Photos by Dani Watts
A designer and maker from Columbus, Ohio, Aileen started Altre as a side project in 2015 after returning from college, and she has been doing pop-ups ever since. Her mission? To revolutionize the fashion industry by upcycling old clothing to ultimately create one-of-a-kind, fashion-forward, sustainable pieces. In Aileen’s words, “Altre is a collection of vintage and secondhand clothing carefully curated and altered to have a more modern vibe and style. I love taking pre-existing materials, giving them a second life, and therefore saving them from a landfill.”
What inspired you to create Altre?
While gaining my degree in Fashion Design, I slowly learned about the ugly side of the fashion industry. I came to the realization that if I, someone immersed in fashion and making it their career, didn’t know enough about the environmental damage and unethical norms of the industry, then the average consumer doesn’t know either. Altre is my reaction to the fashion industry’s flaws—it fulfills my love of creating clothing, but on my terms. I hope to show people that ethical and sustainable fashion is no longer just hemp tees with trees on them. I make clothing that has a low environmental impact and doesn’t harm anyone in the process—to me, that’s the way the future of fashion needs to shift.
What is the process behind creating one of your pieces?
My process starts with second hand materials. Basically, I start with something someone no longer wants and turn it into something someone else will appreciate. Scouring shops for second hand and vintage clothing is my favorite part. It’s so fun going through the racks, recognizing the potential a piece has and imagining what it could become.
I like to find things that other people might overlook because its silhouette is a little too frumpy, or it has outdated details like shoulder pads, or there is a tear at the seams. Those are simple things for me to fix, but to someone who can’t sew, that piece is most likely getting left behind on the rack. On the other hand, some things I find become a new garment entirely. I’ll turn a men’s button up shirt into a woman’s skirt or take a maxi dress and break it down into 3 completely fresh pieces like a crop top, tank and mini skirt. I love the challenge of taking something that looks like it belongs in your grandma’s closet and making it cool and wearable for a younger generation.
Click here to read about Aileen’s sustainable efforts throughout the process.
If you were featured on the cover of Vogue, what would the headliner say about you and your brand?
“Girl Attempts to Save the World One Thrift Store Find at a Time” or “Girl Bums Everyone Out About Shopping” haha. I hope not the second one, but I do worry about that sometimes. Hopefully bringing up issues with the fashion industry isn’t too much of a bummer, but I do want that to be part of Altre’s legacy. I want to spark a dialogue for how to look good and still care about people and our planet. We shouldn’t have to choose one or the other.
What is something missing from the fashion industry that you hope to accomplish through your brand?
Transparency. I’m super comfortable talking about any aspect of my process, and I hope that someday that will be true of all major brands. Right now the fashion industry doesn’t require transparency within our clothing supply chain, and that allows brands to get away with a lot of unethical business practices and polluting the environment. I carefully consider and openly share every step in Altre’s process. I hope that makes people question other brands and urge them to have the same transparency.
What is the meaning of Altre?
The named Altre is a play on the word “alter” and “alternative” because the pieces are altered to have a more modern vibe and style, while provide an alternative to the fast fashion norm. The “r” and “e” are swapped because the brand is rooted in reducing, reusing and recycling. I owe a huge thank you to my boyfriend who spent hours brainstorming with me and branding Altre. The final name is actually a result of him and his dad bouncing ideas off of each other.
What advice do you wish you could give to your younger self?
Do more things that scare you and push you outside of your comfort zone, and don’t be so stressed leading up to them. Ask yourself, is this an opportunity to travel, learn more, experience new things or grow? Then do it! Great things can come from it, and you won’t know until you get out there and try it.
Who Aileen follows:
Sustainable + Ethical fashion: @fash_rev
“It not only provides you with info but also actions you can take to work towards a better fashion industry.”
Style blog: @double3xposure, Reese Blustein
“She always looks effortlessly cool and doesn’t seem to take herself too seriously. She’s also obsessed with her dog and I can relate.”
“I’m very guilty of getting sucked into meme’s on instagram.”