you expand on how Alice Alexander is ethically produced and why it is so important?
All pieces in our collection are designed, cut, sewn and retailed out of one location in Philadelphia, PA. Some pieces are made to order (meaning you’ll have to wait 2-3 weeks to get your order, we promise it’s worth it!) and some pieces are made and in stock ready to ship. We have an awesome team of sewers who work in a well-ventitaled and sunny workshop, who absolutely love what they do, work 8 hour days with plenty of breaks and are paid fair wages (above industry standard). So, this all sounds pretty normal right? For most people living in the developed world this is what work looks like. But for the majority of garment workers in countries like Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, India…this is not what work looks like. Wages are incredibly low and perpetuate cycles of poverty, days are much longer than 8 hours, conditions are not humane and workers are rarely able to unionize which prohibits their ability to advocate for change. For me, the Rana Plaza collapse 5 years ago was a wakeup call–over 1,100 people lost their lives, the majority of which were young women, when the garment factory they were working in collapsed–no one should die for us in the western world to access cheap, fast fashion. As the majority of garment workers are young women between the ages of 18 and 24 it’s clear to me that this is a feminist issue: garment worker rights are women’s rights.
I know there is a way to put people back to work through good paying jobs, empower women of all sizes and shapes to invest in better quality clothes that they can feel good in and be good stewards of our planet.
In addition there are no shortage of people right here in the United States who need good paying, skilled jobs. As a social worker for 10 years I can’t tell you how many people I sent on interviews to get a minimum wage fast food or retail job–spoiler alert, no one is getting out of poverty providing for a family while earning $7.25 an hour! Meanwhile, we’ve got consumers who want to buy better quality clothes and a rapidly growing plus size market. I know there is a way to put people back to work through good paying jobs, empower women of all sizes and shapes to invest in better quality clothes that they can feel good in and be good stewards of our planet. I know all of this is completely counter to the way the fashion industry currently operates (and nearly every single fashion industry veteran I’ve talked to has either outright said or implied that I’m an idiot) but that’s ok. I’m happy to be a disruptor and do things differently.
Can you please explain slow fashion?
Slow fashion is the opposite of fast fashion. In today’s fast fashion market we have retailers who are releasing 52 collections a year! That’s one a week! Creating clothing at this pace is hugely detrimental to both the planet and the people who make our clothes. Retailers who produce like this are producing so much, so fast that they can’t even trace which pieces were made in which factory. Slow fashion is producing clothing at a slower rate, that’s less about ‘of the moment’ trends and more about quality over quantity. Slow-fashion is traceable (meaning we know who made it) and generally more sustainable. I think the challenge is that slow-fashion is often thought of as boring and less stylistic than fast fashion pieces. But on the contrary, I think adopting a slow-fashion wardrobe, one that is carefully crafted over time is far more effective in honing your personal individual style, then buying whatever is “hot” at this moment.
Image courtesy of Alice Alexander.
Do you have a retail store?
YES! We just opened our retail shop in Philadelphia. It’s a combined retail/ production space with everything happening right there in one space. Our address is 4056 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. For me it’s so important for consumers to be able to try on our clothes and provide a judgement-free, body-positive space for women of all shapes and sizes to be able to shop, socialize and connect. We cut our garments right out on the shop floor (it’s kind of like performance art!) and we have a sewing and pressing room in the back of the shop where our sewing team creates each piece.
Where do you see Alice Alexander in one year? In five years?
In one year our retail space will be thriving and e-commerce will be strong. We will have developed our petites and tall collections and released our seasonless collection, cool weather ’18 and warm weather ’19 collections.
In five years my goal for Alice Alexander is to have expanded to be a leader in the size-inclusive fashion space and prove that ethical and sustainable fashion can go mainstream. From an operations perspective my goal is to have opened our very own factory complete with a job training program for low-income Philadelphians seeking to access better paying jobs and encourage other designers to manufacture here AND include more extensive sizes in their range. (That’s a lot of goals, I’m just a tad ambitious).
Is there anything else we should know?
We’ve changed our buying habits in nearly every industry from eating organic food, to driving electric cars and I know the next big shift is in the fashion industry. We as consumers have the power to change the fashion landscape one that is about quality over quantity without sacrificing style and self-expression. It starts with us!
I would like to thank Mary Alice Duff for this incredible interview. More importantly, to congratulate Mary Alice on the actual real change she is putting out into the world. I just adore her, don’t you? Be sure to visit : AliceAlexander.co .
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Much love to you!