Alabaste designer Ava Edwards

I am a British mother of two girls living in Cape Town. I studied fashion design and although I didn’t specialise in knitwear (it wasn’t available at my university), I was introduced to the world of cashmere knitwear through a friend, and it became a major passion. Eventually I went on to become knitwear buyer / designer for a large retailer. Alabaste was a little side project for many years until last year, I decided to take the plunge and focus on it full-time.

Describe the most exciting part of your creative process.

When the new season’s shade cards arrive I’m like a kid in a sweet shop! This is a very exciting time. I then start creating my inspiration boards – and it leads the way for creating new colour combinations and the limited edition collection.

Your design process starts with ….

Choosing the colours and creating silhouettes for my customer.

Why cashmere?

It is a natural fibre that has incredible properties. Sourced with integrity, cashmere is a wonderful fibre that companies have tried to simulate with synthetics for decades. It is a hollow fibre, yet very fine. What this means is that you have an incredibly warm, yet lightweight and non-scratchy end product. Our Mongolian yarn is known to be the finest cashmere in the world. The harsh conditions of Mongolia require the goat to grow longer coats to keep them warm therefore the fibres are longer and superior.

What do you do specifically with cashmere?

My original collections were scarves, which then grew to include beanies and headbands. Now I am finally designing sweaters which I sell on a made-to-order basis. This allows me to produce according to what my customers desire and not over-produce.

How important is materiality in your process? Is your process lead by design, materials or both?

Knitwear is a specialised area. I am not formally trained in knitwear, but have gained years of experience through my relationships with factories and my passion for knits. There are so many variables with knitwear, and especially cashmere. You don’t have any wastage during production due to the hight value of the fibres. For me, designing with cashmere has to fulfil my needs: quality, longevity and colour. These three aspects are my markers to designing great pieces that my customers can cherish for life.

What’s been the biggest challenge with keeping you going?

Cash flow. Upfronting cashmere collections is not cheap! Also there are so many brands on the market and customers have had their fingers burnt with poor quality that they are reticent to spend money on cashmere. I know that mine is different and that my quality would be hard to beat. I wear my products almost all year round and can happily say that the proof is in the pudding. Also, certain customers don’t want to wait for their goods. I am going against the global trend of buy now, receive now.

How do you tackle upscaling of your business?

I am considering crowd-funding, but also want to try and achieve the sales growth alone and with my pre-order model.

What’s your advice for other creative entrepreneurs?

Listen to your customers, but the ones that really add value and commit to your product. If you have a great product and have done your research, sell – don’t wait for it to be perfect. I wasted so much time questioning myself and what I was offering. Just put yourself out there and get the feedback.

What are your future plans? Products, markets, collaborations?

I see Alabaste selling in the US, UK and Japan. I’d like to secure a dedicated zone in my Mongolian factory and continue offering the made-to-order model for my direct customers and capsule collections for retailers. I’d also like to introduce a member service, like Beauty Pie and a secondhand Alabaste cashmere service. I’d love to do more collaborations – mixing with other creatives and pushing each others’ businesses, with complimentary philosophies such as using non-toxic dyes, fair trade, animal safety, responsible sourcing and selling etc, is definitely the way forward.

What trends are currently impacting your industry, both locally and globally?

Buy now, receive now. Closed loop clothing – secondhand clothing. Animal welfare and eco-friendly, sustainable production.

What brands to you love and follow – and why?

Bella Freud – unique branding and the queen of slogan knitwear – she has also branched into being a lifestyle brand. Joseph – they always have a strong knitwear focus. Blazè Milano – mono brand that focuses on blazers with a smiley pocket. For myself I buy Maje, Sandro, Joseph – great quality, great fit, forever pieces. I shop better when there is something I have to replace and that I know will be worn to its last thread.  I’m a big fan of second-hand too – love having a mooch around and finding hidden gems!

What are your favourite shops, designers and inspirations?

Wait and See, Milano – an amazing store that merchandises beautifully. Jessica McCormack jewellery – great following and very distinctive style. Marcia Kilgore – founder of Bliss Spa, Fit Flop, Beauty Pie and others. Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx.


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