By Chere Di Boscio
Like many who work in investment in the City of London, Arlette Lee wasn’t completely satisfied with her life. She felt she was just another rat in the race, and yet didn’t know how to escape. She tried taking up courses in writing, cooking, but there was still something missing.
Sensing she needed a radical change, Lee decided to leave her job and travel the world. After soaking up the culture of Asia and the sights of Australia, the epiphanic moment that would change her life finally came in South America.
She had witnessed the different approaches cultures have to apparel from around the world, and became curious about fashion. In Peru, she says: “I fell in love with the locals, culture and crafts. My design visions (here) became so strong I continuously noted down every single thought, idea, inspiration that came to me.”
Upon her return to the UK, she announced her decision: she would be taking Spanish classes and returning to Peru to speak to local artisans about realising her designs for what she dubbed the ‘SnugaLee’ and the ‘Ruana,’ which she would craft out of the finest baby alpaca yarn.
The SnugaLee is essentially a snood: a long, circular knit that can be worn as a scarf, either single or double wrapped, or thrown over the head and neck in cold weather to act as a hood and scarf.
The Ruana is a cape with a unique cut, which allows for slimline belting around the waist; alternatively, one end can be casually tossed over a shoulder to keep the wearer warm; it can be pinned shut, or it can be worn open. Both the Ruanas and SnugaLees are powder soft, thanks to the alpaca material, which is finer than cashmere and allows the wearer to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Arlette Lee employs groups of local artisans in Peru throughout her entire production process. From alpaca rancher to weaver, all those involved are paid a fair wage, and Lee’s business ensures that the Peruvian manufacturing and artisanal traditions are safeguarded.
Lee says her designs are a big hit with international travellers, as they are lightweight and pack well, but are also a perfect ‘blanket’ on long haul flights.
With the success of her label growing after appearing in top UK fashion magazines like Tatler, and with celebrity fans that include Dita Von Teese, it seems Ms Lee’s move from the City was the greatest investment decision she’s ever made.
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