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Following the announcement of the partnership between Coats and Annabelle Hope, we caught up with founder Alice Scott to discuss the extraordinary journey that has brought her brand to life whilst raising awareness around sustainable fashion and social responsibility within the garment industry.
First things first, how did it all start for Annabelle Hope?
Annabelle Hope was officially conceived when I was working for House of Fraser in the UK where I was inspired by the work of their Head of Sustainability. At the time I wanted to start a little business in the UK making girls dresses but instead I ended up in Cambodia as Head of the Technical team for Marks & Spencer. Soon after arriving, I met workers from the local orphanage down the street from our office. I soon found myself spending a lot of time there and I quickly developed a close bond with both the nuns and children there.
Everything changed for me on a day in November 2019. Read about the story behind the day I made the decision to start Annabelle Hope.
What happened next?
It was challenging setting up Annabelle Hope whilst holding down my full time job so when the Covid pandemic hit in March 2020 and I was made redundant, it gave me the opportunity to put all my time into making Annabelle Hope a successful sustainable clothing manufacturer. One of the main objectives and a big part of the ethos of the company is to create a safe environment for single mothers while making sustainable dresses. I went to see a few suppliers and NGOs around Phnom Penh but none of them were quite right for me, so I decided to start my own factory.
In October 2020, we opened our doors and started trading. We are now a small bespoke studio making ladies and girls dresses and due to increasing demand, some unisex childrenswear. We are collaborating with new partners and the business is beginning to flourish.
What’s the story behind the name Annabelle Hope?
I always wanted a daughter and I wanted to call her Hope but fate had other plans for me. The name Anna is a girl's name of Hebrew origin meaning ‘grace’ and Belle in French means ‘beauty’. So, Annabelle Hope symbolises the beauty of grace and hope. When you see how far our team here has come, Hope seems very fitting. Some of our staff didn’t have much hope, but to watch them thrive in this environment is beautiful. They now have a brighter future and that is down to Annabelle Hope. We are one big family and this is incredibly rewarding to all of us. Sometimes we have the children running around when childcare isn’t available and everyone looks after them. Our children come first, with sleep time on duvets we have made in my office - I certainly don’t know many companies where that is possible. Whilst we focus on the commercial aspect of the business, children are very much at the heart of Annabelle Hope.
Why is sustainability so important to you and Annabelle Hope?
I grew up on a cotton farm in South Africa. Issues such as sustainability and the dangers of pesticides were not high on the agenda back then. My father and some other local farmers, died of lung cancer, which may have been caused by crop spraying since aeroplanes would fly over the crops dropping pesticide on the fields.
I also believe we are destroying the planet for material gain. The drive behind Annabelle Hope is to make beautiful garments without having such a negative impact on the environment. We use Coats EcoVerde threads and all our labels are made from recycled plastic bottles. Our swing tickets are FSC certified with soya inks and our polybags are biodegradable.
I strongly believe that we, as brands and retailers, have a responsibility to educate our customers about sustainability. If we can inform them about ethical products that will last a lot longer than ten washes, they may think twice about buying that £2 t-shirt. I could easily source the fabric I use from anywhere in the world but Annabelle Hope is using remnant mass produced fabric from factories in Cambodia. In this way we are preventing fabric from landing up is some landfill in Africa – a big problem in this industry with 90% of fabrics not being reused.
How did the relationship with Coats start and which Coats products are you using?
I have known Adrian Elliott, President of Apparel and Footwear, for a long time from when I was working in the UK. I recently got in touch and told him about my plans for Annabelle Hope. With Coats having a sustainability focus, we immediately saw a clear alignment. We are now proudly using Coats Epic EcoVerde and Gramax EcoVerde threads and we have plans to trial another Coats sustainable thread later this year.
What has been the most fulfilling aspect of setting up Annabelle Hope?
There are so many things to be grateful for. The business is my family here and to see my dream and working with the local community come together has been extremely rewarding. I believe I am finally doing something good. I sold three dresses to some Japanese women the other day, which is very satisfying as I believe that they are buying into the ethos behind the brand – that of sustainability and responsible garment production. I now see many children wearing Annabelle Hope – in fact, our unisex Play Time trousers are always selling out. What is increasingly clear is that people are not only buying our garments, they are buying into a renewed concept of garment manufacturing and that is what Annabelle Hope is all about.
What is the best feature of Annabelle Hope products?
Our Elle dresses are designed to fit a growing child for two years. It’s going to be a little looser and longer at first and a shorter fit as the child grows taller but it is also robust so suitable for growing children. Annabelle Hope dresses don’t sit in people’s wardrobes when they don’t fit anymore, they are passed on - to a sister, a cousin, a friend or someone in need. They can also be sent back to us – there are plenty of little girls who would love to wear a pretty dress.
What’s next for Annabelle Hope?
I want the brand to bring awareness about responsible sourcing and sustainability to people. Annabelle Hope is not just about a pretty dress, it is about a renewed concept of garment manufacturing. We can buy garments and make garments better than we currently do but we need more brands to do it. We need to shout about it and that is why I am grateful to Coats because it is giving Annabelle Hope a louder voice. We are also working on a programme that will benefit the future of our employee’s children to ensure they get the best chance in life.
Coats is delighted to be able to support Alice and Annabelle Hope on their journey to promote a more sustainable and ethical future in fashion.