They describe themselves as a streetwear brand, “created to express the free and nonconformist spirit of contemporary life,” with an Italian touch that provides the clothes with its signature “refined, casual and essential” style. Àlea mixes streetwear with luxury in their first collection, which has been fully produced in Italy.
Stefano, Vincenzo and Tatiana are the three co-founders of the brand, and each of them sustains a different pillar of the company. Their union leads to the creation of a probably very successful brand, as it unites some of the basics principles of what not only youth but also the fashion industry and the environment are claiming nowadays.
Àlea, the name of the brand, comes from Latin, and it literally means ‘taking a risk,’ which is exactly what these three entrepreneurs have done in the complicated scenario we’re living in. They have taken that into consideration by putting sustainability at the forefront of their philosophy. The industry has been thinking about a necessary change for way too long, but it seems that now, it has become a real urge.
But how will they approach this need? Basically, by reusing dead stock, producing garments with organic materials and following a trans-seasonal strategy to reduce the production of clothes over the course of a year – which is probably the most talked-about issue lately. As they say, “if a recently born brand like Àlea can afford the costs of totally green production, that could be possible for big Maisons as well.” They are brave, confident and ready to take part in this radical change that not only the fashion industry but our society at large needs.
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First of all, I’d like you to present yourself and your brand to our readers. What is Àlea about?
My name is Stefano Pugliese and I am the co-founder and CEO of Àlea, a streetwear brand created to express the free and nonconformist spirit of contemporary life through a new Made in Italy style – refined, casual and essential. Based on the principles of identity and simplification, Àlea’s creative approach evokes the origins of the casual look with an inverse meaning that aligns with the evolution of the times.
You are three co-founders. How do you work? What is each one’s role?
Vincenzo dedicates himself to the design of the brand, which sees him focus on the research of fabrics from some prominent names of international fashion such as Jil Sander, Giorgio Armani, Prada and Ermenegildo Zegna; Tatiana manages the commercial part by leveraging the specific sales skills gained at the New Guards Group; I have an ‘economic approach’ to this project. Actually, I take care of the management and marketing strategies. I do not have a specific background in the fashion industry but I bring to the project my strategic knowledge of the start-up landscape and a personal passion for haute couture.
Despite our different professional backgrounds, our working method is based on sharing (ideas, opinions, suggestions, etc.), which means that everyone has the power to make changes anytime. For example, even in the strategic-financial decisions, I find fundamental the opinion of my two partners. In general, it is the same for everything, we love working in synergy!
Where does the name come from? What’s the influence behind it?
Àlea comes from Latin and means ‘taking a risk’. Such name derives from our hazardous decision to approach an already saturated streetwear market by launching a new product able to talk to young generations.
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You present yourselves as a streetwear luxury brand. In which way are you streetwear and what are the qualities that define you as a luxury brand?
We say streetwear but, in some respects, we are more than that – in fact, all the pants line is workwear style. The top wear is composed of t-shirts and sweaters inspired by the casual look of hooligans subculture in the ‘80s and ‘90s. For us, luxury is not just something related to high quality but also all the values strictly connected to the brand itself.
For example, contributing to local production – the brand is fully produced in Italy. The major part of it is manufactured in the south (where Àlea originates) to support local suppliers and production facilities. Moreover, sustainability is one of our fundamentals, and today, more than ever, sensitizing final costumers to a conscious behaviour gets relevant, especially for the next generations.
Streetwear is an already saturated market nowadays. It burst into the luxury market and changed the rules of the game. The upper class is not influencing anymore, quiet the other way around. How do you value this change? And do you think there could be an ethic issue when luxury appropriates street symbols and style?
In an interview with Dazed magazine, Virgil Abloh declared that streetwear is “definitely going to die” but, in our humble opinion, it is going to evolve in new shapes. We strongly believe that it already started a transversely ‘exploring process’ through all the targets. Streetwear style is not chained to a specific cluster but it is the sense of belonging to a community, the street subculture, and that breaks the walls between all social classes.
Even though you are a streetwear brand, you also say that you are keeping this classic and refined Italian style. How do you combine both?
Our style is stylistically influenced by a designer professional background, so we build garments with the same precision and attention required for the prêt-à-porter. For example, we print directly on the fabric and not on the finished garment, which is a process typically used for prêt-à-porter, and it gives a totally different finish to the product.
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You address those who are “always ready to take risks” and to those “who go beyond predefined labels, defying the rules and conventions.” In which ways does your brand reflect all of these values?
These values can be summarized with a message: don’t follow the crowd, be different. As outlined before, our streetwear way aims to communicate values, we are not born because a rapper or a contemporary icon made a selfie wearing our garments. Àlea’s goal would be to create a community of people who share these values.
Let’s talk about sustainability. How important do you think it is for fashion brands to have this in mind? Was it one of your main purposes when creating the brand or is it something that came afterwards as a necessary complement?
We are an emerging brand and, of course, our sustainable production processes will not fix the climate change problem, but our effort could be a signal to the whole fashion industry to go in this direction. Actually, if a recently born brand like Àlea can afford the costs of totally green production, that could be possible for big Maisons as well. This mindset has been a pillar for us since we started building the foundations of the project.
