10 Questions for E.L.V. DENIM Founder Anna Foster

All Images: E.L.V. DENIM

Creating an instantly recognisable, stylish and waste free product might sound like an impossible task, by Stylist Anna Foster nailed it when she founded E.L.V. DENIM. We asked her 10 Questions about manufacturing in London, saving waste and washing your jeans.

In 2018, a small British based upcycling brand started getting a lot of attention. Anna Foster, who has been a renowned fashion stylist for 20 years, launched her exciting denim label E.L.V. DENIM to the delight of many an influencer. Those distinctive contrasting, spliced jeans were everywhere. Fitted perfectly at the waist, the Straight Leg jean was the only jean to be seen wearing. Nearly 4 years on and Anna has collaborated with exciting brands like Swarovski and Hyundai to put the issue of waste and recycling in fashion at the fore. 

Her distinctive and achingly cool designs are still as sought after today as they were when the brand first launched. The name stands for East London Vintage Denim because everything is designed and made within a 5 mile radius of East London. Using only upcycled denim that she sources herself, Anna has partnered with the famous Blackhorse Lane Atelier who expertly make every piece a reality. The brand is completely waste free. Anna tells us about how she innovates each style based on how much of the denim she can reuse. Earlier this year, the brand was shortlisted for the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund 2021, an incredible endorsement for a zero waste fashion brand.

The Vendeur: When conceiving a sustainable range of clothing, why was it denim that spoke to you specifically?

Anna Foster: When I started research into launching the brand, the environmental statistics around cotton, specifically denim were shocking. On the one hand you have a garment which is massively over produced. Newsweek stated in 2019 that 5 billion pairs of jeans are produced each year, and when compared to the world population of 8 billion it only takes a quick sum to figure out that there really are more jeans than people in the world. Then when you consider that it takes 10,000 litres of water to produce one new pair of jeans, the same amount one person drinks in 13 years …. well for me sustainability was the only option. I knew it was really important, and possible, to make as much of that existing denim material viable again as possible. To right the wrongs of the past in a positive way.

10 Questions for E.L.V. DENIM Founder Anna Foster

TV: What gave you the inspiration to create the now iconic E.L.V. DENIM style?

AF: The initial concept was to take unwanted vintage jeans and splice them with another pair, ensuring that each pair of jeans is entirely unique and minimises waste. Sustainability is the ultimate part of what I do, but we live in a very aesthetic world. So a successful brand has to carefully marry the two of them together, otherwise we are just creating more waste. E.L.V. DENIM jeans had to be desirable as well as environmentally conscious. I like to think I have ticked both boxes!

10 Questions for E.L.V. DENIM Founder Anna Foster Upcycled Straight Leg Jeans

TV: You definitely have. How did your partnership with your manufacturer at Blackhorse Lane Atelier come about and had you always wanted to produce your product in London?

AF: As a British brand I felt it was my duty to produce in the UK, supporting the garment manufacturing industry here that is once more growing again. This decision also came from a point of common sense. Why produce abroad if you have the option to produce here? It might be cheaper per garment, but that cost is quickly overshadowed by the knowledge that firstly you are a small but important part of re-establishing the manufacturing industry. Secondly you are ensuring that the workers are treated and paid properly, and thirdly, you have a really positive relationship with the individuals making your product. When I was introduced to Han and the team at Blackhorse Lane, I didn’t look any further. When you have like minded values, you know it’s a perfect match.

TV: You’ve collaborated on design projects with Swarovski and Hyundai in the past, creating pieces that challenge the practical notion of denim. What were the inspirations behind these collaborations?

AF: It’s always from a point of waste. Working with both of these companies was an incredible opportunity. With Hyundai, they go to such lengths to upcycle 80% of materials into new cars. When they reached out, it was so important to learn that this project was going to create desirable items that were able to be sold. Designing garments just for the sake of it goes against everything the brand stands for. All the pieces sold out with the proceeds going to the British Fashion Council’s Covid relief fund, proving once again that with a little more thought, waste can be beautiful.

