Liz Alig: The Fashion Forward, Fair Trade Brand
A few years ago, a surprise care package arrived at my front door that would not only introduce me to a new ethically made fashion brand, but would change the way I looked at repurposed materials. My mom had thoughtfully curated a clothing item that she knew I would love and that matched my newfound journey of changing my purchasing habits. Excitedly ripping through the tissue paper around the garments, I found a pale blue, 1950's inspired dress with pleats and a the loveliest strappy back and button waist. The hour-glass silhouette was balanced by the lightest, softest material -- and to my sweet surprise was handmade by women entrepreneurs in Ghana, Africa using fabric from recycled flour sacks. It's truly my most loved, most worn and likely most complimented dress.
Perhaps the part I love the most about receiving that dress was knowing that it started from humble beginnings -- once just a vessel for carrying flour, new life had been breathed into it by talented artisans an ocean length away from me. So often materials are discarded, especially everyday items, and never given a second glance. Landfills and cities overflowing with materials that we see as waste, yet this one flour sack had not only provided employment for another woman, but was now hanging in my closet as a dress I will wear over and over.
This vision for repurposed clothing, that not only provides sustainable work, but also pushes the envelope in the fashion arena, is a mission that fashion designer and brand owner Elizabeth Alig knows all to well. After a trip to Kenya a few years ago, she started looking more closely at where her clothing was made and the impact it had on others. From this experience and her background in fashion design, her brand Liz Alig was born. She wrote this on her website, and I loved the message:
"I realized that maybe the production of our clothing with small fair trade cooperatives could give women in developing countries an education which in turn could give them a source of income, which in turn would give their children a better education. Maybe the production of our clothing could be a key in helping whole communities out of poverty."
Now a few years into business, Elizabeth has created numerous, fashion-forward pieces through her work with more than 10 fair trade cooperatives, NGOs and workshops around the world. Many of her designs use recycled or repurposed textiles, making every item truly unique and one of a kind.
I recently received the Juli dress from the Liz Alig Summer '18 line, and have modeled it throughout these photos -- it's dreamy, lightweight and the perfect summer or even fall-transition piece. Also, it's not maternity (haha!), but its flowy nature and forgiving fabric made it a great addition to my closet that I can wear now and well beyond my belly days. The Juli dress caught my eye, because of it's Meixcan-manta inspired look and recycled denim fabric -- the piece was thoughtfully made in Guatemala!
We were able to chat with Elizabeth about her work, the latest collections and the inspiration and impact behind her business! We hope you enjoy our conversation below!
When did Liz Alig come to be, and what was the inspiration for creating a fair-trade line of clothing for women?
I started Liz Alig about eight years ago. At the time it was really only a Summer project after I had to leave Honduras because of a government coup d'etat - I had more time on my hands, so I experimented making a few dresses from recycled fabrics and sold them to local boutiques. I know this is not a normal thing to do when you have 'more time on your hands', but I was becoming increasingly more interested in fair trade after working in Kenya, India, Honduras, so the idea to start a fair trade line had been forming in my head for years but the circumstances kind of forced me to try it for a minute. When these sold and people wanted more I started looking into producing them with fair trade groups.
It’s evident that the Liz Alig brand really strives to ensure that everything from the fabric used to the production of a garment is done thoughtfully and ethically. Why is this approach so important?
I think this part of fair trade is forgotten a lot of the time - especially when it was becoming popular a few years ago. If we can not only provide good jobs for the people who sew the clothes, but also the people who weave the fabric it has twice the impact!
Can you talk briefly about how you partner with other cooperatives around the world to sew your beautiful pieces?
We partner with about ten different small cooperatives around the world. Most of these are small groups of women sewing or weaving. Many of these groups we found through like minded NGOs and organizations that are giving (mostly) women the skills needed to help themselves out of poverty. For example they have free classes and programs or they give micro loans. Most of our partnerships we have had for over five years, when we partner with an organization, we are committed to helping them improve their skills and create designs that fit well in their context as well as making their traditional skills more marketable in a Western market. Our goal is to help these groups produce product for other companies so they can become self-sustaining.
One of your main partners, Mi Esperanza, is making an enormous impact in Honduras through empowering women in low income areas. Can you talk briefly about this partnership and the difference you’ve witnessed in their work?
Sure! I actually interned with this organization many years ago, so they are close to my heart : ) They produced my first collection and I have loved working alongside this organization as we have grown together. I think change is sometimes really hard to quantify, but I love stories of women who have been able to go back to school or add on to their homes because of their work, work that they were able to get after learning valuable skills from classes taught by Mi Esperanza.
With the many organizations that Liz Alig partners with, it’s evident that local artisan designs and skills are utilized throughout the process. Can you speak to a few of the countries that are represented in your collections, and some of the unique fabrics or techniques that have been used in those pieces?
Yeah, this is one of my goals when I designed new pieces - figuring out how to use a group's unique traditional skills and techniques in more updated designs. We use hand block printing from India, hand embroidery from Haiti, and hand weaving from Cambodia to name a few.
You recently launched some new pieces, and they are gorgeous! What was the inspiration from this particular line? Any favorite pieces from the collection?
I really love the pieces from the striped recycled denim fabric - it is such a good stripe! I get inspiration from everything - magazines, old clothes, travel. For this specific collection I got a lot of inspiration from my time in Mexico.
The Liz Alig brand offers everything from overalls and rompers, to dresses and tops -- there is a variety of pieces representing work from aristans around the world! You can shop Liz Alig pieces through their website -- (they currently have a summer sale running for an extra 25%, but if you miss it, there are sales throughout the year, so definitely subscribe to their newsletter!).