Lucas Windhager, the king of ethical fashion
“The shortest pitch is basically it’s an ASOS for vegans,” says Lucas Windhager. “The bit longer pitch would be it’s a Net-a-Porter for people who like vegan, ethical, and sustainable fashion.”
Lucas is the founder of Alive Boutique, the hottest website in fashion right now. You’ll find vegan shoes, vegan handbags, t-shirts, cosmetics, and even vegan leather watch-straps, for men and women.
If you’re vegan, you can go to any restaurant, or if you’re gluten-free, you can go to any gluten-free restaurant and suddenly you can order the whole menu. I wanted to recreate that for fashion.
It’s a concept the retail market was craving, with 3.5m vegans in the UK*, and twice that number of vegetarians, with near zero provision.
“If you’re vegan, you can go to any restaurant, or if you’re gluten-free, you can go to any gluten-free restaurant and suddenly you can order the whole menu. I wanted to recreate that for fashion.”
It’s not just vegan fashion. All goods on the site are ethically sourced and cruelty-free. These are issues consumers care deeply about. At the time of our interview two high-street brands are in panic mode following an exposé of their links to sweatshops in India and Indonesia. “We’re not just talking about animal cruelty, it’s also about cruelty towards women, humans, children. It’s a very polluting industry as well. I think it could be the second most polluting industry in the world. It’s my strongest motivator. There are documentaries about fashion, like The True Cost. You watch them and think – wow.”
Lucas is dizzyingly ambitious. He wants to set a new standard for transparency in fashion, leading by example. He aims to publish the entire supply chain of each product, to prove provenance to customers, and is working with a Canadian technology company to be the first British retailer to achieve this. “You will be able to see how much each product contributes to climate change. That’s the dream.” Alive already donates a percentage of each sale to charity.
Lucas backs up his conscientiousness with a sharp business brain. He took pains to really understand the market before launch.
“I did a lot of research with Google Keyword Planner, where you can see how many times people Google for one thing. I looked for vegan shoes and it was almost the same as vegan protein, for example. People were Googling for something that didn’t exist. I’m a very data driven kind of guy. I realised, ‘Okay, this is my niche.’”
He travelled across Asia to find inspiration, noting ideas in Japan and South Korea. The biggest challenge was shaping the brand to appeal to different tribes of the vegan world. “There are many different audiences. There’s the West Kensington, Chelsea kind of vegan, and then the East London activist, student audience, who maybe can’t afford the expensive price points. I think targeting the audience has always been a challenge.”
The solution was to launch. And then refine.
Perfect is the biggest enemy of success. If you want to be perfect, it’s just not going to happen.
“Perfect is the biggest enemy of success. If you want to be perfect, it’s just not going to happen. Many friends of mine, they told me, ‘Don’t start now. Wait until it’s perfect.’ But no. Get it started. Then you can improve it.” By launching early he’s been able to draw on ideas, tips, queries, and sales data help him tweak the site. It’s now a slick operation. All achieved without the huge funding of his rivals.
Above all, he’s evangelist for ethical fashion. He loves explaining minutiae, such as the extraordinary variety of leather substitutes. “There’s palm leather, made of the green leaves from pineapples. It’s made only from food waste, so is 100 per cent sustainable. Coconut leather. Banana leather. And mushroom leather, which gets made into suede suits. It’s still a bit expensive. The likes of Gucci and Prada have requested the materials.”
Lucas needed an accounting structure able to take his business from start-up to competing with the likes of ASOS. “I was always waiting for something like Tide to come along, I’m not going to lie. When I started in February last year a lot of people were mentioning it, and suddenly I was hooked.”
How far can he take Alive?
“It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. Obviously we are taking baby steps, but we can make a real impact. The fact that I can change the fashion industry is what gets me out of bed.”
To explore the world of vegan fashion visit: Alive.boutique
* According to a survey by comparethemarket.com