Derby Evening Telegraph
25 July 2005 WEAR YOUR 'GREEN' HEART ON YOUR SLEEVE
We're always being urged to think green, recycle and do our bit for the environment but have you ever thought about buying green clothes? One Derbyshire woman has. Amanda Volley reports.
At a glance you can see that Alison Jackson-Bass's clothing range for women and young children is stylish. One touch and you can feel that the quality is second to none.
The thing you will probably not realise is that all Alison's clothes are ecologically friendly - but there is not a rainbow-coloured beanie hat or tie-dyed kaftan in sight. Alison is a fashion pioneer who is changing the image of 'green' fashion - and not before time. While many people liked the idea of buying clothes that were kinder on the environment, a lot gave up their good intentions when faced with disappointing choices like shapeless tie-dyed skirts or one-size-fits-all batik smocks.
Alison has faced this dilemma herself. "I've always been interested in environmental issues and tried to find eco-friendly clothing but, when I saw the limited ranges, I tended to slip back to buying from the high street," she said."My mother always told me that I suit a more classic look but it's impossible to look elegant in a pair of drawstring-waist hemp trousers with a huge cannabis plant logo on the label."
Alison's disappointment with 'green' clothing ranges may never have got beyond a general grumble but for a series of personal tragedies."Everything in my life was jogging along nicely," explains Alison (45), of Sparrowpit near Buxton."I'd just completed a master's degree about sanitation in the 16th/17th centuries and had started the research for my PhD based in Bath when my mum died. Then a much-loved aunt died suddenly and, shortly afterwards, my half-brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he died the following year. As my family came from the Bath area, I realised I couldn't keep on visiting a place that reminded me of everyone I'd lost."
Licking her wounds, Alison abandoned her research into what she calls "historic loos" and headed back to her sanctuary - the little cottage she shares with husband Mike (52), an IT professional."I became more determined than ever to buy clothes made without chemicals or toxic dyes and in factories which did not rely on sweatshop conditions," she said."I started searching for eco clothing as I was going through so much pain and decided I couldn't bear the thought of anyone having to endure appalling working conditions just so I could have a new, cheap T-shirt."
Alison took the best part of a year off to recover from her losses and, during this time, spent many a fruitless hour looking through shops, internet websites and mail order catalogues only to be confronted with uninspiring, unflattering garments."I spent a lot of time at home waiting for inspiration to strike," Alison admitted. "Ironically, when a business idea came, it seemed to drop into my head fully formed, even down to the name of the company and the logo."
What Alison had realised was that there was a gap in the market for high fashion, good quality clothing. Moreover, Alison's company, which she decided to call Eco Eco, would fill this gap.Alison knew she could not find suppliers in the UK so she followed her nose and started looking at European companies."I found a wonderful company selling exciting, stylish clothes all produced at factories with high environmental standards and using non-toxic dyes and finishes," she said."I realised it would be a good idea to have a look at its summer and winter ranges, so I took a friend, who is a lecturer in fashion and textiles, to a trade fair in Frankfurt. On my way home, I nearly had to pinch myself. Within a few weeks of having the idea I'd gone and done it."
Alison knew that, if she wanted Eco Eco to be a success, she could not go about it in a half-hearted fashion."There was such a lot to do. I'd already decided I liked the idea of taking my clothes to fairs, events and village halls around the country," Alison explained. "So Mike and I designed and built a mobile set featuring clothes rails, a changing room, a settee and coffee table. My aim is to make shopping an enjoyable experience."
Part of the reason Alison is so keen to tour the country is because she wants to meet customers, take down details of what they like and get feed-back - good and bad."I want customers to tell me how our clothes wear over time."I don't want to just sell people clothes and accessories - I want to find out if they're still thrilled with them months later."
Alison is certainly thrilled with her new venture. "The most wonderful thing is that it's become a real family business as Mike comes with me and even my dad John Williams, who is 90, gave me some money to put into the business. It's given him a new lease of life.""But, in spite of this support, it was still a nerve-wracking moment when we opened up to the public for the first time."Alison had nothing to worry about. "I'd stocked Eco Eco with the things I'd fallen in love with - I'm so pleased my customers seem to love them too."