In which ways are you approaching sustainability? I’ve read you are working on recyclable products, but I am also interested in how are you going to work in terms of seasons, sourcing, producing, shipping, etc.
We have two ways to be sustainable: the first (and also the most relevant) is recovering garments from dead stock – for example, this season, all the pants come from dead stock. We believe that true sustainability can only be obtained by using what already exists in the environment, in the form of waste, giving it a second life and opportunity for use. It’s no coincidence that the recovery of dead stock among the most significant supply channels is a fundamental resource that in the near future will lead the brand to expand its range of products to include outerwear and knitwear.
The second way to be sustainable concerns all the other garments. Actually, the top wear line is made of 100% organic cotton and certified GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). Moreover, all the inkjet prints are made on fabrics with the latest machinery, which uses only the ink needed to finish the garment, avoiding excessive ink leaks. In terms of seasons, we are adopting a trans-seasonal strategy for our collections, which reduces the constant production of garments during the year.
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Let’s focus on the aesthetics and inspiration behind your first collection. How would you define your brand in aesthetic terms?
The quality of the fabrics and the manufacturing techniques project the forms, stylistic traits and patterns of the ‘50s, ‘80s and ‘90s in a digital and contemporary dimension. A dimension in which cyber graphics and colour stripes become iconic and immediately recognizable elements to break and enhance an equally impacting chromatic rhythm, in balance between nature and an urban context. The inspiration of the first collection starts from the rebels without a cause, represented by the English hooligans who used to wear casual clothes to disperse among the crowd. The casual of Àlea presents a current portrait of the new conscious rebel, or the young people who return to streetwear as a thing of worship to reaffirm one’s freedom of movement, style and thought.
Who is the person wearing Àlea?
Àlea dresses those who are able to cross modernity lucidly without conforming to univocal trends, without overexposing themselves, therefore choosing the path of essentiality and authenticity as a background of personal expression.
I would like to ask about the location where you shot your Fall/Winter 2020 campaign. It is kind of an industrial and austere space. Why did you choose it?
The location is an abandoned mall garage in the suburbs of Bari, the hometown of the brand. We chose it because of the geometric qualities of the structure and the road signs. We thought it had very harmonic vibes with the collection.
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The edition of the pictures is also quite interesting. You are using geometrical figures through the juxtaposition of pictures and colours. What’s the inspiration behind it?
That was Vincenzo’s bizarre but brilliant idea. It is inspired by the classic solitaire PC game of the ‘90s – when you won the solitaire, all the cards started falling together creating that waterfall pattern.
You are a genderless brand. Is the future of fashion to make no difference between genders? Actually, clothes are one of the most powerful tools to define who we are, so it definitely shouldn’t distinguish between genders but between people. Do you agree?
Yes, the garments are designed to fit both men and women’s bodies. We like to define Àlea as gender fluid. There isn’t a marketing strategy behind this decision, it came spontaneously. Actually, we don’t make any difference between genders and, esthetically speaking (in our humble opinion), Àlea’s outfits fit any gender perfectly.
You use forms, silhouettes and patterns reminiscent of past times, like the ‘50s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, “in a digital and contemporary dimension,” as you say. How important is it for you to look back in time to create in fashion?
We think that history and the culture of the past are two basics to make a new brand. We took some details from those different and specific periods because we strongly believe that they can be connected by an aesthetic fil rouge and reinterpreted through a digital and modern vision. In fashion, it is almost impossible to find something new, so designers make their research from past styles to extrapolate a personal interpretation of them. Our most valuable sources of inspiration are subcultures because independent communities were born among those social movements.
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And how difficult is it to combine past inspirations with the contemporary?
I think it isn’t difficult but strictly connected to the creativity and imagination of the designer. It gets difficult or impossible when the designer lacks one or both of them.
Your brand comes out in a definitely tough scenario. You presented your debut collection at Paris Fashion Week earlier in February. How are you planning to go through all of these complications that might appear in the industry? Have you been able to produce this first collection for clients?
Now we are living an uncertain period, and making investments could be self-defeating for the brand, so we are focusing on communication and side projects that can improve brand awareness. Despite the great feedback we received from the buyers during the fashion weeks in Paris and Milan, our clients preferred to freeze the orders because, of course, it was too risky for them to invest on an emerging brand during this global emergency context.
And finally, I would like to ask you about how do you think the current world crisis is going to affect the fashion industry and how is it going to affect you as a brand.
I personally see these recent events as an imaginary rubber made for cancelling the past to introduce a new beginning for the entire humanity. The price to pay is bankruptcy for many companies. The fashion industry has now the chance to evolve into something more conscious and ethical, many brands as Gucci are already reacting in that sense by introducing seasonless collections twice a year to reduce overproduction.
Regarding our brand, the current crisis will motivate us to research new ways to be sustainable, and make new initiatives that involve other sectors too (not only fashion). We feel positive and confident to take part in this change.
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