- Isabella Griffiths |
London-based lifestyle brand Aessai specialises in luxurious knits, homewares and accessories that have been ethically handcrafted by artisans across the world. Each season the brand, founded by Argentinian-born designer Rebecca Kramer, teams up with different Fair Trade Groups and collectives of local craftsmen who produce the range, empowering local artisans and helping to alleviate poverty through employment and economic growth. FashionUnited caught up with Rebecca Kramer to find out how she plans to develop the label further and her aim to promote a new concept of luxury fashion.
What is your background?
I was born in Argentina and moved to Paris when I was a teenager. A short modelling career gave me the opportunity to travel to the US frequently, where I started buying supersized second-hand basketball T-shirts from “American Rag” in La Brea, Los Angeles. I used to ship them to Paris, re-cycle them, customise them into sexy T-shirts and sell them to models and celebs. After that I created the brand Rebecca Kramer, which specialised in hand-embroidered cashmere shawls and suede jackets made in India, which I successfully sold in London and Paris. I had some great press coverage back in that day, in the style press and the likes of Hello Magazine; they were fun days filled with lots of creativity, but admittedly not much organisation, and eventually my cashflow ran dry and I took a break from the fashion and design world.
When did you launch your label and what prompted you to set up Aessai?
I launched Aessai in October 2017 after what was a long 12-year break. I felt ready to continue what I had left more than a decade ago and it was the right time to build on and utilise my South American roots, my love for fashion and a strong social conscience. Everything kicked off again in Los Angeles when I bumped into a beautiful blanket made by Manos del Uruguay - that was a sign for me to revisit the essence of my label and go for it.
What is the concept of your label?
Aessai is a lifestyle brand whose name is derived from the phonetic spelling of ‘essay’ and it’s inspired by a series of interwoven stories and journeys between my Argentinean roots and my European heritage. The label embraces the skills of South American artisans, it’s entrenched in sustainability and transparency, respect for the labour and resources required to make the products. It’s got social conscience at its heart and aims to make a positive social impact on the lives of our artisan producers. I was very much inspired by Manos del Uruguay, a not-for-profit cooperative of women living in rural areas who spin, dye, knit and weave the wool by hand, doing it all with one form of production that is respectful to the environment. Weaving is also a very symbolic practice throughout South America, which is where myself and the brand come full circle with my roots. I was inspired to start Aessai to celebrate Fair Trade, promote local craft skills and sustainability: a brand defined not by an excessive high price and million-dollar advertising campaigns, but by the quality and ethical, sustainable values of a lifestyle brand available for a customer entitled to this new concept of luxury.
What is the signature style of your label?
Luxurious, featherweight, hand-crafted garments and blankets are the core products, and there are wraps, ponchos, scarves, blankets and a range of accessories in each collection. Two essential qualities characterise Aessai products - the silky texture of the yarns achieved by hand spinning, and an authentic natural South American palette of colours. More than anything, Aessai is a lifestyle brand – we offer everything from incredibly soft merino wool blankets to snuggle on the sofa with to stylish ponchos to throw over a bikini and the matching beach bags, all ethically made, sustainable and timeless pieces.
Do you feel consumers are increasingly demanding ethical and sustainable credentials from fashion labels?
Absolutely, consumers are more conscious and informed now about the catastrophic consequences of fast fashion and over-consumerism. Our core customer group is mostly Millennials, and this consumer demographic is very in tune with sustainability efforts and demand brands and products that are ethically produced and don’t exploit people or the earth.
How is your distribution structured?
Wholesale is our main route to market, alongside our own e-commerce website. We are selling mostly in the UK, the EU and US, with a minor output in Asia. Key stockists include Browns, The Conran Shop, By Marie, Galleries Lafayette Beijing, The Shop at Bluebird and more. Retail prices range between 180 to 600 pounds for knitwear and 35 to 100 pounds for accessories, so we try to cater for a wide range of customers and price points.
Do you have plans to expand the label?
The final goal would be having a luxurious Aessai Hotel, 100 percent energy renewable, sustainable and Fair Trade. But for now, I am concentrating on the range itself – adding luxurious Alpaca and organic cotton blankets, ethically made in Peru, is next on my agenda. And I’m also working on a potential collaboration with Danish furniture brand Carl Hansen & Son. My ambition is for Aessai to become a global luxury lifestyle brand, defined not by an excessively high price tag, but by the quality of the product and ethical, sustainable values.
What has been the feedback to your brand so far?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive from Day 1, which has enabled me to continue through all the challenges a new business can face in a very competitive market such the fashion industry.
What is the view on the luxury market? Has it got a responsibility — and opportunity — to lead ethical and sustainability efforts within the fashion industry?
Yes, definitely. The time is now. I don't see sustainability and Fair Trade as a trend. It is the right evolution of fashion. It’s a responsibility and a duty to educate and inform the consumer, allowing them to know the source of the prime materials and that the work conditions of all people involved in the process - from the cotton farmer to the model - have been fair and transparent. Luxury should be beautiful inside and out.
Photo credit: Aessai