The very talented Ellie Tsatsou captured the natural light and rawness of our new studio and work process during a recent studio visit for The Independent Map Co.
Handmade by a family of creatives, British unisex label Alfie Douglas design and make simple, minimalistic leather goods in England. Their well-considered selection of oversized totes, backpacks, duffle bags and accessories all bridge the gap between functionality and elegance, using premium leathers sourced from around the world. Each Alfie Douglas product is original, ingeniously designed to remain timeless by its high specification and paired back aesthetic.
Founded in 2013 by husband-and-wife duo Simon and Davida Hadden, the Alfie Douglas label quickly expanded to include their four daughters; Emily, Georgina, Jessica and Charlotte, all of which have followed in their parents creative footsteps. The Hadden's authentic approach combining quality with design to create practical yet minimal leather luggage, all handmade in the UK is both revitalising and rare. Opting against overseas manufacturing isn't the only asses that makes Alfie Douglas stand out amongst its luxury bag-maker counterparts, the honesty and rawness of working together as a family is translatable into their products.
While Simon and Davida undertake the design processes, manufacturing and development of the label, their daughters are responsible for the brand image, photography, marketing and social media which includes the website and in-house publication AD - ON. Collectively, the Hadden's understand the importance of their products longevity; their designs are purposeful and the use of leather ensures each product will age differently, gaining its own character over time.
Located West of Central London is Alfie Douglas’ studio, a harmonious workspace in the Enterprise House, a Grade II-listed building that was formerly a gramophone factory. Appreciating that investment can take time, the Alfie Douglas workspace includes a by-appointment-only showspace where customers can visit and see where the Hadden's design and make their products. Inside, the naturally lit showspace mirrors the labels concept of simple, minimal and functional design; designed by the Hadden's using economically sourced, raw materials to create the ideal setting to present their collections having previously hosted selected pop-up events at the Truman Brewery in London's East End and the gallery space at Sheridan & Co in Marylebone, West London.
LF: How did Alfie Douglas begin?
AD:The original concept was developed by Simon & Davida Hadden around 3 years ago. 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 developing 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 all come together to complement each other and produce a brand which can be developed into today’s market.
LF: Is there a story behind the brands name?
AD: The brand name comes from a family name. As a team we are Alfie Douglas.
LF: What's everyone's professional backgrounds?
AD: We have backgrounds in retailing, product development and production with a studied background in graphics, photography and fashion. The combined creative skill of our team differentiates Alfie Douglas from existing fashion brands. By combining traditional manufacturing techniques with modern marketing and brand design, we’re able to produce current yet timeless products while connecting to a mass audience.
It's not a label created by a single fashion designer, it's a brand by a team of creatives. Alfie Douglas can develop into further design and fashion sectors and is something we can contribute and relate to as individuals. Alfie Douglas is accessible, practical and simple in each aesthetic; it’s these attributes which we carry throughout our branding, design, manufacturing and our image as a whole.
LF: Who is responsible to what in terms of the general running of the company? (Design, manufacture, photography, branding etc)
AD: We all have our own specialist roles in the company, however we always overlap and interact with each other’s ideas. We are still a growing business and with our small-dedicated team we motivate one another in each sector. The design very much comes together in a group discussion which is great, as we can mock up a product sample in production within that same day of designing, which can be altered and developed immediately from its designs.
It’s key for us to keep everything in house and under one roof. It’s this combination which we feel is unique to us. We all get very much involved and it’s that strong involvement which creates a well-rounded product and image at the end.
LF: What was the first Alfie Douglas product ever designed?
AD: The first designs were created as far as 3 years ago. The ‘Alfie One’ was where it all began, hence the name. From that many others developed and we’ve gathered boxes of archived designs since.
LF: How would you describe the design approach to Alfie Douglas? Functional yet minimalistic?
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 simpleness of the product, which as a result created a beautifully developed overall design.
LF: Where does your inspiration come from?
AD: We want our products to last a lifetime, that means that designs need to pass the test of time and therefore to be ‘timeless’ in their appearance. It is only in recent times we have noticed the growth in this minimalistic trend in which many high-end brands are now adapting to.
This inspired us to create adaptable products which can convert to fit a lifestyle. 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.
We simply want to create bags that we like and that we would use.
LF: Where do you source your materials from?
AD: We believe in using the best materials and manufacturing locally. With our leathers sourced from Italy, UK and Belgium. All of our products are made from expensive materials. The highest possible quality in both our products and service is what we feel strongly about and is the key direction to move forward and grow into new projects.
LF: How important is 'made in England' to the brand?
AD: It’s 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.
LF: Do you only sell online? How do you approach the digital aspect of Alfie Douglas?
AD:Our online shop is our main marketing tool and is what represents the brand to a worldwide market. It allows us first hand to communicate and share with our consumers anything new, which we feel is very important. A sense of instancy to our whereabouts and behind the scenes imagery are features we want our consumers to feel apart of.
Our website allows visitors to book an appointment into our studios/showroom, to look, feel and learn about what we do. They get to explore an experience in an intimate environment into what is predominantly an online business. We want to expand ourselves further and give a closer connection to our consumers. This is the strongest way to really involve our audience into our handmade process.
It's very important for us to engage people through our social media platforms. We've now developed our distinctive style and it's nice to see people understanding and relating to that.
LF: Any collaborations or creative projects?
AD: Now we’re settled into our London studio we’re ready to take on the projects and collaborations that have been offered over the year. We like to work with people, products and styles that we like and from that want to create something unique. This is an area in process, one we are excited to step into.
LF: What's next for Alfie Douglas?
AD: Consolidating our business operations in our London studio, where we have our design studio, production, showroom and workshops. We're 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 constantly evolving our website, photography, videos and look books to reflect a conventional, practical approach.
We recently held a pop-up sample sale at our West London studio which carried an overwhelming response. We really want to share our process to our customers and invite them in to our a.d. world. This is an area where we feel we can offer a unique service, a personal service to create the perfect product to fit the individual. We don’t thrive to become mass market, we concentrate in keeping everything close to home and introduce consumers to what we believe in. We are also planning on setting up leather workshops in our studios not only to teach visitors our own skills and techniques but to expand and celebrate the growth in British craftsmanship.
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