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Talent Emerging: Alfie Douglas

As cyclical as fashion is, there is always a time for firsts. For instance, this is the first time I have interviewed an entire family behind a fashion brand, ever. Introducing to you the Hadden’s – the blood-related group of creatives behind the increasingly successful British leather goods label, Alfie Douglas, which I can only describe as ‘nailing it’ in every sense of the word. As annoying as we all seem to find Facebook, I have to thank it for the rare good news it brings – Alfie Douglas being in that category because it’s not everyday you come across a unique accessories brand built around a family and their individual creative instincts.

From a strong minimalist aesthetic, through to unique photography and not to forget the handmade leather goods, here is a label that’s knows exactly what it is doing. With the ability to design and manufacture prototype products in-house, each of their pieces have been developed and refined over and over again so that the end result is simple to produce, functional and robust. A modern approach meets simplicity and the results are irresistible accessories that any minimalist lover won’t want to do without. Who knew it could be so simple?


PN: Hi! Tell us a bit about who is behind Alfie Douglas?
AD: The original concept was developed by Simon & Davida Hadden. Having owned creative businesses for many years they wanted to develop a brand making quality goods in England – an opportunity to revitalise and highlight some of the skills that England is renowned for. The concept, manufacturing and development of ideas originated from them. The brand image, style, marketing and social awareness was then developed by their four daughters who all grew up in a creative environment which naturally lead them to study in areas of design, photography, marketing and production. It made sense to come together to compliment each other and produce a brand, which can be developed in today’s market. The brand name comes from a family name. Collectively we are Alfie Douglas.

PN: So you had a name and individual creative skills, how did you get started?
AD: We identified a niche in the growing demand for smaller specialist manufacturers who design and manufacture their own original products in their country of origin. We wanted to produce high quality goods, which combined all our creative skills within the family.  We never limited our opportunities within this idea. As a brand we launched with a range of leather bags, cases and accessories but there are plans to develop further complementary products in shoes and clothing adopting these same principles.

PN: How have you combined all of your unique skills and applied them to the brand?
AD: I think the combined creative skills of our team is what differs Alfie Douglas from existing fashion brands. By combining traditional manufacturing techniques with modern marketing and brand design, we have produced a current yet timeless product that connects to a mass audience.

PN: What have been some of the challenges in setting up your own label so far; as a family have their been any clashes?
AD: We have been very surprised at how enthusiastic everybody has been towards the AD concept and brand, both from within the trade, the retail customers and the direct customers. There are many challenges, the key ones being maintaining consistent high quality and scalable production, sourcing the right materials and the long times and seasonality of the market place where we are currently preparing for SS15.

As any new business is a challenge, mixing family into the equation was always a further challenge. However it was something that fell into place, something we all could find a common ground in and get excited about. It felt natural to combine our creative skills into a business and develop it into the best it could be which we we’re all happy with. In terms of clashes, we each have our individual projects and personal work, which allows us to be inspired and refresh our mind otherwise, so we are never on top of each other in a work environment. It’s comforting to have the support of the family in a business, which we are all a part of.


PN: I know all of your beautifully crafted products are handmade in England, is this something you would ever compromise?
AD: Very important. Handmade in England is a key feature to our brand and to what our customers buy into. It has become very popular to the overseas consumers and reflects the quality of goods that we produce and shows that people are looking to England for these quality goods. We want to stay away from overseas manufacturing that a lot of major luxury brands do, simply so we can keep it close to home, keep it handmade and close to the individuals that make them.

Manufacturing in recent times has become the most challenging aspects of a business. With our products in high demand, each being hand made to order we have come to realise our vast range and variety of products is something harder to manage in such a small team. We aim to build up our own production team, which can allow us to manage the quality of the product throughout its manufacturing process – of course all in England.

PN: Describe your design process?
AD: Our bags are made from a very small range of components, which are common to all of our products. The shape and size of each component has been designed to fit with every other shape. In effect we have a kind of construction set, simple building blocks that we can combine and create an almost limitless variety of bags and sizes. From this process each design is altered and developed from various factors. The products ease of use, the feel and texture of the materials, accurate sizing in relation to technology products, and overall visual aesthetic are all factors that create our finalised designs. Our designs have always fitted into this minimal category trend, not specific to only its appearance but for the practicality and simplicity of the product, which as a result created a beautiful design.

