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Izzy Lane: The Good Shepherd

Although less than two years old, Izzy Lane is the up and coming British label that has the ethical fashion world a-buzz. With luxurious materials and timeless silhouettes, Izzy Lane offers the green answer to modern working women’s dilemmas. In the wake of her recent RSPCA Good Business Award, we caught up with founder Isobel Davies to chat about style, sustainability and the sheep that inspired it all. Find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about wool but never dared to ask!

izzy4.jpg Eco Fashion World: Where are you now? Can you describe the environment that surrounds you as you’re answering these questions?

Isobel Davies: I am sitting in my home office in Richmond, this is part of my newly built extension. I have a beautiful stone built house on the edge of town, which looks onto a medieval pasture and across the Dales. It is quite heavenly after over 20 years of London life.

EFW: You started your career in the music industry, then started an organic delivery box scheme, and now you’re running an ethical fashion label, how did this career evolution happen?

ID: The career evolution was seamless as if predestined and obvious, yet I could not have predicted any of it. Life is certainly full of surprises. I think that spending time as a singer/songwriter and musician before going into business enhanced my creativity - helping me to be original in my ideas and concepts and to be bold. It was probably an important phase in my life. I am just sorry that so many people had to endure my voice.

izzy3.jpg EFW: What kind of challenges did you encounter in starting your ethical fashion label?

ID: The main problem was that I knew nothing about clothes and fashion whatsoever – only what I liked and didn’t like. It has been an enormous learning curve over the last couple of years, especially since we had to make the garments from the sheep onwards unlike most manufacturers and designers who buy from fabric fairs. Dealing with the ethical side is both a burden and a challenge but I had an agenda and the ethical side and in particular the animal welfare and rescue was at its core and was not negotiable. Also being ‘made in Britain’ was not negotiable. These 2 factors make it difficult for us to compete in price but then we have a totally unique product. Most wool is of course a by-product from the meat industry. I do things the hard way. Whatever I do, I have to believe that it is something good and that it has benefit beyond myself and a value beyond mere commerce, I cant do anything without deep conviction.

EFW: All your production is entirely local, from the sheep you rear to the final assembly of the garments, can you tell us a bit more about this process?

ID: We rescue the sheep from far and wide and bring them to our sanctuary in Richmond where they will live out their natural lives. We shear the sheep in July when their fleeces start to ‘rise’. These are then sent to Bradford to be scoured (washed) and combed. From there it is sent to the spinner. The spun Wensleydale wool goes up to the dyer in Selkirk and returns ready to be delivered to our network of hand knitters, most of whom live in the Yorkshire Dales. The Shetland wool stays in the Borders and is woven in its beautiful natural colours. The Shetlands have some 13 natural colours of fleece each with their own markings – the grey Katmoget, the rust -coloured Moorit etc. Our wovens manufacturer is in Kendal in the Lake District. All of our processors are within a maximum120 mile radius of Richmond.

EFW: Tell us about the design and the look of Izzy Lane.

ID: I do some of the designs myself and also use some fantastic young British designers – Gabbi Carter on knitwear, Helen Bradley on wovens and Stefan List on shoes. It works very well. I love classic and timeless pieces but I also like to have a twist or else life is too dull. If the suit hasn’t got a twist then mess up your hair.

EFW: More specifically, how did the idea of designing women’s suits come about?

ID: I may live and work in the countryside but after over 20 years there, London courses through my veins. It is where my style and taste for fashion was nurtured. I like to think that through Izzy Lane I can bring some of the countryside into cities. The wool that grows on the sheep on the edge of the Dales creates a more wholesome and comforting piece for the wearer, enabling them to deal more calmly with the stresses of modern living than any synthetic garment that comes off a production line in China or one with an unknown origin.

Izzy Lane from felix on Vimeo.

EFW: It’s a testament to the quality of your garments that you have been featured in Savile Row Style magazine www.savilerow-style.com, do you see your label as a continuation of a certain tradition of British tailoring?

ID: In a sense. Wool is our material here in the UK, our economy was built upon it in the Middle Ages and it went on to fuel the industrial revolution. We created cloth and knitwear that was unrivalled. As so many companies send their production overseas, I’d like to think that we are picking up and continuing with this British tradition. When I started my research I found an industry that is on its knees and in just one year both our dyer and spinner went out of business. Its important that what remains of the industry survives and that the skills are not lost and the machinery scrapped. It is important to support our own industries, especially at this difficult time.

EFW: How did you get involved designing vegetarian shoes and accessories? Is this a side of Izzy Lane that you want to expand on (Pumps? Boots?)

ID: I wanted to offer a whole package that included accessories. There is very little choice for women who don’t want to wear leather. It is important to me that as ethical fashion evolves, animals are not left out of the equation. The label is a voice for animals, we will fight their corner in the fashion industry and we will do it through cool, classic and chic clothes and accessories. We will definitely be moving into knee-length faux snakeskin and alligator boots!

EFW: Do you have any style icons?

ID: I like the Audrey Hepburn look and I loved Biba. I fancy a sort of Miss Marple meets Mary Quant though at the moment I daresay she exists only in my imagination. I also admire Katharine Hamnett who has used her iconic status to encourage the use of organic cotton. She discovered that thousands of workers in the cotton fields die from pesticide poisoning each year. She was probably the founder of ethical fashion.

EFW: How do you see your label evolving in the future?

ID: I have started working with some of the alpaca producers in the UK. Alpaca is a soft luxurious fiber, which normally comes from South America however we now have healthy populations here. This fits well with our ethos as the animals are kept only for their fleece. I am also investigating the UK mohair production and researching our other rare breed sheep like the Soay, which feed on seaweed in the Scottish Islands.

As far as I am concerned, Izzy Lane is a voice for animals, it is their label and their voice in the fashion industry. It will seek to promote animal welfare throughout the world and seek to ensure that animals aren’t left out of the equation as ethical fashion progresses.

EFW: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

ID: Our best-kept secret is a soon to be announced collaboration with Lily Cole and Katherine Poulton.

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