Environmental, ethical and economic issues plague the modern fashion industry. But Chic Management talent Alex Moore is determined to a make positive change.
Alex carries out her eco-warrior crusade through her footwear company, Prince + Pauper, designing sandals that are striking, comfortable, innovative and, more importantly, environmentally and ethically sustainable.
The brand is heavily focused on recycling and waste management: the sandals are made from more than 80% recycled materials, such as rubber from car tyre tread. To manufacture them, Zimbabwe-born Alex turned to a community in Kenya, providing employment opportunities to artisans in a region beset with socio-economic problems. Alex works closely with her employees and provides fair income and a friendly environment in which they are flourishing.
Read on to learn how this young entrepreneur is putting her best foot forward to save the world.
How were you first introduced to the idea of ethical/sustainable/fair trade fashion?
I worked as a model for 10 years, and did a Fine Art degree in Textiles, so it was a natural progression of sorts. I think every designer has to think along ethical lines these days. This is partly due to the exposure of manufacturing malpractice in the fashion industry, and of its environmental consequences. I think most sane people are concerned about the health of our planet and would love to do something about it, in whatever field they are in.
Why is it important?
I think sustainable fashion will definitely become the new norm, in terms of fare wages, working conditions and production methods. This is great, but I also think that ‘ethical’ can become a marketing ploy, allowing manufacturers and consumers to bypass the real problem of over-consumption.
Disposability is the issue. There is nothing sustainable about buying new things all the time, or for new things to be continually churned out en masse, especially if they aren’t intended to last.
This sounds a bit contradictory from someone who has a brand, and who relies on people buying things – the irony is not lost on me. However, I like to think that Prince + Pauper is unique in that we actually tackle waste through the making of our product. Our high-quality sandals are built to last, and are 80% re-used waste.
When/How did you get the idea for your shoes?
While I was at uni I bought a pair of sandals from an op-shop, and glued rhinestones all over them. I wore them until all the rhinestones fell off, and received many compliments along the way. I started making them for friends, and was soon receiving editorial requests from magazines!
Did you draw inspiration for this project from anyone or anything?
I am inspired by creating something beautiful out of nothing, or by finding beauty in unexpected places. I’ve always loved brands like Marni and Easton Pearson, which have an eccentric, artistic sensibility to their designs.
Minimising waste of any kind is a big driving force behind how I create. It was a practice of mine as an artist to use discarded materials in my work, and I always dreamed of doing this on a larger, commercial scale.
I booked myself a ticket to Kenya without really having a plan. I ended up extending my stay by months, and had the best time meeting artisans and makers, discovering what was available and possible. I worked with what I could find, and created my designs from there, letting the materials at hand dictate the end result. I create all the prototypes myself before going into production.
This whole practice of “making do”, of using what you have and making the most of it, unconsciously guides my design process. This culture of “making do” is very prevalent in Africa, where people have to use their creativity to solve everyday problems. Our culture deprives us of this, and I think we can become blunted by having everything so conveniently at our fingertips. Resourcefulness is a way of life there, and it was inspiring to tap into this thinking.
Do you have a special connection with Africa? If so how was this cultivated?
I was born in Zimbabwe and lived there until I was 14, when I immigrated to Australia with my family. I had a wonderful childhood growing up on our tobacco farm. I’ve always wanted to go back to Africa and be involved in some way.
How did it become apparent that giving jobs to the people was going to be very important to you?
I spent a lot of time in the workshop in Kenya, learning about the lives of the workers and their friends. They are intelligent, creative and hard-working, but unemployment is a serious problem. The majority of people in low-socioeconomic areas are employed on a day-by-day basis, when work is available, and paid between one and three dollars.
I really don’t like perpetuating the worn stereotype that Africa needs saving, and I don’t believe in the charity model. There is dignity in receiving payment for work that you do, it’s just about fostering enterprise, creating employment, and opening up markets for existing skills.
Kenya has also been flooded with Chinese imports, making it difficult for craftspeople and artisans to compete. Each pair of our sandals provides employment for 6 – 12 Kenyans, from the various bead makers, to the shoemakers, to the guy who collects the tyre treads. Our beaders, Damaris and Dorcas (who we have named styles after), do the beading at home so they can look after their children.
How did you come up with the name “Prince + Pauper”?
It was so hard to come up with the right name! One of my friends actually came up with it, and it was a perfect fit for a few reasons. The dualism of the name befits the character of the brand, which brings together disparate elements of old and new, frugality and extravagance. Our ethos of ‘no waste’ contrasts with the whimsical aesthetic of our designs, and our sandals are a combination of recycled materials and the highest-grade leather.
The book The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain, is about two boys who swap lives. I love this connotation of sharing stories and connecting with something different.
Do you have any plans for the future of the brand?
I want to continue using as many recycled materials as possible, and would also love to be cruelty-free eventually. The goal is to work with communities all over the world, and to produce a range of different products. My background is in textiles, so I’d like to branch into quilts and baskets. I already weave baskets myself, out of old clothes and linen, and they are stocked in art gallery/design store The Tribe Co.
I am having an exhibition/pop up shop at The Tribe Co in Foley St, Darlinghurst, opening on November 17!
Where can we find you!?
Sandals are all available for purchase on our website!