PN: Starting out with bags, what did you feel was missing on the accessories scene?
AD: We are a unisex brand who aim to produce products that fit into your lifestyle with practical and minimal design. We felt that not many accessory brands carried this unisex approach. When we first started, the existing high-end bags in the female market, in our opinion, nurtured over-elaborate designs, excessive branding and clashes of colours and fittings. The male bag and accessory market was almost non-existent carrying very dated and old-fashioned designs. We wanted to modernise this scene and strip back to the basics.

It is only recently we noticed the growth in this minimalistic trend in which many high-end brands are now adapting to. With many of our bags converting from a shoulder bag to a backpack, we feel this is a feature missing in the busy lifestyle that our audiences carry. We produce for ease and practicality, not specific to a trend, but a product to stand its place in time.


PN: I love your passion for outstanding, do you find that today fashion has become less about quality and more about quantity?
AD: We believe that time is slowly passing, specifically in the bag/accessories market. The growth of handmade quality materials, which are economically sourced, are just as highly appreciated and respected in fashion and are becoming more popular than ever. All of our products are made from expensive materials. The materials are expensive because they are made to high specifications. The end result is high quality product that will last for a lifetime; spread over that lifetime the cost becomes reduced considerably.

PN: Initially, you launched via a series of pop-up shops, what made you take this approach?
AD: We originally had a soft launch online last November. We didn’t want to go straight in at the deep end; in hindsight it was a sensible decision. This allowed us to get an idea of what was working not only for the consumers, but also for ourselves in a manageable environment. All of the advertising and marketing ran via social media and what a huge impact that is for any business in this current time. We surprised ourselves at how much the brand was growing online alone. This gave us confidence that there was a gap for us in the market and it was working. We realised that for a new brand, an unknown name, it was only obvious that our audience needed to see our products first hand before investing.

A pop-up was a perfect opportunity to introduce our products to our existing followers and new consumers. It was important that our quality brand matched our quality products on our website and that people could see and feel this for themselves. So far we have had weekend pop-ups in East and West London and are currently looking for a new area in London for the next one. This will become a common feature throughout this year, to possibly eventually lead to a permanent retail store.

PN: How important is social media to your work?
AD: Hugely important. Without it, Alfie Douglas would hardly have an existence. It allows us first hand to communicate and share with our consumers anything new, which we feel is very important. It gives them instant access to our whereabouts and behind the scenes imagery are the types of features we want our consumers to feel apart of.  It is probably the only way to really involve our audience into our handmade process. It always fascinates us looking back onto where it began and is also nice way to follow the progression of the Alfie Douglas existence throughout the past year. The huge amount of support and positive feedback on social media is what motivates and inspires us. [Follow AD here: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram]

PN: Any other sources of inspiration?
AD: With all of our creative, design related minds we tend to find inspirational features in most of our daily routines. We try to keep our imagery fresh, for example our Tumblr page and Instagram feed, which both involve behind the scenes imagery, object design and our creative activities.

PN: Do you have any plans for LFW this September?
AD: Not at present. We do aim to have some AD presence this year.


PN: What are you working on next?
AD: Moving the business operations to London – studio design and production, showroom and workshops. We are working on developing seasonal ranges and concept ideas. We have in recent times experimented with a concept range reflecting shapes. We feel it is important to constantly be developing and inspiring ourselves with new ideas in pursuing our brand. We are in the process of restyling our website, which will include new photography; videos and a new look book in a more conventional, practical approach. We recently tested a ‘build your own bag’ service at our last pop-up, which allowed customers to customise their bag through choice of leathers, fittings and sizes. This proved to be very popular and is a service we are considering for the near future. The ideas and progression is endless. Still being very fresh to the public as a brand, we hope to become established for our unique and innovative approach, reflecting quality and style.

- Hardeep Gill


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