In the next of our Member Spotlight series, we chat to Alessia Gotti, founder of London-based textile agency, AGTextiles. We delve into her childhood in Brescia, Italy and how her family’s background in manufacturing led her to starting her own business in the ethical and sustainable fashion industry. We talk about how her practice in Buddhism inspires her ethos and her tips for anybody looking to make their wardrobe or fashion consumption more eco-friendly.
Fed: Tell us more about AGTextiles and how it started…
Alessia: I’ve always worked as a textile agent and in fashion in many different roles but the actual beginning of the studio was three years ago, while I was on maternity leave from another textile agency I was working with. A textile agent literally sells fabrics and materials but I focused on sustainability, working with brands and designers from across the UK. After I had my baby, I started looking more into the effects of fabrics and materials on babies’ skin because they don’t have the same layers of protection we have on our skin against chemicals and manmade fibres. I really got interested in this area of fashion and sustainability so that’s why I decided to start my own business. I got in contact with all the suppliers and mills I know – from Italy, Portugal, Turkey – and just tried to put together a collection. I concentrated on sustainable material from a lot of different mills and curated a collection that was certified sustainable and relevant to the principles of the circular economy.
Fed: What working in the fashion industry something you always had dreams of doing?
Alessia: Yes, it was something I always wanted to do.I was born in Brescia, on Lake Iseo specifically, which is a beautiful little gem nestled between vineyards, the Alps and gorgeous scenery, not far from the city of Milan. My grandparents were farmers and travellers, my grandmother from my mum’s side was a seamstress and tailor and she is still very much my inspiration every day.She moved to Zurich at 19 years old, in the late 40s when Italy was just coming out of the war, and tried to find her fortune there, like many other Italians at that time. My background is crucial as its my life story and what got me to found the studio and gave me the drive to challenge the status quo in the industry.
My parents had a plastic factory so grew up in a manufacturing environment and have always been interested in the making of things and the working environment of a factory. I grew up between machinery and oils and the smell and sweat of hard manual work. I was always interested in fashion but never went to a fashion school because they were all so expensive in Milan so I couldn’t do that. This was during the 80s and 90s in Italy and I was a young girl, literally immersed in Vogue Italia every single day, fascinated by photography, art and the theatre. I would spend hours cutting magazines and creating my own moodboards all out of Steven Meisel’s famously controversial images and Paolo Roversi’s photography.I’ve always been into fashion and I knew that somehow, one day, I would do it.
Fed: When did you first shift your focus onto ethical and sustainable fashion?
Alessia: During my uni years I was given the opportunity to study in the UK and so I arrived in London at the age of 21, with a bag full of clothes, a dream and literally nothing much else!I did some jobs in PR, online marketing for e-commerce fashion houses – at a time when the word ‘influencers’ didn’t even exist! It wasn’t enough though, I needed to be able touch and feel the garments, the fabric, the materials… I missed all that tactile involvement and so I started doing several courses at the London School of Fashion in the evening, whenever was possible, and got help with extra qualifications that became very useful in finding my next job.
I got into sales with the Fiona Colquhoun Design Studio in the heart of Bermondsey in London. I had to take a collection of swatches around the world to different designers and really, that was my first big step into fashion. The ethical and sustainable side of it came very much when I was on maternity and as I said, I started to realise the effects of fashion on the environment. From a personal perspective, I started to practice Buddhism and in the Buddhism philosophy, everything you do has an impact on the environment and animal welfare. I also became vegetarian and continued my interest in labour rights, so it was a kind of combination of life experiences really.
Fed: Why do you think it has taken people longer to realise, or at least acknowledge, the environmental impact of the fashion industry over other sectors?
Alessia: It’s all about the communication of a state of emergency. The way scientists talk about climate change and environmental issue has always been under the telescope of media and communication specialists. Talking about issues in terms of decades or even hundreds of years time, or of an issue in the Antarctic that seems so far, is problematic as people don’t connect with this seemly faraway land or timings. The situation is starting to change now as governments and the science community are understanding the importance of making clearer statements about the immediacy of the problem.
It’s just like like with COVID or Brexit (when it will become effective)… it didn’t really touch us and didn’t seem real at all until it got to a town near us, or affected a person we know, or until we ourselves had to wear protective masks and do social distancing, or suddenly we could not travel and our freedom and health were affected. It’s human nature. We filter information and keep what we deem useful to our own survival. Now though, we know that everything we do, our personal movement across countries, our own hygiene, what we eat, what we do with our waste, what we wear etc all has an impact on today’s life as well as that of the next generation. So now, regenerative agriculture, organic processes and sustainable farming are all really starting to kick off and it’s exciting as we still have the chance to reverse the situation if we put ourselves to it today.
Fed: You were recently on a digital panel about brand innovation – do you think consumers and brands are being educated enough about the environmental impact of the fashion industry?
Alessia: Again, I think it’s about who is doing the educating. With brands, it’s obviously important that there are government rules and policies because when you have a brand, you have a certain cash flow so you might not necessarily think that it’s your responsibility to change the way you work. It might be difficult to justify changing the way you make a product, for example, if you think it might affect the way it sells. We need the government to say they will help with grants and loans if brands want to import sustainable materials or change the supply chain. For consumers, I think they are now very aware of the impact of what they buy thanks to social media. Even in just the three years AGTextiles has been going, I’ve noticed a big change and even more so in ten years.
Fed: What are your tips to anybody looking to make their wardrobe more eco-conscious?
Alessia: Buy less and spend more! Simply ask yourself: How is possible that a t-shirt can cost £2 or £1 when that does not even cover the cost of the raw material in it? If it seems to cheap to be true then there is probably someone somewhere in the middle who lost a lot in cheap labour so you don’t want to contribute to that. Please consider that this product will also most likely not last very long. Always look at labels to find out how it’s been made and what it contains. Look into your current wardrobe and see if there is anything you love so much that you can get repaired, revamped or upcycled. Or even see what you can buy that you see giving to a friend after you might not want to wear or use it anymore. If you’re going to donate to a charity, make sure you know it’s a valuable charity that won’t just send your clothes to a third world country to be incinerated.
Fed: If you could travel in a time machine to 2050, how would you like to see the world has changed?
Alessia: I would like to see advancement in technologies that would track a garment’s journey from raw material, to design conception, to end of use. I would like to see bio-based materials as a main source instead of petroleum ones and renewable energies used in the process as well. I would like full respect for the land and for animal welfare, as well as a return to small scale productions and fully traceable supply chains. I would be fantastic to see collaboration across countries and governments implementing a collaborative strategy to advance biotechnologies and investments in this direction.
Fed: What is your favourite thing about being a Creative Industries Federation member?
Alessia: The fabulous and unique network. It’s a great pool of people and I love networking with them. It’s so inspiring to see people’s work and I am so passionate about cross-collaboration between art, designs, the moving media and fashion. I also really enjoy the events and the information they gave about this ever-changing industry, the possibilities to engage with a broad industry, available grants and opportunity to get the latest news.
To see more of Alessia’s wonderful work and to stay up to date with her journey in sustainable fashion and textiles, make sure to follow her on Instagram @alessia.gotti.(https://www.instagram.com/alessia.gotti/)
For more information about the Creative Industries Federation Community membership programme, get in touch with our Memberships team today!