Annapaola Di Prisco is standing behind the counter talking to a customer when we walk into the BOTTLETOP store on Regent Street. Her hand movements are expressive, her smile genuine and warm. She’s explaining the brand’s unique take on luxury, its sustainable bags and products that are attracting worldwide attention.
The store itself has its own exciting story to tell. As the world's first 3D printed store, created by robots using up-cycled plastic, it’s a stunning visual experience when stepping in from the vibrancy of Regent Street outside. Here you can buy handbags made from ring pulls, either as elegant clutches or functional iPad cases, in the knowledge that you are supporting craftsmen and women from developing areas across the globe.
In today’s world, where sustainability is as important as ever, Anna and BOTTLETOP’s work is an important stepping-stone from a buzzword to a business ethic that everyone aspires to. We sat down with Anna to talk about her journey from working as a corporate lawyer in the City to fighting on the fashion frontline for a more ethical approach to shopping.
Can you explain the BOTTLETOP concept?
We’re a British luxury sustainable brand, started in 2002. Back then, we were making bags from the actual bottle tops in Brazil. We involved a community of 15-20 artisans in the Bahia region. The idea was to use design to empower the community, and to recycle and up-cycle sustainable materials into luxury products.
Where do you source your materials?
For the plastic, we work with a company based in the Netherlands, called Re-flow. They collect the plastic, mainly from India, then they clean it and cut it down into filaments. Everything is made in Brazil, in our atelier. We buy used ring pulls and then our team of artisans select which ones can be used.
How much is used and what happens to the rest?
We use around 30% of the ring pulls and the rest are recycled. The selected ones are filed and removed from the cans. They are cleaned and polished, for the enamel collection they are all hand-printed and lacquered on both sides. The paint enamel took us three years to develop and it’s a mix of varnish, paint and primer.
Has the sustainable fashion industry grown since BOTTLETOP started?
The ethical and sustainable scene is growing – especially for millennial consumers. One of the first things they ask about is sustainability: what is the material from, is it ‘upcycled’, where do you source it, where is it made? So, the scene is finally growing, especially in the UK.
How long have you been working for the company?
I’ve known the founders, Oliver and Cameron, for many years, but I started actively working with the company almost three years ago.
So, tell me about your role, what does a normal day look like for you?
I’m the store supervisor so I spend most of my day at the Regent Street shop. Quite frequently we have events, so I’m involved in the planning and the PR, etc. But whatever I do, the main task is to engage the audience with the story, the products and the collections. Every day is an opportunity to educate people who are interested, talking about sustainability and the social conscience of the brand.
Why does the brand trade on Regent Street?
We’re one of the first stores on the street with sustainability as a key part of the brand DNA. It’s one of the most popular streets within London and one of the world’s most iconic shopping destinations!
What about your background? Tell me about your professional journey.
I used to be a financial lawyer at an international law firm. I started in Milan but after a few years they relocated me to London. Moving to London was always one of my many dreams. After six years working here in London I was really exhausted. I only took three weeks of holiday in that time. So, at some point I needed to stop: I took a few months off to relax and was expecting to go back to work. For six months I enjoyed doing nothing, sitting on the sofa watching TV and cooking. Routine stuff I wasn’t used to anymore. Then I started interviewing again in the same institutions, but I realised I actually wanted to do something completely different and fashion had always been my main passion, so I started to study again.
Where did you study?
I went to London Creative College to study fashion marketing and brand management, and then I started marketing at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
What was your first impression of it all?
The first thing I noticed was that it’s a really professional business. From an external point of view, I thought it was all about creativity and fun, but when I started working I was like, ‘Wow, this is serious’. You have to schedule your day and your year. Fashion Week is crazy busy. You have to be physically prepared; I remember I was up at 5am and going at it until midnight, for almost a week. After a few months I realised that the sustainable and ethical aspect of the fashion industry was very interesting to me.
It was a quite a brave move to go and change your career like that - are you happy you did it?
I am 100% happy. Lots of people thought I was crazy. I used to enjoy my life as a lawyer and that kind of business environment, but the quality of my life was not what I was looking for. Fashion was a field where I had always wanted to work, ever since I was a child.
Where does your passion for sustainability and come from?
My mum was the first person to teach me about fashion and taste. For her the most important thing is craftsmanship and quality. If it’s handmade, it’s a time-consuming technique and requires a lot of skill, so you can really appreciate the garment.
Was she in the business?
No, like me she was just a lover of fashion. Her aunt was an embroiderer. I realised after a while, that what I was buying was a step back from that craftsmanship and quality. The brands I was buying didn’t do ‘slow fashion’. So, I got to know some of the brands which were focused on this, and I found myself very interested in that aspect of the industry.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions of sustainability?
As soon as you say the words ethical, recycled or sustainable people think you’re talking about cheap products. And then they look at the price and they’re like, ‘Wooo, if this is recycled why do I have to pay £100 for it?’ They don’t appreciate that the product is unique and that it’s time-consuming for one single artisan to create. This is why, with BOTTLETOP, we say sustainable luxury is everything that’s hand made using skills and craftsmanship.
You also work with a company called SEP Jordan - what does it do?
SEP stands for Social Enterprise Project. My cousin started it a few years ago and when I was changing career she told me about this project and I offered her my support. SEP is a luxury lifestyle brand producing scarves, bags and jackets. Everything is hand-embroidered in refugee camps. This way the refugees are not just dependent on aid but can utilise their embroidery skills to make money.
What are your ambitions now? How do you want to further your position and learn next?
I want to follow the growth of both of these companies. But what I want to do going forward is to actually try educating people about sustainable fashion. One of my many dreams is to start an institution where I can teach the sustainable future of fashion.
BOTTLETOP, the world’s first zero waste store, can be experienced in all its futuristic glory at 84 Regent Street, W1B 5RS.