As ethical wool (and now silk) brand Izzy Lane launches a winter collection, Stephanie Smith talks to its founder.
In the seven years since it was founded, Izzy Lane has achieved an impressive – astonishing – level of achievement.
The North Yorkshire brand has established itself as a leading ethical brand in the UK and indeed the world, and its founder, Isobel Davies, is a prominent and important voice campaigning on behalf of animal welfare within the fashion industry and for British wool and the British textile industry.
The brand was awarded the RSPCA Good Business Award for Fashion in 2008 and 2012 and New Designer of the Year Award at the world’s first ethical fashion awards.
Izzy Lane has shown collections at London, New York, Paris and Milan, Berlin and Los Angeles, had collaborations with Hobbs and Topshop and been shown on the catwalk before the Queen. It exports across the world, especially to the US, Australia and Norway.
The company makes designer fashion using wool from its own sheep, a flock of around 450 Wensleydale and Shetland breeds living happily in the hills about Richmond, having been rescued from the slaughterhouse, perhaps for being male, lame, too small, too old or having imperfections in their white fleece.
The wool is scoured, spun and dyed in West Yorkshire and then woven into cloth in the Scottish Borders. It has knitters and seamstresses across Yorkshire. The skirts are sewn in Richmond.
Now lifelong vegetarian Isobel is turning her attention to mulberry silk worms, collaborating with Anne Wiggins, who makes silk ethically in Japan.
“With most silk, the worms are killed – they’re boiled alive – but with our silk, you let them metamorphose,” says Isobel.
“The moths can fly out, they shatter the cocoon, but it just means it goes through a much longer spinning process. It takes 40 times as long to put the fibres back together, but it’s cruelty-free.” Designer Priya Maugi dyes and prints the silk naturally, to create beautiful silk pieces including slips and pyjamas.
Wool remains the core of the Izzy Lane label, which has been using, and campaigning, for the British wool industry since its beginnings – with such success that now the big boys want in on the act, bringing with it pressures of its own. This renewed interest in British manufacturing and processing is causing queues, says Isobel, because there are so few processors left because many larger companies switched production to Asia. “Now all of a sudden everybody’s clamouring to come back, but it isn’t here. We haven’t got a really strong textile industry any more. They’re precisely the same companies who abandoned the mills and went and manufactured in Asia.”
Ever one to speak her mind, Isobel says the fashion world needs a rethink. “There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t doing its job any more in the fashion industry,” she says. “The whole notion of the season’s colour palette and different styles. I think fashion has been really pushing to make people consume and get faster and faster, and instead of releasing just two collections a year, they’re releasing collections every month just to get people to buy, buy, buy. And it’s been going so fast it’s almost as if the whole notion of trends has burnt itself out.”
Now anything goes, she says. “If you look at shoe styles at the moment – stilettos, platforms, ballets. Jeans styles.
“And I think it’s a sort of relief, so it will be more about individual style now, rather than trends. It’s a big change in the fashion, and hopefully people making their own slow choices of pieces they love and covet and will wear for years and years.”
Izzy Lane’s beautiful clothes certainly fall into that category of covetable pieces, as these images of the new winter collection illustrate. Isobel says: “I think it’s taken quite a long time for Izzy Lane to find its aesthetic, its definition of style, and I feel we’ve really captured it in this collection, using tartans, contrast trim, quite quirky, but at the same time quite classic and understated, using black houndstooth with red houndstooth, in the same coat.
“They’re really easy-to-wear pieces, quite cosmopolitan but also obviously country.”
Next February Izzy Lane will be returning to London Fashion Week and there is a collaboration with Katherine Hamnett on its way. No wonder Isobel is feeling optimistic. “It’s been tough through the recession, but we’ve been pulling away from it now. We’ve got a style definition now for the brand and things are sort of looking healthy in the economy.”
• All items from Izzy Lane on www.izzylane.com. Exclusively for Yorkshire Post readers, quote YP2 for a 20 per cent discount on the winter collection, subject to availability.