Magpie Vintage is a small independent label with a focus on sustainability and ethical slow fashion. Creating garments from unwanted antique and vintage textiles and breathing new life into pre-existing materials, the brand creates non-seasonal, one-of-a-kind pieces that can be worn for many years, all handmade by a small team of women in its east London studio.
How did Magpie Vintage come to be?
I’ve always had a love of rummaging through vintage stores, it began on a trip many years ago to Australia. I’ve had Magpie Vintage for over 10 years, originally selling vintage clothing from my store. Then in the lockdown I started making clothing myself, I made a jacket from a patchwork quilt and it blew up on IG...
We know that sustainability is at the core of what you do, was this always the case or has this evolved along the way?
Yes sustainability has definitely always been at the core of the business. I always wanted to be contributing in a way that was ethical and environmentally friendly. There is such a huge amount of clothes that are just there, in circulation, it is an unimaginable amount. I started this 11 years ago and thought we could have run out of vintage, but in that time vintage has grown and grown and with that the customer base has grown and so has the amount of people that sell vintage as a living and yet there is still a very steady supply of vintage clothes. So it just goes to show how much is really out there and now I’m really excited about getting to evolve that into new clothes from old textiles and using all these incredible fabrics sitting in peoples cupboards going to waste and being able to put them out there and let people see them.
What does the creative and development process look like at Magpie Vintage?
We are a really small team, there is myself and 2 seamstresses plus a pattern cutter. We all work together, we create styles that are then replicated into different fabrics but they always have a different end result because the fabrics we are using are different. When we are creating new styles, everyone pitches in, we have a mood board in that studio that everyone adds to. On Mondays we create new patterns and styles, some of them we will use and some of them won't use. It very much is a collaborative thing that we all get involved in, we try things out and see what happens!
As a fashion business, what are some of the challenges you face as a result of your values/business model?
For us being sustainable, truly sustainable, means making things locally from our London studio, paying everyone fairly with a decent wage and using pre-existing fabrics. The costs that go into making everything is actually very very high so we do have to sell things at a higher price point. Over the next year I want to spend time educating people on the true cost of fashion and the cost of creating quality garments that can last a lifetime. How these things are made and what are the costs and reasoning behind this. There is a shift on how people are buying (away from fast fashion) but there is still a comparative - ‘oh that coat is £300 but the one from Zara is X’ - not that they are the same at all, so it is bridging that gap.
What are some of the advantages (or perhaps unforeseen opportunities you didn’t necessarily expect) along the way?
Don’t really want to mention the C word but the lockdown did have the silving lining of giving me the space and the time to launch this side of the business which has turned into Magpie having a label and being its own brand. The first lockdown was really difficult, I have retail stores, it was really traumatic with everything closing. I’m a single mum, I have 10 employees. It was really really hard and by the time the second lockdown had come things had settled in terms of understanding how we navigate that and so I decided to start making stuff instead so that has been an unexpected silving lining of the last couple of years.
Do you believe significant change really is happening in the industry - are you hopeful for the future here?
I definitely think there is a real shift in how people are buying and thinking about things. Of course fast fashion is still thriving but I do notice people are more curious about how their things are being made, who has made them, where they have come from. With social media sharing I think this has helped people understand a top for £7 is not a good thing, that means it has been manufactured in an unfair way. I think there is a real issue with greenwashing by big, larger companies who are completely structured around fast fashion, cheap prices and mass production. They are trying to find ways to gloss over it in a nice way, unfortunately there is a lot of misplaced marketing on sustainability. The real way to look at this is looking at price. If there is a jacket that is £50 it is not going to have been made in a sustainable way. Really to choose the most sustainable way is to not be adding, we have enough.
What’s your 2021 sustainable pledge you’ve made?
We are as sustainable as we can be at the moment but a few things we want to implement are the scraps of the scraps of the scraps (we are looking at ways to stitch these altogether). The only thing we buy in is the poppers so we are looking for recycled metal poppers we are able to use, then we will be really close to being totally zero waste.
And then we asked Alice 6 quick fire questions...
What is the one luxury that money can’t buy?
What does home mean to you?
Being with my baby
What is the one smell that makes you hungry?
Which classically ‘bad’ smell do you love?
When I was pregnant I didn’t have any food cravings but I did want to smell a dirty flannel - and I still love it! I don’t know if that is too gross to add in?
Favourite shop/ place in your neighbourhood? And why?
I’ve just moved neighbourhoods and we are close to Ally Pally which is great for a walk and an escape with my son.
Are there any people/business you’d like to give a shout out too? Who else (doing amazing things in fashion) who inspires you most?