Designed and made locally in British Coumbia, Althyrea is a premium slow-fashion women’s apparel brand. Founder Robin Briggs spent the past 20 years as a senior apparel designer in Manhattan, working with large premium apparel brands like Ralph Lauren. Now, she’s brought her passion for ethical textiles and a sustainable, responsible approach to the fashion industry to Vancouver—where she can also share in her second love of conservation and environmental efforts. —Noa Nichol
Hi Robin! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.
With the exception of my formative years, I grew up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and attended the University of Massachusetts receiving a BFA in Textile Design. Following my bachelor’s degree, I attended the fashion program at the Paris American Academy in France which had a strong influence on my career. Following my education, I spent 28 years in New York City primarily in men’s design, loving every minute of it. I am also an avid wildlife photographer and now live in West Vancouver with my husband and family.
When and why did you launch Althyrea?
Althyrea officially launched on December 1, 2022. Just last week! While in NYC, I became more aware of the tragic consequences of the global fashion industry and that it was one of the leading causes of pollution. I became increasingly discouraged by the blind consumerism I witnessed, the waste, the massive global production of millions of garments and human rights abuses like Rana Plaza. I learned that about 12 million tons of textiles end up in landfills only to be replaced by the next trend. It’s just sheer madness. I wanted to create a brand that is timeless, practical, made well and meant to last, particularly made for women who share my similar values and understand less is more. It used to be that Parisian women would spend their discretionary income on a few beautiful haute couture outfits and not on hundreds of wardrobe choices from cheap stores. This line of thinking is a large part of what my philosophy is founded on.
What niche were/are you aiming to fill?
My aim is to fill an upscale niche for the same customer that shops at Patagonia or Arcteryx. Isn’t that customer looking for something sophisticated but in a similar style that they could wear to dinner? I want to give them something elevated, unique and stylish. For example, Althyrea offers responsibly sourced wool stretch cargo pants Instead of polyester hiking pants.
How has your past experience working with large premium apparel brands like Ralph Lauren informed your own designs?
Throughout the years working in New York, I would always hear, “let’s not reinvent the wheel” or “don’t gild the lily”. And there’s a good reason for that because it helps you remain true to your brand ethos and keep it simple. And that is one of the reasons RL has been around for so long. He also mastered romantic marketing and selling the American dream. If you look at his style across the years, there is a unique “golden” thread that is carried through from decade to decade. It is always classic, timeless and stylish with an updated, modern spin. For example, you know a Ralph Lauren plaid shirt when you see it simply based on the pattern and color. The fabrics might get updated and pockets get changed but his style remains uniquely RL. For example, in the Fall you will always see an old school, Ivy league style tartan plaid but in a new body or some kind of twist or in a Summer delivery, a Hampton’s style Indigo batik print in swimwear and it always looks new. That RL theory will manifest in my brand. The other things is that many outdoorsy brands sell you on epic rock climbing or extreme skiing, which is cool, but most people don’t actually do those sports. Althyrea’s ethos aims to attract a woman who identifies with being in nature as a romantic notion. Remember the Romantic Landscape painters of the early 1800’s? There’s a painting, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, by Caspar David Friedrich. He used space to illustrate man’s minuscule standing in nature. Quite a different romantic approach than RL but nevertheless romantic.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your BC Coast Collection?
For me it always starts with super high-quality fabrics paired with practical, timeless, style. Here in B.C. it rains a lot. I noticed while sitting at traffic lights that a lot of people don’t wear rain jackets. They run through the raindrops in regular clothes and hope they don’t get wet. So, I created a boho style rain tunic that a woman can feel attractive in and still get some water resistance. I also created a wool and cashmere shirt jacket because the winter weather here doesn’t really require you to wear a heavy parka so layering the Pemberton Merino Pullover with the Sechelt Shirt jacket and a toque and you’re all set for down to 0 C! You feel warm, casual but more stylish and unique from more mainstream brands.
What’s next for Althyrea?
There’s so much happening in the slow fashion industry. Plant based fabrics like kelp fiber is quite interesting and my favorite, undyed fabrics. The other aspect of my brand philosophy is mastering the art of a circular business (not the linear model of ending up the landfill). The famous “Annie’s Story of Stuff’ from 13 years ago inspired that idea. I intend to repair clothing and upcycling is a huge design trend right now. All of the best ideas in the industry were inspired by Yvon Chouinard, the master of slow fashion and responsible sourcing. A local brand in Victoria, Ecologyst, deserves a lot of kudo’s for doing the slow fashion gig well.