Aiayu sustainable clothing is a Copenhagen-based brand who believe ethical business practices, and social and environmental sustainability go hand-in-hand with modern luxury.
After studying fashion and knitwear, then working as a designer in Italy and Denmark, Maria Høgh Heilmann founded Aiayu sustainable clothing to bring the best of design, fashion and sustainability into one brand.
What inspired you to launch Aiayu sustainable clothing?
I wanted to make beautiful things, and they could only be truly beautiful if also made with love for people and planet. I love design, I love fashion and I believe sustainability is the only way forward – so I had to start my own brand to make these come together. I wanted to make products that last and that you want to keep wearing. We need to focus on good quality as opposed to new, new, new all the time.
You started working in Bolivia more than 10 years ago,why is Bolivia so an important part of Aiayu?
I went to Bolivia for a holiday, saw llamas roaming free in the Bolivian highlands and cholitas knitting almost everywhere. I learned that the long fibres of the llama wool make it less prone to pilling and they are warmer than many other types of wool.
The challenge of doing something with this little-known wool and using the local craftsmanship excited me. So Bolivia is where it started and it shaped our foundation built on quality, sustaining cultures and craftsmanship.
We discovered that the best expertise lies where the raw materials are naturally found, thus we expanded to cotton in India, and yak wool and cashmere in Nepal.
We also learned that commerce is more empowering than charity – both for the locals and for their cultures. In fact, we provided funds and direction to set up Bolivia’s first knitwear factory from an existing wool factory. This is a sustainable knitwear factory and the first to implement a water recycling plant, cleaning 100% of the water and reusing 75% of it.
Who has Aiayu sustainable clothing ultimately been designed for?
It is for unpretentious, conscious people who prefer quality over quantity. Their choices are driven by quality, craftsmanship and personal style. For the Aiayu customer, quality is all encompassing – in their jobs, their lives, their clothes, their relationships.
If you had to choose one must-have piece from your entire range, what would it be?
It would be the Aiayu Shirt Slim White. It is a modern classic made of 100% organic cotton and it’s an easy shirt – not too stiff, not too casual – so it can be worn both to work and for a weekend out. The slim part is in the sleeves – the body is an easy fit.
Does your background influence what you create for Aiayu?
I studied fashion and knitwear and worked as a designer in Italy and Denmark before founding Aiayu. I grew up in a big family with many siblings. Things were often passed down from one child to the other so it was important that they were of good quality and beautiful design.
There have been so many other influences and learnings since then, but I think it is my childhood that has been the biggest influence on making timeless designs with long-lasting quality.
Congratulations on winning “Ethical Brand of the Year” twice! What did this mean to you and how has it motivated you?
It is always amazing to be recognised for what you do. Aiayu has been a sustainable brand from the very start so the motivation has always been there – awards like these just provide a new boost of energy.