|Annegret in Choolips|
About a week ago I had the immense pleasure of meeting with Annegret Affolderbach, Tribaspace writer and creator of cheeky sustainable clothing brand Choolips. I met Annegret at her fabulous open plan studio, which I literally wanted to move in to... Think high beamed ceilings, homey decor with special accent pieces and design books placed just so. I snuggled in next to Jeeves the studio cat with a cuppa and a cookie, kindly provided by Annegret and got out my pen and paper (which I kept forgetting to use because she was so fun to chat to I forgot I was doing an interview?!) You would not believe how (along with hard work) everything has clicked into place for Annegret to end up where she is today - let me explain...
Annegret moved to London from East Germany after she finished school because she wanted to see somewhere new and wasn’t quite sure of her direction, but thought it should entail a nice mix of psychology and art. After completing a foundation in Fine Art she was accepted on a purely textile based BA which she turned down for worry she was pigeon holing herself too early. After a bit of soul searching Annegret stumbled upon Middlesex University. CLICK! She fell in love with the space in Wood Green for its boxy openness, as well as the positive atmosphere, which encouraged communication, space and freedom. Annegret was blessed to have a tutor who let her shape her own degree and play to her strengths and did so by forging Fine Art with a heavy emphasis on textiles. Her tutor, recognising that not everyone learns the same allowed her to find herself on her terms. Hello Dead Poets Society!! CLICK!
Being intelligently inquisitive, Annegret also had a passion for science; holograms specifically. She recalled when she was a child she visited a museum in her hometown and saw a hologram for the first time and was besotted. Near the end of her degree, a holographer spoke at Middlesex and after meeting with him personally (and proving her scientific knowledge reached the required geektastic proportions), Annegret was hired to work for him. CLICK! During her time there Annegret patented the idea of holographic textiles. (Are you as amazed by this as I am?!), but Annegret is a business woman who focus’s her energy on sustainability and won’t revisit the idea again unless it can be done in a sustainable and economically accessible way - I am sure it’s only a matter of time!
While changing the face of science and its relationship to what we wear, Annegret was also laying the foundations of her sustainable fashion brand Choolips. I have to go back to go forward here, as when she moved into her first flat in Whitechapel, her landlord left a lovely set of old Georgian doors behind. She filled the doors to the frames with post-it notes (yes like those invented by Romy and Michelle) each penned with something that mattered to her, about the bigger picture of the world, life and how she wanted it to change – she then spent 3 months placing them in order of importance. As it was the most logical time wise, her foray into holograms was her first post-it note realised; next was “To make the world a better place while doing something she loved” - enter Choolips! CLICK!
One has to pay the bills of course, so Annegret worked as a pattern cutter for sport lingerie brand Shock Absorber while hatching plans for her own label. The high street put a bitter taste in her mouth, which pushed her even harder to make her Georgian Door Post-It dreams a reality. It pushed her boundaries as a person and at this time she began to open her eyes to the history of London and the part London’s East end had played in the slave trade. Gambia, and Ghana, where Choolips is principally produced, were two of the locations that slaves were brought to the docklands from, along with cotton. Of course the demand for cotton has not diminished with slavery, if anything it has increased which has continued a different sort of slavery via the cotton trade.
To really understand the situation Annegret went to Africa (The Gambia) independently to do her market research where she says she “found her peace”. She came back to London with a head full of ideas; not knowing that at the same time the Ethical Fashion Forum was in Africa looking into the exact same issues. This was a period when only a handful of designers were even considering the impact of the fashion trade on the wider world, so it wasn't as if everyone was in on it together.
Annegret then read about a competition launched by the Ethical Fashion Forum with a looming deadline for designs utilising the tradition of Batik, which would be produced in Ghana!!! The people of Ghana, with their Batik textile traditions and desire to utilise their skills for trade was so in sync with Annegrets nature, plus their infrastructure was evolved enough to begin production - it was a perfect fit. BIGGEST CLICK! (Are you starting to see the pattern?) As you can imagine Annegret was the “Commercial Global Winner” and though she didn’t know it, a buyer for Topshop was on the judging panel and subsequently asked her to design a range that would be sold in Topshop during Fair Trade Fortnight.
And so with its credentials in sustainability and truly great design, Choolips has since continued to grow, and support developing communities through Fair Trade, enabling increased infrastructure such as roads and production facilities.
All this while bringing traditional techniques to London in a modern way.
New things are also on the horizon for Choolips, including a high-end knitwear line (think grannies knitting sustainable silk in the sunshine - pure adorable heaven!), which Annegret’s mother is insisting on running! As well as a repositioning of the brand altogether. Everything is going to be more about telling the story of where the garments are coming from, adding value to the end customer, encouraging an attachment to the things we buy instead of fast fashion and ensuring everyone in the supply chain are happy chappy’s and earning their fair share!
|No this is not Annegret's mum! (I don't think?!)|
I ended the interview by asking Annegret if she could collaborate with anyone in the world - who it would by and why.
Annegret: ‘Oooo good question! Firstly I would say my friend Claire Hamer (Sustainable Sourcing Strategist and former buyer for Topshop and ASOS Greenroom). We would work with forgotten communities, nurture more businesses in developing countries and continue our fight for sustainability through fostering heritage brands. And I would be honoured to work with Philip Starck. His design aesthetic is spot on, he has nothing to do with fashion which is intriguing and to be honest, he just seems like a really cool guy.”
In no way would I ever seek to discredit anyone’s hard work by citing such superfluous things as “luck” or “karma”, but I do believe alongside tenacity, good things happen to good people. I know things will keep clicking into place for the inspiring Annegret and her wonderful brand.CLICK!