With the Swarovski collaboration, it came from a slightly different perspective but with the same ethos in mind. They have crystals returned from previous clients which are considered deadstock and can’t be used again as they are such small quantities. I created a small capsule collection, that can’t be repeated. Once it’s gone… it’s gone! It’s a very positive way of using the deadstock, and also supporting young brands who are able once again to use waste in a positive way.

TV: You hand select the preloved jeans and pair them before they are created, do you think this slow and beautiful act of labour adds to the story of each item you create?

AF: Without a doubt. Each jean is washed by a local laundrette, and then is graded by the two of us in the studio. In theory, it should be really quick to match jeans, but we spend a long time making sure that each jean has its perfect match. It does take longer but I believe that this really means that you have a pair of jeans which, as you say, is a labour of love, and means they are as unique as the person who wears them.

10 Questions for E.L.V. DENIM Founder Anna Foster Upcycled Denim

Unlike traditional design when you create and then find the material, I design from a point of waste.” – Anna Foster

TV: How does the condition or style of the items you find inform the design?

AF: When I started the brand, the ideal scenario was that two vintage jeans (regardless of brand or size) became two E.L.V. DENIM jeans and ‘The Straight Leg’ was born. Then I found more and more jeans with damage on either the outside or the inside, and I created ‘The Boyfriend’ and ‘The Flare’ jean using the undamaged sides. Jeans which are damaged on the legs become shorts and the scraps become bags, belts and scrunchies. Unlike traditional design when you create and then find the material, I design from a point of waste. I look at the existing garment and work out what can be created from that. It’s challenging but when you find a solution the feeling is wonderful!

10 Questions for E.L.V. DENIM Founder Anna Foster Upcycled Denim Jumpsuit

TV: The Classic Jumpsuit is your latest product using 46 pieces of denim offcuts, do you have more styles planned that utilise the smaller waste pieces?

AF: Ah yes, the jumpsuit – I LOVE this piece. I was finding more and more jeans that were too damaged on the front to create an E.L.V. DENIM jean, but the back was in great condition. Unfortunately, jeans like these often end up in landfill, so I created the jumpsuit with this in mind, using all the denim from the backs of these jeans. All these particular styles are hand cut and sewn and made to order. We do deliberate quite a lot over the material used, I want to make sure each one is perfect. I am launching a dress later this year with the same concept.

TV: How is your eco consciousness extended across the hardware, trimmings and packaging?

AF: It’s really important to show 100% commitment to sustainability, and by sourcing all the trims and packaging from like minded suppliers, we ensure that we are providing a garment which lives up to the values we uphold. Our entire transparent supply chain is on our website as I feel we have a duty to make this visible to the customer.

“We have to truly consider everything that we throw away, away is not a place!” – Anna Foster

TV: You’ve worked in fashion for a number of years as a stylist, how have you seen the landscape of sustainability in the industry change?

AF: As an industry on the whole, I feel we were just blinded by the need for newness without even questioning how it was made. Therefore we never even thought how we could reduce the environmental and social costs. Certainly, as a stylist for the last 20 years I am equally guilty of this. Even as recently as 2017, when I started work on E.L.V. DENIM, relatively few were talking about sustainability. People such as Orsola De Castro and Tamsin Blanchard (who I have nothing but personal admiration for) had been speaking out for decades on the subject. Now, it’s at the forefront of all conversations and rightly so. We all have to do our part within the industry and individually. When you are thinking about throwing something away, I urge everyone to consider if you can resell, reuse, upcycle or repair. Being a conscious consumer is not a quick fix,  a quick fix is putting things in the bin. We have to truly consider everything that we throw away, away is not a place!

10 Questions for E.L.V. DENIM Founder Anna Foster Swarovski Denim Jacket

TV: How do you recommend people take care of their denim in a way that’s planet friendly but also helps with jeans last longer?

AF: If your denim is filthy, then jeans need to be washed, but you can consider the following options. Can they be sponged down? Do they just need airing? Or if they do need washing make sure they are not washed on their own. Purchasing a steamer is a long- term investment for any clothes. The hot steam kills bacteria and will maintain longevity in the colour and material as well as protecting the environment against unnecessary washing.

Disclaimer: The people and models in the images featured are not associated with The Vendeur and do not endorse it or the products shown. This post may contain affiliate links. Prices correct at time of publishing.

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