As part of our founder series, we speak with Lucy on how her love for travel and fighting poverty led to Aspiga.
You began Aspiga after finding beautifully crafted sandals in Kenya. Why was it important to you to share what you had found with a wider market?
I thought they were beautiful and incredibly well made. I really believed that people back in the UK would love them, and if I got some sales it would help to give some of the wonderful local people a steady income. I’m passionate about fighting poverty. I realised I could provide much needed jobs to local men and women in Africa, whilst also keeping their artisanal traditions alive. After two years of research and development, I launched them to the trade in London. They were snapped up by 40 stockists including Fenwick of Bond Street. I was thrilled and at this point left my job to work full time on Aspiga.
Your background is in the charity sector and philanthropy, why did you decide to make the move to growing a sustainable fashion brand?
I always wanted to set up a business and work for myself. But, at the same time I wanted to make sure that it also would be a business that would give back. So when I found the sandals, I realised there was a gap in the market back here in the UK. I saw this as the perfect opportunity. Since then I have also started fund-raising for an orphanage in North Kenya.
How important are the artisan’s stories to the brand?
Their stories are very important as they are the lifeblood of the brand. Without them there would be no Aspiga. I am thrilled that so many of them support their extended families using their income from supplying to us. To be in partnership with these talented artisans and see their businesses grow is my greatest achievement.
What inspired you to start the ‘Beach Clean Up’ campaign?
When I was out in Kenya in January 2018 , we went for a walk on the beach by the Marine park. One end was just full of plastic waste and plastic bottles. The beach was absolutely covered with them. It was a sight that I found really upsetting. However, it wasn't until I was out visiting my suppliers in April that I came up with the idea to do the Clean Up. I didn't sleep the whole night, I was so excited!
How is the campaign benefitting the communities around Malindi Beach?
At present it is helping to clean the beaches, by making them more tourist friendly and a better environment for the people that live there. However, shortly we might start doing more of a clean up around the town too as there is still a lot of rubbish dumped around the region. Another benefit is that the kids who are doing the beach clean up are enjoying being involved in the project and supporting their community.
Why was it important to you to include your customers in the campaign by collecting one basket of waste for every pair of sandals sold?
It’s important for us to continually communicate our values to our customers as that is the bedrock of the whole brand and why our customers shop with us. It’s also great for our customers to feel directly part of the initiative too as many feel powerless to help power communities. By purchasing a pair of sandals, not only are they contributing to an artisans income and helping them to keep using their skills, but they are also benefitting the artisan's environment.
What will happen to the waste that is collected?
They will take anything they collect to the recycling dump in the town. Kenya is moving forward with recycling and cleaning up so they do now have processes in place, which is great.
How does Aspiga avoid plastic in their day to day business?
No one on the team buys water in plastic bottles. We all have a Swell Water Bottles on our desks that we refill instead. We also ask our suppliers to send all our samples without plastic bags to avoid unnecessary packaging waste. Additionally, we have recently switched from sending out our goods in plastic mailing bags to paper bags and boxes. We have a ways to go yet but at every chance we get we are eliminating plastic from our business.
Do you think the public's appetite for handmade fashion and accessories is increasing?
I really believe that handmade fashion and accessories are growing in popularity. More and more people are realising the impact of fast fashion and learning to appreciate the beauty of what artisans can do. Our products are made to last, which our customers know. Our sandals last for more than just a summer. By sharing our artisan's stories our customer feels closer to the process too.
You’ve grown the business from sandals to include a range of accessories and more recently a linen collection and beachwear, what's next for Aspiga?
I think for now, that's it for this year. We have really had our hands full the last few months with the Clean Up and our recent Pop Up shop in London which was a great success. We will be focusing on new designs in the existing categories next year.