The quirky name Olive Loves Alfie is well known to London creative families with a taste for something different when it comes to their children’s clothes.
The shop owner Ashlyn Gibson, 49, is a strong advocate for children’s individuality and has earned the loyal following of Hackney’s creative parents.
While working on her brand’s look books and photo shoots, Ashlyn discovered a passion for styling that she is now taking forward in a career as a freelance stylist.
Ashlyn has also just finished writing her book about home interior design styles of families in the creative industry, which comes out in September.
In the 80s, she had her own jewelry label called Rubber Works and recollecting the times, Ashlyn said, “Independent retail was absolutely humming and there were independent shops everywhere, even on Carnaby street.”
When the recession hit in the early 90s, she had to retrain herself in footwear design. It was then that she also had her daughter, Olive. Ashlyn travelled around the world when working for a footwear company and used to bring heaps of clothes back from the Far East for Olive.
“People used to really like the clothes I brought back and I saw an opportunity for a really interesting children clothes shop. It was also a really interesting time as there were loads of new designers emerging.”
A devotee of bold patterns and colours, Ashlyn opened the children’s fashion store in 2006 when Olive was two and a half years old. “Olive’s best friend in nursery was called Alfie and before they could even talk, they were already friends. So we made a t-shirt that said ‘Olive Loves Alfie’ for his birthday.”
Stoke Newington Church Street was Ashlyn’s first choice to open her shop at the time. “There is a really nice community feel on Church Street. Another excellent thing is that everybody wants to share their stories. Loads of my friends are people I’ve met through the shop, most of my really good friends actually.”
Ashlyn admits however, that the area is losing its edge due to issues of gentrification. The demographic has changed significantly over the last decade. “A lot of people from Islington moved in whereas young people who stayed here had to move to Walthamstow or Tottenham as they couldn’t afford Stoke Newington. That’s a shame.”
Olive Loves Alfie sells clothes at a premium price, but Ashlyn, also an advocate of sustainable shopping, said “it’s a higher price for a reason”. Almost all the products are made from organic fabrics and fair trade materials and are never mass-produced. “I buy products that aren’t disposable, something with potential to be a hand-me-down.”
Ashlyn’s approach to shopping is completely opposed to the idea of high street retailers who encourage us to buy more clothing every month. “And we are really trying to support designers. It’s really nice working with people who have similar production values.”
Asked if she feels business is becoming harder for independent retailers today, she said, the internet and discount culture have been a hurdle. “A lot of people prefer to shop online as they get bargains online and it does very little for the community.”