The UK’s first vertically integrated, independent clothing brand starts and ends with Nadia Alexander in beautiful Perthshire.
Nadia Alexander launched her first retail outlet in Multrees Walk in Edinburgh in 2017. Since then, her dream of creating a truly sustainable, luxury fashion brand has been realised with BearCo, which sells online, and from her Auchterarder-based boutique, Oliami.
BearCo’s core product line is a range of modern tailoring made with Scottish woven wools and her own exclusive Mause fabric. The ‘flock to frock’ project is the brainchild of Nadia, and husband Murray Alexander, and is the first fully integrated product of its kind in the UK.
Using wool from the family farm, Mains of Mause, in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, the processing begins in Yorkshire with Woolkeepers Ltd and Laxtons scouring and scrubbing to ensure a top-quality base product. It is then returned to Macnaughton’s mill in Pitlochry, Perthshire before being sent to Keith to be spun, and onto Alexander Manufacturing in Cumbernauld – a facility that Nadia has owned and managed since 2022.
It is here that Nadia and the team design and produce the BearCo collection, and this winter will see the first collection drop in their Auchterarder store, Oliami, which has recently undergone a six-figure refurbishment in anticipation of the launch.
Nadia commented, “We opened in Multrees Walk in Edinburgh in 2017, with a franchise brand, and by 2020 we were in lockdown. Like all independent retailers, it was a frightening time for us; we were relatively new, we had huge overheads, and we had to find a way to quickly grow our presence online to keep the sales moving.”
Using a personal brand strategy including live recordings from her garage stockroom, she targeted a captive, housebound audience.
“It grew so quickly! By the time lockdown was over our customer base had more than doubled, and when we reopened the shop it was a destination outlet that people travelled miles to visit – only 1% of our customers came from Edinburgh. I realised we had something special, and I could see the potential for growth but we were tied to the franchise.
“We opened Oliami in Auchterarder in 2020 allowing us to stock the range of brands our customers were looking for. It worked, and by the time we were facing the energy crisis, and the eye-watering rent increases, we knew we had something that could survive outwith the prime real estate location of Edinburgh.”
Growing the Business
The success ignited a desire to go one step further and she began to investigate the possibility of her own collection. Nadia wanted to bring a country-meets-city vibe to the classic blazer and jeans look and commissioned Clare Campbell of Prickly Thistle to create the Modern Blair tartan.
This vibrant blue and pink tartan with splashes of green, orange and yellow, was brought to life by Lovat Mill in Hawick, and passed to Hancock’s factory in Cumbernauld ready to be transformed into BearCo’s first collection. The team she met had crafted haute couture pieces for various luxury fashion houses such as Hermes, LVMH, Johnstons of Elgin and more as well as contemporary brands such as Wood Wood, and Albam.
“The decision to work with Hancock’s factory to bring the collection together was the gamechanger. We witnessed first-hand the incredible talent and skills of the people involved; the whole thing clicked into place. I was desperate to create a luxury clothing brand and here were world-class craftspeople that could make it happen.”
However, the rise of cheap global labour had impacted greatly on the industry and the factory was under threat of closure. With a vision to rewrite the story of British luxury fashion, Nadia made the bold move to buy the factory, and following a new factory build by Perth-based Algo Ltd (owned by her husband, Murray Alexander), it was relaunched as Alexander Manufacturing in 2022.
“Our BearCo brand has flourished. What started as an idea to recreate a classic blazer has grown into a full collection of raincoats, skirts, trousers and shirts. Our waterproof macs are incredible – beautifully trimmed in the Modern Blair tartan and sold in classic navy or vibrant orange, they’ve been a huge hit.”
In early 2023, the decision was made to close the Edinburgh shop and to focus on the Auchterarder boutique as the destination visit. Following a move into a larger 2,500 sqft space, and a six-figure investment, the new Oliami retail boutique and online distribution arm opened.
From Flock to Frock
This summer, the first batch of Mains of Mause wool was delivered to HD Woolkeepers to be scoured and spun, and the AW 2023/24 collection will be the first to include designs from flock to frock.
“It’s taken a year to get off the ground but in September 2023, Murray sheared the sheep, the kids packed and rolled the wool and we all watched as it headed south to be transformed into our own yarn.
“Quite apart from giving us one of the most exciting stories in British fashion, it makes perfect business sense. British Wool will give you 50p a sheep for the fleece – but it costs £1.50 to shear it. By making use of our farm by-products, we can create sustainability across the board. Which is why our cow hides are now going to Bridge of Weir to create leather for picnic blankets, straps and handbags!”
Nadia has also been courting new business for Alexander Manufacturing, largely from the whisky industry, producing a range of high-end own-brand clothing for distilleries including Glenturret in Perthshire, Macleod, Macallan and Macduff.
It has been a steep learning curve for the ambitious businesswoman, who is currently planning to take her BearCo collection to Milan Fashion Week in February 2024, where she will launch her strategy to grow a worldclass brand.
“It has been quite the journey, but we see Auchterarder as our long-term base. We want to become a full-experience, luxury destination for women. They’ll stay at Alexander Residence in Perth, enjoy a luxury shopping day and a factory visit, and maybe tour one of our distillery partners.
“Perthshire is the home of Oliami and BearCo, and we’ve only just begun.”