Alisdair Irvine’s story, as previously reported in Men’s Magazine, Desire Homme, is not that of a typical fashionista, he’s no product of Central St Martins or any of the other colleges that nurture the next big name in the world of design.
He’s an East End comprehensive school boy where the only artists he knew were dab hands at grafitti (before that, too, became fashionable).
His speciality is beautifully designed shirts, but as a kid, the only tops worn by him and his mates were the claret and blue of West Ham United and up until 18 months ago, Alisdair Irvine wasn’t a retailer at all.
When he quit school, he got a job in the film industry and went on to work on everything from BAFTA winning movies to big budget commercials for Rolls-Royce, Johnny Walker, Volkswagen and VisitBritain.
For years, he was running his own successful film production company. But then something happened. Although he loved the craft of film-making, he realised there was something else he needed to be doing, and 18 months ago, he decided to pursue his dream and start designing, making and selling shirts.
But, as Al told us, they’re no ordinary shirts. “I’ve been obsessed with floral shirts for 25 years or more. When I was travelling in the film business I always had my eye out for that special design. Then, about 18 months ago, I put my production company on hold, with the aim to be the only retailer in the world who specialised in floral shirts. I was going to sell the kind of bold and beautiful designs that were not available anywhere else. Friends thought he was mad. But Al had the determination to break free and do his own thing.
Crucially for Al doing his own thing meant, making sure that everyone benefited. This covered the people who wore the shirts and those who made them. He found the perfect partner in Keren Long – the CEO of Ethical Apparel Africa.
Karen and her team have dedicated their careers to establishing ethically run factories in emerging markets. Al explains, “This is exactly what I was looking for; a partner who can produce top quality products and guarantee that those who are making my shirts enjoy the highest standards of working conditions, training and education opportunities, good wages and employee rights.”
Not that it has all been plain sailing, as Al found out when he flew out to Benin in West Africa to oversee the arrival of his bulk fabric from India and witness the making of the first Irvine Shirt. “The first whole print run was a dud, as the material looked like it had been washed 100 times. I recall looking at the useless material and thinking I’d travelled thousands of miles to come here, full of optimism and energy, and in five seconds all that had gone.”
Maybe it was then that Al’s gritty East End upbringing kicked in, because after a momentary wobble, he set about working on Plan B with Keren’s team at Ethical Apparel Africa.
“Back in the UK, I passed a little pop-up shop selling gorgeous little dresses for girls, in tiny floral designs. Of course, there it was right before me. Why don’t we turn my fabric into dresses and shirts for kids in Benin? I would pay for the production, and Keren and her team would contact the local orphanages and work on the numbers. So, in the end some good came out of the disaster. We are busy making 700 girls dresses and 700 shirts as well as bedsheets out of the rejected fabric.”
As we said at the start, not the story of a typical Fashionista or the typical start. And what should you take from this story? Well, don’t let setbacks get you down, be a risk-taker like Alisdair Irvine, stick at it. Not only does it make you a better, happier person, but others, like the orphans of Benin, benefit, too.
Irvine Shirts will soon be available for purchase online through www.irvineshirts.com.
Written by: Steve Harrison; Edited by: Your Letterbox Editorial Team.