Image credit: Tasha Tylee for Arnsdorf
She’s the softly spoken powerhouse that showed us just how cool it is to be kind. Since relaunching Arnsdorf in 2016 after a 4 year hiatus, Jade Sarita-Arnott has shouldered the growth of Australia’s slow, sustainable fashion movement with characteristic grace - the kind she imbues in the garments she designs. And these are garments women really want to wear; a tailored black wool blazer, the kind that is passed down from mothers to daughters, is designed in the same breath as a pair of malibu-pink tapered trousers (also the kind that most of us wish we’d found in the back of our mothers’ wardrobes).
Those who remember Arnsdorf’s first iteration won’t be surprised by how coveted Sarita-Arnott’s designs are now. Between 2006-2012, the brand was a darling of the Australian fashion industry - lauded by the local media and showcased by Melbourne’s champion of Australian labels at the time, Alice Euphemia. But Sarita-Arnott became disillusioned with the industry’s rampant pace of design, make, sell and mark-down. In 2012, she wound down Arnsdorf’s operations.
Over the four years that followed, she accrued experience across new creative vocations that enabled her to come back to the brand with a fresh approach. Today, Arnsdorf offers trans-seasonal collections that are produced in limited runs. Almost the entire production process happens from its Collingwood warehouse, which ensures the ethical treatment of Arnsdorf’s garment-makers. By abandoning fashion’s traditional wholesale structure and going straight to the customer via an online store and two Melbourne boutiques, Arnsdorf can offer a more reasonable price point for the quality of product. As one of the first Australian brands to operate with transparent insight into its manufacturing process, fabric provenance and mark-up rates, Arnsdorf laid down the framework for many to follow. This wasn’t a resurrection, it was a revolution.
Image: Arnsdorf / Instagram
In fashion, swimwear captures the imagination like little else. It evokes salty skin and far away places; new romance and old rituals. Buying swimwear comes with a promised bonus of long days, warm nights and nowhere in particular to be. And in Australia, it’s practically a uniform. So when Brisbane-born Peony launched in 2012, it did so into a market that was already overwhelmed by choice. It would take something special to rise to the top.
Peony makes the sort of pieces that elevates the entire swimwear category up, levelling it with fashion by borrowing style and design references from the coolest of trends. Ruched details, ribbed fabrics, romantic prints that skew towards subtlety - delicate, not bombastic: these are the elements of Peony’s style DNA today. A one-piece from Peony’s Fleur collection is a clever reimagining of a broderie-anglaise singlet for the water.
But the real magic is in the fabrics themselves, which are made sustainably using Econyl™, a 100% regenerative nylon made from abandoned fishing nets and nylon waste from landfills and oceans around the world. Linings are developed in-house, made from recycled and sustainable content. For textured fabrics, Peony works with mills to incorporate GRS (Global Recycled Standard) certified recycled content to create sustainable textured fabrications.
Making the change to sustainable operations in 2017, there’s a surprising breadth of integrity in Peony’s pursuit to be environmentally-friendly, which extends to the brand’s compostable and biodegradable packaging. But it doesn’t promise perfection, acknowledging that there is still much to learn. But with a repair and reuse program in the works, Camille Charriere as a brand ambassador and a capsule collection with Net-A-Porter now available, it seems that for Peony, life’s a beach.
Image: Peony / Instagram
Overproduction is one of the fashion industry’s dirtiest and most confounding issues, and it’s particularly prevalent in the low-cost, mass-manufactured fast fashion sector. Unsold ‘dead stock’ is expensive for retailers to house. Much of it ends up in landfill or, occasionally, incinerated. But this is a practice that extends to the very top of the industry, too. Some may remember the public furore that erupted when Burberry burned off some $50 million worth of unsold stock to avoid potential counterfeiting. These conventions are both morally problematic and environmentally unsound. But, so long as the industry feeds our rapacious hunger for the ‘new’, these methods of disposal are likely to continue.
The slow fashion movement offers a quiet alternative, and Melbourne-based brand Kalaurie is championing it with its timeless aesthetic and made-to-order model. Founded by Kalaurie Karl-Crooks, the brand produces garments by hand from its Melbourne studio, making only what’s purchased. This effectively eliminates unwanted stock from the equation and means textiles are used more resourcefully, as each piece is hand-cut and sewn to order—a process that requires between 1-3 weeks.
Unsurprisingly, this made-to-order model has its own challenges. It’s not easily scaled, and the costs can price some consumers out of opting in to this type of slower consumption. But for those with the time and resources, it encourages a more intimate relationship between the consumer and the clothes; a personal connection that has been lost in our throw-away culture. And it’s in this emotion that Kalaurie has found a following.
