Lea Wieser’s background is in journalism and research. She has always had an interest in the harmful effects that humanity has on the environment, which explains why, when she launched Arkitaip just two months ago, she was ready to answer any possible questions surrounding its roots in sustainability.
It’s rare that a label so visually on-trend would place its main focus on the timely and relevant topic of sustainability. In fact, upon talking to Lea, it becomes clear that aesthetics are very much a secondary priority for her. ‘If I put a product in an oversaturated world it has to have a deeper meaning’, she says. ‘I want to provide an alternative to fast fashion instead of judging from the outside. It’s easy to say that brands should produce more sustainably but I wanted to actually do something about it.’
Lea’s dream is not actually to own a fashion label – although it’s something that she clearly feels passionately about – but to host talks and events to educate people on the effects that throw-away fashion is having on our planet. For now, though, she’s concentrating on Arkitaip, an idea that started four years ago when she came across a vintage photograph of her mother wearing a crochet bikini that she’d made herself. ‘She’s a cool mum’ she says, ‘so I asked her to make me a similar bikini and it became the item in my wardrobe that all my friends were asking about. It took me three years to convince her to do something with her skill, and in April 2017 I pitched my idea to her properly before she finally bought into it.’
But it’s the sustainable values that define Arktiap as a brand. ‘From how the crop is grown to the final product, everything has been produced in the most environmentally friendly way possible and I plan to be completely transparent about the processes that I use,’ Lea says. The result? Timeless designs that are intended to be passed down from mother to daughter.
The sentimental aspect of the brand runs deeper, too, as it’s not just Lea’s mother who has influenced her creativity over the years. ‘All designs are inspired by and named after the women in my family’ she says, ‘I take inspiration from their wardrobes – my grandmother, for example, has a very specific and quite an eccentric sense of style. She runs a restaurant in Austria and she wears a lot of folkloric dresses.’ Arkitaip’s factory in Porto is similarly family orientated. It’s run by a mother-daughter partnership with just a handful of additional employees who work with Lea to perfect her designs. ‘I can’t actually draw so I describe what I’m visualising to someone else to sketch. I always have the fabrication in mind first because it influences the drape of the piece and it might affect where I put a seam or a sleeve.’
Fabrication choice is a key part of what makes a fashion label sustainable, and the Arkitaip linen is sourced from a select few European stockists. ‘When you’re looking for linen that has been grown and woven solely in Europe, and suppliers that have the certificates to prove it, there aren’t many places to choose from. I’ve found three mills; one in the Czech Republic, one in Austria where everything is organically grown, and one in Italy. I’ve met the owners and I trust them.’
Mainline collection aside, the swimwear too is made from 80% recycled linen and is lined with polyester that’s been made from recycled ocean debris. Any leftover fabric is made into scrunchies and business cards are all made from recycled cotton. ‘We never use plastic for packaging either’ says Lea, ‘It costs the business more but I really believe you’ve got to live and breathe the sustainability badge as much as you can. We still have a lot to work on.’
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But with success comes growth, and you might wonder how realistic it is that these brand values are maintained over time. Surely there’s only a certain number of bikinis that one woman can crochet to supply increasing levels of demand? ‘I think it’s important that we always stay niche to some extent. Of course it would be amazing to grow but I don’t think you always need to change your business model to do so. At the moment, I’d like to think that I’d compromise on growth in order to maintain my key core values but an increase in demand (and profit) could have positive effects on the supply chain and it might enable me to research different dyeing techniques. Growth for the sake of making a bigger impact and spreading the message is more appealing to me than for getting my name out there.’
So while Arkitaip appears from the outside to be a stylish, somewhat bohemian summer label, there’s a message with a meaning behind its presence on the market. Currently available to buy online (and delivered in plastic-free packaging) but set to take up residency on Redchurch Street for a week, it’s only a matter of time until the word gets out about the brand.
The Arkitaip pop-up store will run between May 25–30 at 30 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DP.