Monday, June 27, 2011

Remade in Switzerland

Coats from captains once passed and jackets from disused parachutes, military surplus has been reincarnated in a recent collaboration with Swiss brand Victorinox and UK based designer Christopher Raeburn.

Raeburn has made waves in the fashion industry for his clever approach to creating clothing. A well known transformer of military garb, Victorinox felt Raeburn was the perfect candidate for their “Remade in Switzerland" project.

Victorinox was built on the principle of creating resourceful, long lasting products by Karl Elsener in the late 1800's. Elseners ethos is carried through to the project and t makes perfect sense to reconnect with the orignal innovator. Elseners house and workshop was converted into a 'Swiss Lab' for the project. Local tailors and apprentices were invited to work beside Raeburn and his team to produce the collection.

The final range embodies ingenuity at its best. Each piece incorporates the original fixtures and fastenings, buckles replace buttons, sleeping bags become duffle coats, each design element is functional. The whole collection seems to hark back to times of unknown expeditions and you can't help but feel the urge to abandon daily rituals and embark on your own adventure.

You can find more info on the project here


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Collina Strada

I am always in two minds about buying a leather bag. The debate in a nutshell goes something like this- leather is durable, biodegradable and natural, but it also comes from a dead animal, is often drenched in chemicals and could be replaced with a vegan product. That said I have numerous calico bags looking battered and distraught after only a short period of time and faux leather conjures up petrochemical dreams and an existential lifetime. Bag shopping is a complex decision....

Collina Strada is a label that is tempting me to cross to the other side. Founder and designer Hillary Taymours’ unusual and beautiful designs combined with a sustainable approach is sealing the deal. Her latest collection stays true to her signature style. Rich colour schemes and versatile shapes may perhaps end the eternal search for the perfect handbag. Hillary tells us more about her choice to use leather and how Collina Strada all began.

How did Collina Strada come about?
Collina Strada all happened when I was living in LA and I made a bag for myself in this amazing printed canvas that I had hand drawn. This is now one of my best sellers called the Ferra bag. I was asked everywhere I went who made it and where they could buy it. I realized I had gotten the attention of my fashion peers and decided to move into something more entrepreneurial and start the business.

What was the main inspiration behind your recent collection?
My inspiration behind the Fall 2011 collection is color. I wanted to create my products in great color hues but make them neutral at the same time.

Why do you use leather?
I use leather because it stands the test of time. All of our ancestors used leather for a reason and I just think the synthetic aspect of faux is still harmful to the environment with the chemicals they use and breaks after wear and tear. You do not see many vintage bags out there in great condition made out of faux leather.

Do you know the origin behind the leather you use?
I source all my leather through a very trusty leather man. He tells me what Tannery it comes from and he knows where they buy the raw hides. I know what treatments they do to the leather from start to finish, which allows me to choose the most eco-friendly version.

What do you think about the contemporary leather industry?
To each their own on this one. I think you can do your part to use recycled leathers or vegetable dyes. Most labels choose not too. However, I do believe that amongst the wide variety of selection out there if you do decide to make a purchase infrequently a leather jacket could last 20 years longer than a faux one.

Collina Strada is produced sustainably; can you tell us more about this?
I use all organic canvas and print using eco ink to make all my speciality prints. I only use canvas from the US and print in South Carolina. I then make everything handmade in NY by 3 workers. I only use vegetable dyed leather or leather that is dyed using no chrome. Instead of Dust bags I give Organic Grocery Shopper totes with each bag, which is totally re-useable and washable.

Why is this important to you?
Nowadays everyone is starting a line. If you can start one yourself you might as well make it at least somewhat sustainable. Being sustainable is a choice and for the most part it doesn’t even cost more, it just takes a little bit more creativity during production. If you are going to create on this planet I think it is necessary that you do your part to look out for it as well.

Whats next for Collina Strada?
Clothes! Spring 2012 =)

You can find the latest Collina Strada collection here

Monday, June 6, 2011

Susie Lau- Style Bubble

During Sydney fashion week I was lucky enough to meet the very humble Susie Lau. You are probably aware of her blog, Style Bubble, which has grown to a massive readership of thirty-something-thousand a day. Since 2006, Suzie has guided designers, fashion students and consumers alike to a myriad of labels and trends. I thought it would be interesting to get her opinion on our recent fashion week and the global sustainable fashion movement..

Why fashion?
Fashion has the ability to change the way I'm feeling. We all have to wear clothes of some sort (unless you live in a nudist colony!) so why not make it a tool of personal expression. I'm also drawn to the way it reflects social, economic and cultural change too. It's always interesting to see how something as 'superficial' as clothes reflect the bigger picture...

What were the highlights for you at Sydney Fashion Week?
I loved a lot of shows for different elements... I loved the sensuality of Therese Rawsthorne, the colours of Arnsdorf, the neon pleats in Magdalena Velevska. I loved the luxurious fantasy that Ellery's collection brought, the precise construction and amazing use of materials in Dion Lee and Josh Goot's Richter Gerhard-inspired prints. Overall, I thought Lover's collection was most accomplished in presentation and conception.

After keeping a close eye on the fashion scene for quite a while, can you see more sustainable and socially responsible labels emerging?
Yes definitely. I'm actually seeing more labels try to find ways of being socially responsible or sustainable in small ways whilst not trying to go the full hog as it is virtually impossible to be 100% ethical/organic from raw materials to production to finished product. Every little helps though and I think for labels, small and big it's worth investigating means of keeping things sustainable.

What's your take on ethical fashion?
We went through a phase of labels emerging with a big tag declaring themselves to be ORGANIC, ETHICAL etc with big capital letters without thinking of a desirable final product. Now that is changing and I think by thinking of product first, ethical/sustainability second, the clothes are much better.