Though not showy, Karl-Crooks’s clothes speak in volumes about the Kalaurie woman—private, romantic and self-possessed. Aesthetically, her garments read like tributes to some of Melbourne’s timeless style adages: austere, buttoned-up necklines contrast with playful ruffles. Feminine silhouettes are rendered in classic black and white. David Lynch said, “Just slow things down and it becomes more beautiful.” He may have been talking about music, but as sentiments go, it’s pretty universal—and Kalaurie is making a case for it.
Image: Kalaurie / Instagram
Much like a signature scent, our jewellery has the power to be something deeply personal, symbolic—even talismanic. And for those who wear a piece of jewellery every day, sometimes never removing it at all, the connection with it is steadfast. For these reasons, the jewellery industry should be insulated from a culture that consumes more than it needs to. But, the low price point of ‘fast jewellery’ brands coupled with our insatiable desire to look as current as possible means it’s not immune at all. In fact, it’s easier for us to dip our toe into a passing jewellery trend than it is, say, to buy into a shoe fad or new jacket silhouette. And while the jewellery industry is not polluting the earth as aggressively as the textile industry, its appalling ethical standards have been well documented.
Holly Ryan, the woman behind her eponymous jewellery label, is attempting to change that relationship through her approach to jewellery creation which champions a circular model with hand-crafted, slow techniques and organic materials. A passionate advocate for responsibility in design, Ryan uses sustainable materials and recycled metals to produce her coveted designs and offers a repair and recycle program, which allows customers to send back their Holly Ryan pieces to either be repaired or exchanged for store credit. Recently, Ryan produced a series of new pieces using terracotta tiles sourced from the coastlines of the Amalfi and she has since started to introduce ethically-sourced opals and amber into her range.
These are the signs of a designer that largely works to her own rhythm. Ryan recently diversified into sculpture and is represented as an artist by Jerico Contemporary in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo. But to enjoy the success and profile that Ryan has, especially within Australia’s fashion community, a designer needs to be adept at creating things that tap into the current cultural and style zeitgeist. Plenty of Ryan’s pieces feel ‘on trend’—a pearl choker and range of zodiac-stamped gold pendants feel particularly relevant and desirable —but they are all rendered in a way that reads as intuitive rather than contrived. It’s clear that, for Ryan, design is deeply personal. And when it comes to jewellery, it should be nothing less.
Image: Holly Ryan / Pinterest
In April, Business of Fashion interviewed the co-founder of global communications agency BPSM Carrie Ellen Phillips, who leads the agency’s new sustainability division. “You always hear this statistic that millennials want to vote with their dollar and that they want brands to align with what their values are,” she is quoted in the article titled How To Make Sustainable Fashion People Will Actually Buy. “And that is not the case. They will not sacrifice the look or the quality. The style is the most important thing for them. And quality tends to be secondary.”
Indeed, for the sustainable fashion movement to be successful, we need to dispense with the idea that sustainable credentials or ethical processes alone are going to sell clothes. It’s still fashion, after all, and aspiration and desire play fundamental roles in turning the cogs of the machine. At face value, New Zealand brand Maggie Marilyn makes clothes that are as design-driven and desirable as any other luxury, ready-to-wear brand. Maybe more. An azure-blue pinstriped blazer is oversized in all the right places, tailored to perfection with the help of a long fabric belt. A barbie-pink silk shirt is ruffled and generously proportioned. The girl that wears these clothes is confident and stylish, and the industry thinks so too. Founded in 2016, Maggie Marilyn was picked up in its first season by luxury e-commerce powerhouse, Net-A-Porter. In 2017, it was shortlisted for the prestigious LVMH Prize. But beneath the glossy surface, Maggie Marilyin is a brand hell-bent on operating as ethically and sustainably as possible.
In 2018, Maggie Marilyn switched all its wholesale packaging to fully biodegradable cassava root bags and released its Sustainability Strategy in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 2019 will see the implementation of biodegradable customer facing packaging. By the end of 2020, 50% of its collections will be made using repurposed and recycled materials. As for transparency, Maggie Marilyn offers an in-depth language guide (a vital resource to help combat greenwashing) and measurable objectives against which the brand can hold itself accountable.
These initiatives signal the sort of bold thinking that underpins the brand’s entire operation. It may not be priced for the masses, but Maggie Marilyn is challenging our expectations of how sustainable fashion looks, sounds and behaves. It all starts here.