I like a handbag because of how it looks, how it feels, the weight of the bag and even it’s functionality. So if the object of my desire is ethical it’s a great bonus and I love the bag even more.
An interview with sisters Katie and Millie Smith of Angel Jackson.
What are your fashion backgrounds?
Katie: I always used to design and make clothes for myself. I then began studying fashion at college, from there I started up my own T-shirt label in the 80s.
Millie: I actually come from a sales and marketing background, which is why Katie and I work so well together. Katie has the creativity and the ideas and I’m good at turning those ideas into reality by making things happen and moving it forward.
How are your roles divided?
Katie: I’m the Creative Director of Angel Jackson and based in the UK.
Millie: I am the Head of Sales and organised the production.
Since 2005 one of your goals was been to create an international brand, you sold in Selfridges, Le Bon Marche Paris, Tsum in Russia and Harvey Nichols Hong Kong. How hard or easy has this been?
We’ve been working constantly to internationalize the brand since establishing the label in 2005. The workload is and always has been huge, but luckily we get great reception from the press and buyers, which obviously really helps in getting our products out there and creating brand awareness. We believe that our products also speak for themselves and have allowed us to establish Angel Jackson as a quality brand. The most difficult aspect is to maintain the very highest of standards in production, which is something that we feel very strongly about – when people part with their money they deserve a high quality and long-lasting product.
You are an ethical luxury label; all your products are produced in fair-trade workshops and made from ethically sourced materials. Was it difficult to find a manufacture to work with?
We found it really difficult to find a manufacturer and we felt that the only way for us to fully control and guarantee fair wages and working conditions was to have our own workshops. When we showed our first collection in London we still didn’t have a manufacturer, so had to establish the workshops very quickly! We have always loved Bali and since the bombings, people over have found it hard to recover. The workmanship in Bali is amazing and it was our chance to help a community, so we decided to base the production there. We hope that when our customers buy from Angel Jackson it’s satisfying for them to know that they’re not only getting a glamorous, high quality designer item, but something that is also made in fair conditions and helps to enhance people’s lives.
Has the recession had an impact on your business?
We’ve actually found that customers have remained very loyal out of the recession, due to our attention to detail and competitive price points. Department stores are finding that our accessories are selling better than ones of a higher price point.
In a recession people have to review their spending habits and look for value for money. Our bags and accessories sit well against high end label bags in terms of style and quality but in terms of price are much more accessible. We’re able to keep the prices down because we control every aspect of production in the workshop, which means less waste and this is passed down to the customer. We concentrate on creating individual and stylish bags that will last, rather than obvious “it” bags which are on trend for one season.
We’ve recently hit America where the collection was received brilliantly. We’re expanding over in China and Japan which has meant we’ve had to get a bigger workshop in Bali. We have a gorgeous showroom next to the workshop where we’re planning to exhibit graffiti art alongside the Angel Jackson collection, which is definitely an influence from living in Bristol and around the amazing creativity of the city. We’re also looking into opening our first concept store in Bristol which is very exciting.
What advice do you have for new ethical brands starting out?
It’s important to remember that it is possible to compete with big brands or labels and be ethically conscious at the same time. There’s a stigma attached with ethical fashion; that it’s all hippy and bohemian and made from hemp! But that is slowly beginning to change now. We design bags which are stylish and glamorous but also ethically conscious. The Ethical Fashion Forum offer lots of help and advice so is definitely worth joining.
Angel Jackson is exhibiting at Sommerset House East Wing E3 from February 19th-23rd. For more information contact email@example.com.