Are there any designers you admire that integrate ethical aspects into their label?
I like what Suno are doing in that they're going at it from a socially responsible side, training up factories in Kenya to make their garments providing meaningful employment. The same goes for ASOS Africa's initiative. I like certain upcycling projects by Dr Noki, Victim and Andrea Crews. I also like discovering graduate projects who explore sustainability.... a shoe designer called Helen Furber is doing interesting things. I also like labels like Commuun and Bodkin as sustainable/organic labels with great design. Commuun were just recently nominated in the ANDAM prize too which I think is a great leap...

What's next for Susie bubble?
I'm working on a lot of consulting projects at the moment and doing a lot of freelance writing too but mainly keeping busy with the blog!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Designers all over the world have always been influenced by traditional cultures. Jessica Priemus is no different, however instead of just being inspired, she collaborates. Working with women in Bangladesh to create collections for her Perth based label Bhalo, Jessica shows us how exciting supporting artisans and disadvantaged communities can be.

How did Bhalo come about?
I travelled to Bangladesh to be a volunteer at a The Dhaka Project in 2008, where I met my now business partner Shimul, who was a manager of the project at that time. We were placed together as a team to create new designs for the project's sewing centre for disadvantaged women. The women had incredible skills, but little design knowledge, and no market for their products. We then decided to start our own label, using my skills as a designer, and his management skills and (local) experience with working with disadvantaged people. The Dhaka Project are still making my designs for the local market in Dhaka but for international garments we have since moved on to new producers.

Our first Bhalo project was a range of woolen scarves knitted by homeworkers in the outskirts of Dhaka. Soon after that we began working with Thanapara Swallows Development Society, which was established to provide employment for widows after their husbands were killed during the liberation war. Rather than aid, they wanted looms so that they could work and become self-sustainable. Today, the project employs over 200 people and funds free schooling and daycare for their children, as well as other community programs. To keep up with demand, we are also just about to start work with a new producer - Folk Bangladesh that provides new opportunities for tribal and indigenous groups in rural Bangladesh.

Can you tell us about the trips you go on for sampling and production?
About twice a year I travel from Australia to Bangladesh to create samples for the next collection and oversee production of the current collection. When arriving in Dhaka, I collect Shimul and we take the train 5 hours to the village of Thanapara in Rajshahi. We then spend a few weeks working very closely with the producers, who work with us on everything from pattern making to finished product.

What is the best part about going to the villages and working with the people who make Bhalo?
I love everything about going to the village. I love the train journey through the amazingly green rice fields and meeting up with all my friends and all the ladies once I get there. I could spend 1 month there and its still not enough time. We are always rushing to get work done - I really wish we had more leisure time! My goal next time is to find half a day to buy fishing rods and cycle down to the banks of the Ganges (or the Padma as it is known in Bangladesh) and join in with the dusk fishermen. Sometimes when we get a spare hour we go to the project kitchen and help the ladies there, lighting the fire in the traditional clay stove and making fresh roti!

What are the challenges you face?
Main challenges are probably the same as most small businesses, except throw in the added element of unexpected surprises. Something crazy is always happening in Bangladesh - whether it is man made or a natural disaster. This is why they use the word insha'allah a lot - meaning God willing - when talking about when the sampling or production will be done. The main reason why I travel there is to make sure I am there to answer any questions immediately, or just to help out. I always end up doing something manual like actually helping to embroider something or holding somebody's wriggling child - we are just really determined to get it done! We spend a lot of time with black feet and clothes drenched with sweat. I have had to abandon any dreams of maintaining a glamourous haircut!

You have amazing, vibrant prints and embroidery, where does your inspiration come from?
The Autumn/Winter 2011 collection's prints were inspired by traditional Jamdani patterns. Jamdani is this amazing Bengali traditional weaving technique used to make saris from a fine cotton muslin. The shapes and patterns are geometric and I thought that they would be really loved by the Australian market. I have a post about the weaving process on our blog...
I still dream of using actual Jamdani in clothing, but it is not a very durable fabric. It would be suited to something that you could wear once or twice without washing, like a wedding or formal dress... One day!

What do you hope for the future of fashion?
I hope that one day soon we will get rid of the assumption that cheap throwaway fashion is a right. You do not need 100 shirts. In many ways the fashion industry is designed to be unsustainable, with the constant stream of new fashion, new seasons, new styles. People feel unfashionable after one season. I hope that in the future we can get past this shallow attitude and start designing things that can be worn for years. Many fashion designers already do this, but high street fashion is still mostly just disposable.
I also hope that brands will get enough pressure to start being accountable for the conditions that they KNOW their workers toil in when they outsource their work to countries like Bangladesh. The sweatshops only exist for this work, and would most likely change given even slight pressure from the buyer. Sure, the factory owners in Bangladesh are also helping keep workers in these conditions, but what options do they have when someone is demanding a shirt for 30 cents and ready yesterday?

I think many of my hopes are definitely feasible and I hope to see them in my lifetime.

Whats next for Bhalo?
We will be launching our 2011-12 collection, called "Golden Year" online in August, and showing it off during Melbourne Spring Fashion Week in early September.
Currently we are designing and sampling our 2012 collection - think earthy clay colours with splashes of oxblood red and navy, batik prints and a focus on traditional embroidery.
We have just acquired 2 agents - one in Melbourne/Sydney and another in London/Dubai, so we hope to grow quite substantially over the next year, hopefully get more stockists in Australia and overseas.

Check out the Bhalo website here..the winter collection is AMAZING!