I will be completely honest with you – I first launched Alf the Label rather unintentionally. When I was pregnant with my first child, I spent a considerable amount of time scouring the shops and the web for the baby bag that would mirror my style as a modern woman while also offering me the functionality (think: compartments, pockets, waterproof lining and matching accessories) of available baby bags on the market.
A bag is a crucial accessory for me. I was a busy professional wearing many hats even before adding the “parent” hat to my repertoire. Over the years, I had developed relationships with makers whilst travelling internationally, by engaging them to create bespoke bags and custom clothing I would design myself prior to becoming pregnant. I have no formal design training but I knew exactly what I wanted and what was missing in the products offered, thus taking matters into my own hands and having the bags I designed made for me. I took the exact same approach with the bag that would transition me into motherhood.
The early design process
After officially launching Alf as an accessories label in 2016, my design process evolved from my own personal choice to include the styles and choices from the world around me. Inspiration came to me in my everyday life. I paid attention to what we saw on the couture runways and how these choices made at the highest fashion level translated to real life.
These observances created an internal moodboard I referred to when I was sitting somewhere, pen in hand and sketching. I would sketch design iterations on a notepad whilst at home or on the go on the back of receipt paper. I studied textiles through a lens of style and sustainability, extensively researching and analysing different fabrics to best inform my choices. I compared colours of metals in hardware, tested zippers and buttons. I leafed through Pantone swatches for colour distinctions.
From there, I would send my sketch to be produced, along with photos and screenshots of every scrupulous detail to how I wanted them – hardware, trims, stitching. I would receive a sample created from my brief, which I would then review and provide feedback on. We would typically go through three samples before I would give my final approval for the end product.
This design and production process was status quo at Alf in the initial years. Word spread, the limited quantities of bags I had would sell out, and replenished stock would sell instantly. The Alf bag had found an audience of style-conscious women who wanted a baby that represented them – and there were many!
Evolving my process with a growing brand
As demand for Alf bags grew, my design window was shrinking. It was one
thing to design one bag at a time in small batches, and it was another to design a range of bags to meet the needs of an entire community of unique, individual women and mothers and manage the business end of a growing fashion label.
My design process very early on incorporated the feedback of my family members and friends, and eventually grew to include the insights and experiences of my customers. When I came to a crossroads in my process as my business was on the cusp of significant growth, I took the same approach in sourcing external insights: I engaged a designer to receive feedback and expertise from a design perspective.
Building my relationship with my designer has been a crucial step in the evolution of my process. It has allowed me to not only grow the Alf range but to conceptualise entire collections, streamline the production processes and timelines, and create with a trained eye guiding every choice and sketch that I make. We have workshops discussing my ideas, inspirations, and observations, and we funnel these into concrete design sketches and analyse them from a range of perspectives. I select a colour palette that informs the direction of the collection. In lieu of designing bag by bag, we envision an entire collection and the accessories to suit, and sketch them into reality.
The sketching process is still extensive. I go back and forth over every detail, just as I always have – every angle and every detail, down to specific folds, trims, pieces of hardware. We will often change designs in full even after they have been completely sketched out depending on the change in direction I decide on. Once a design has been refined enough to my satisfaction, it is sent to be produced into a sample.
Crafting every Alf into perfection
If you thought my sketching process was lengthy, allow me to introduce you to sampling! The sample production process is, by far, the most time consuming. The first phase produces a basic paper sample, followed by a P1 sample which is focused on the construction of the design. The P1 sample does not include the choice of textiles and hardware but focuses on the functionality and construction of the bag and whether it will fulfill what it is set out to do.
Once happy with the construction in the P1 phase, we move onto the P2 sample. This is where I become engrossed with all the minutiae of what you know and love about your Alf piece – the fabrics used, the leathers, the trims, stitching, zippers, studs. Colours are the final phase. Our designer puts together “colour ups”, which are iterations of the design in colours as per the colour palette I choose in the early creative stage.
Amendments to the designs take place at every phase of sampling, including the end phase: the final sample. This is the crucial pre-production sample that shows us exactly how a bag will look, move, feel, and function.
Both minor and major adjustments are made in this phase. If we are in the final sample phase and it is not absolutely perfect, I may choose to not produce it at all. It is not atypical for a design to be completely altered, even if it risks delaying a production timeline or an intended launch date.
Alf the Label is not fast fashion. We never have been and we never will be. I take the time I need to produce a bag that will stand the test of time. I want every piece that bears my logo to be one that is proudly worn by every person who owns it, be it a year from now or a decade down the line.
Parenthood is different for everyone. Style looks different to everyone. The only change in my design process from when I started Alf five years ago to now is the small, dedicated team I now have to bounce ideas off of and help take my inspirations to a reality for a variety of modern parents and working professionals. Alf is for everyone.