London-based knitwear designer, Adeela Salehjee, tells us how she weaves sustainability into the very fabric of her fashion brand.
When did your passion for fashion begin?
Adeela Salehjee: I think it’s always been part of my DNA. From the age of five, I had an opinion about what I was going to wear to nursery! My mother tells me every morning was a struggle as I would insist to dress myself and not want to wear what she had laid out for me.
Colour has always been very important to me; it’s an attribute that can really affect your mood so I always wear colours that made me feel good.
You did your degree in Textile Design at Central Saint Martins, where you specialised in knitwear. What do you love about working with wool?
Adeela Salehjee: The ability to form textures, combine colour, and having variations of weights in one garment is exciting to work with. It’s amazing how using different needle sizes or knitting in different tensions can impact the weight of the garment and how variations of wash techniques can change the levels of softness of the design.
Tell us what inspired you to start your own business.
Adeela Salehjee: Starting an eponymous brand was always something that I wanted to do but I didn’t know when and how it would come together.
I spent every summer holiday doing internships for companies and the reality of running a fashion brand seemed challenging. I knew that I needed at least 10 years’ experience to fully understand the structure of a reputable fashion business before I was able to build a viable brand.
It was after working at Burberry as a design developer that the realisation kicked in – larger development budgets led to more waste; I believed there could be a way to implement different methods of working to create positive change.
You’ve also worked for Dior Couture, Vivienne Westwood, and Calvin Klein. What made you realise that the fashion business was flawed environmentally? And how did that make you feel?
Adeela Salehjee: Working for the bigger fashion companies opened my eyes to the fact that not only is the fashion industry as a concept flawed but also the processes can be inefficient and disconnected.
In fashion, everything is needed yesterday and that can sometimes be the cause of waste and inefficiency. There is always a ‘fashion emergency’ because someone changed their mind or the trend in the market changed last-minute and everyone is running that extra mile to ‘make it work’ with no expense spared.
I always felt an element of guilt for having to make someone work extra hours or take an overnight flight to hand-carry samples from across the continent.
What are you doing now to change that?
Adeela Salehjee: Our primary goal is to work with available raw materials and streamlined supply chains ensuring that our end-to-end process is sustainable. If something is unavailable, we simply swap it for something that is in line with our collection’s inspiration.
By using available raw materials, we avoid incurring excess waste at the end of every season and vertical supply chains help to eliminate the transport of raw materials to the factory – reducing one step of airfreight.
We believe in making mindful decisions in each process from design and development to production.
And how do you source your textiles?
Adeela Salehjee: We source our cashmere, merino wools, alpaca, and cottons from handpicked sustainable suppliers around the world. Each spool of yarn and therefore garment can be traced back directly to the animal from which it came.
We also love that the well-being of the goats is given consideration (goats bred for cashmere are sometimes shorn in winter and die of cold stress). The goats that we use are brushed during the springtime giving them the warm summer months to grow their fleece back before the cold winter months when the temperature drops to -30 degrees.
We love that you can trace what you wear back to the animal it came from – and to know it was treated humanely. Speaking of low temperatures, what can we look forward to in your Autumn/Winter 2021 collection – and has the pandemic shaped your design choices?
Adeela Salehjee: Yes, absolutely – we’ve focused on a relaxed lounge capsule in a super soft cotton-cashmere blend. Silhouettes consist of a colour-blocked hoody, crew neck, and track pants to target the work-from-home culture that has arisen from the pandemic.
Our 100% cashmere capsule has a raglan blocked Vee neck, a cosy shawl cardigan, and a range of gemstone embellished beanie hats and fingerless gloves. All pieces have been given careful consideration so the tops can be paired easily with the bottoms.
The colours range from tones of neutrals to shades of blue with accent pop colours keeping the pieces versatile with an element of fun!
They sound very chic and cosy – perfect for those WFH Zoom meetings! Finally, what inspires you creatively?
Adeela Salehjee: Textures, patterns, and colours from whimsical birds, rainbows, flowers, and gemstones. Beautiful colours and how they sit next to each other remains a key focus in all our collections.
My driving force is to create beautiful pieces whilst remaining mindful of how the creation of my designs affect the environment.