Interview with Alison Taylor of Sula Clothing
Posted on 18 May 2016
In 2004, from the imagination of a classically trained fine artist, the ethereal fashion label, Sula, was born. When Alison Taylor started her company she sold primarily through the Old Spitalfields Market in London. Today, although she remains highly specialized, she has an international clientele and sells in boutiques all over the world.
Produced by hand in India and Vietnam, Sula clothing is comprised of some of the finest materials available and sewn by hand. Alison’s artistic background is apparent in the Sula aesthetic, reminiscent of watercolor paintings and a ballerina’s silhouette. Following the practices of haute couture, her garment producers in India often cut and sew garments from start to finish, allowing for more skilled workers, a higher quality finished product, and a reduction in travel pollution. For all of the work dedicated to creating such beautiful pieces, she produces just two collections per year, fall and spring.
It was not a long-pursuit of working in the fashion industry that led Alison on her path, but rather it was chosen for her by endowing her with an artist’s mind and a seamstress’ paintbrush. At a young age she realized her natural gift for fashion design, so she followed her skills and combined them with her passion for ethical production practices and fair wages to create the now 16-year-old brand.
Alison Taylor, founder and designer at Sula
Q: What is your background?
My background is in Fine Art. I was a painter until I realised I was talent free :) and decided to follow my heart which was making clothes.
Q: What drew you into the fashion industry, and who or what has influenced your work as a socially and environmentally responsible designer?
I was not really drawn into the fashion world, it was not a world I longed to be part of and I loftily hoped for a long time to become an artist. However, I always knew in my heart that making garments was in fact the thing I was good at, it sort of chose me. Throughout my art school days I would supplement my tiny student income by making clothes for my friends out of second-hand curtains. I enjoyed the creative process and found that people really liked what I made. I was so happy when they wore my dresses. Being socially responsible was just something that seemed like a natural approach. It did not occur to me to take any other route.
Q: How did you develop relationships with the local craftspeople who create your designs and from whom you source materials?
When I first started my business in 1996 I used just one family business in Vietnam to do my sewing production, and one to source my fabric. I found them simply by going there and seeking them out. By walking the streets and asking people. Then driving out to the villages to take a look. It took a long time and a lot of effort. At first Sula used only silk for the clothes and we sourced it from ancient silk villages where women did the weaving in their homes. Until only recently we used the same village silk. During the last 6 months we had to make the hard decision to change suppliers. At first this was very difficult, everywhere I went I was told that there was no vertical silk production in Vietnam anymore and that all the silk there was imported from China. Finally I did find a family in Saigon who had worked in the silk weaving industry for more than thirty years and whose product was great quality. I have been working with them for 6 months now and am optimistic that this is a good solution and happy to continue to support a dying craft.
I now work with Embroidery workshops in Kolkata using Khadi cotton, and will soon start to work with a village in Vietnam where they have made open thread embroidery for more than a century.
Q: What processes should large producers adopt to reduce the harmful effects on our environment?
I am not knowledgeable enough to know how to use low pollution techniques for mass production. My ideas would be that they should use only organic cottons (as cotton is very polluting) and only natural fibres. Also dying is terribly problematic, and I would like to see big business invest in developing natural dye solutions which are colourfast. I feel most strongly about fair pay and safe working conditions for garment production workers. I love the "who made your clothes?" and "Labour Behind the Label" campaigns as they really makes people think about what is usually taken for granted.