From McQueen to country – the designer revolutionising outdoor-wear for women
An outdoor clothing brand designed specifically for women, you say? Creative Director, Kasia Bromley – tell us more!
By Becky Hardy
ACAI are on a mission – to revolutionise every woman’s experience of the outdoors.
For too long now, women’s outdoorwear has been limited to a ‘shrink and pink’ mentality – aka, take what they’re doing for the men, make it a little smaller and change it from blue to pink. That mentality sees us pigeon-holed into a cookie-cutter narrative of who outdoors women are and what we want from our adventures.
But for no longer! As the new home of women’s outdoorwear – including the Original Outdoor Skinnies, made for women by women – ACAI are here to encourage us all to embrace our individuality, strength and uniqueness by providing stylish and functional outdoorwear for every woman.
Sounds like a bit of you? Us too. We caught up with ACAI Co-founder and Creative Director, Kasia Bromley, to find out more.
Tell us about your journey from couture to country.
The concept started quite a few years ago, when I was at university. I worked for Alexander McQueen when I graduated, but then I took a slight turn in my career and did some work for a technical cycling brand. It was 90% marketed at men. I’d graduated from Edinburgh College of Art and was still working in Scotland, so I found myself walking and hiking a lot in the Highlands on my days off. And it just became really clear to me that there was nothing (or at least, very little) specifically designed for women to wear outdoors, and certainly nothing attractive!
What were you wearing to go hiking at the time?
I’d end up wearing an oversized cotton t-shirt and a pair of leggings. The guys I’d go out with were literally laughing at me and asking me what I was wearing. But I refused to wear big, baggy clothes that did nothing for me. As a fashion graduate, that stuff is important to me.
Who or what would you say most influences you?
Alexander McQueen was my very first inspiration. Ever since I can remember, I loved his work. So when it came to deciding where to apply after I graduated, that was always my first choice. Unfortunately, by the time I got the job he had sadly passed away, but I was able to work with Sarah Burton on her first collection with the label and that experience was invaluable. The way Alexander McQueen had trained his whole brand to look at the female body and create garments to accentuate the female body was mesmerising. So that methodology has definitely stuck with me.
But Alexander McQueen’s clothes are very different to what you’d want on a hike! How did you reconcile the two?
I looked at the functionality of clothes first and foremost, and how they’d need to perform outdoors. I started by creating a really simple garment – a pair of trousers – but then brought in that Alexander McQueen methodology when it came to using the female body as a blank canvas and creating the shape and contouring of those trousers to fit. Those hidden elements in clothing design that really make an everyday piece look so flattering and so different.
Why do you think it’s important to tailor outdoor clothing specifically to women?
Spending time outdoors is – or at least, should be – for everyone. It’s so important to our physical and mental wellbeing. But I think many women may have thought (and maybe still think) that getting outdoors isn’t for them because they can’t relate with the clothes they see in outdoorwear brands, but they also don’t feel prepared for the outdoors with the clothing that is marketed to them because it isn’t fit for that specific purpose.
Women should be able to wear what they want and still feel comfortable and stylish, but also feel confident that our clothes won’t let us down.
What makes ACAI clothing different from other brands?
The influences, inspiration and experiences I can bring to their design. Taking elements from the world of high-end, couture fashion and applying it to outdoorwear. The confidence that effective contouring brings, combined with the use of fabric and a design that has been specifically created with functionality in mind. I do really believe that’s what makes our clothes unique. The way we combine flattering fits with functionality, in a nutshell!
How do you ensure functionality?
Functionality comes from our choice of fabric. We make sure it’s water-resistant, it can stretch, all those technical elements come into play. There are only two suppliers that we know of at the moment who are making the fabric we use, so it really does tick all of the boxes in terms of its performance outdoors.
And how do you make that contouring element of ACAI’s clothing as inclusive as possible?
I’m involved with every single product. I know every single measurement is just right so that the shape will fits the desired wearer perfectly. Women have so many different shapes and body types and that’s fantastic – we try our very hardest to ensure our garments are the best fitting for the most amount of women possible.
Sustainability is also important to ACAI – how do you work as sustainably as possible?
Our first step was to eliminate all plastic from our packaging – now it’s only reusable. Next was to ensure that the materials we use for our garments were sustainable. We started with our accessories and we gradually began making them purely from recycled materials. We’re now at the stage where we’re doing that with our core products too, so around 85% of all our products are made from recycled materials now.
Before COVID, when we could travel, I would also visit our suppliers and get in amongst the workers on the factory floor to make sure they were suppliers we could trust, both in terms of their methods of production and their social practices.
What does the future look like for ACAI?
Very exciting! I can’t tell you exactly what it will bring yet, but I also can’t tell you how grateful I am that we’ve survived this pandemic! We’ve managed to navigate through the challenges it has brought us, so we count ourselves very fortunate. And if we can survive and thrive during a global pandemic, the sky’s the limit for the future!