How One Australian Eco Designer Bucked the Cheap Fashion Trend
HONG KONG, 16 Sept 2013 — Demand for cheap, disposable fashion is at an all-time high but fashion labels and consumers alike are increasingly questioning the true cost of cheap fashion. Media coverage of supply chain disasters, such as the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in April this year and the subsequent release of the names of the high-street chains involved, is raising public scrutiny.
Rebecca Powell, fashion designer and creative director of Australian-based luxury basics clothing label Tluxe, and her small team say their hope is to re-educate their customers that cheap does not necessarily mean good value. “Consumers need to understand where their clothes come from and what kind of conditions the people making their clothes are working and living in,” said Powell.
For British-born Powell, her role as parent to her two young boys has shaped and defined the brand of her business. “Being a mum very much influenced the fact that I have a moral and ethical stance to the business,” said Powell. “It’s also motivated and inspired me to ensure the success of the brand.”
Tluxe ““ the brand name is a fusion of deluxe with tee shirts — is one of a number of clothing labels looking to more sustainable and responsible production methodologies. It uses only Australian-based manufacturers and suppliers and its clothes are made purely from natural fibres. Wherever possible, it uses organic and sustainable yarns, such as bamboo and cotton, and wools such as cashmere and merino.
From humble beginnings – a five thousand Australian dollar (approximately USD 4,600) start-up that began life in 2007 on a kitchen table in Sydney’s Bondi Beach neighbourhood – to a million-dollar turnover online fashion label, Tluxe is at the forefront of eco-friendly, sustainable, quality clothing: fashion with a moral compass.
It is a versatile, relaxed-lifestyle brand for consumers who, Tluxe say, are looking for comfort and quality, who value style over fashion and who care how their clothes are made and where they come from.
“The disposable element of the clothing industry is quite sickening,” said Powell. “We don’t need to have to constantly buy new clothes and then throw them away. It’s about building a core, quality, staple wardrobe that suits your style and can be steadily built upon.” This is what she calls investment dressing.
But inevitably keeping the Tluxe brand Australian-made and using only high-quality fabrics and yarns has increased the price of the end product. It’s an added challenge in an industry already struggling on the back of a strong Australian dollar (it has recently fallen-back dramatically), rising costs of labour, sky-rocketing rents and the increased price of raw materials. Add into the mix the recent demise of household fashion labels such as Kirrily Johnston and Lisa Ho and it makes for a nervous time for those in the business.
Powell said that, even though the cost of some fabrics has tripled since 2007, she has managed to stay afloat through a concerted effort to keep margins low and by reducing overheads as much as possible. “We’re a small tight-knit team,” she said, adding that Tluxe has been very strategic in how they design and sample new ranges in order to minimise costs. Also Powell deliberately targeted the online market and high-end boutiques rather than opening her own stores. Tluxe’s first pop-up store, situated in Sydney’s Bondi Beach, which opened early in 2013 for a scheduled five weeks and is still thriving, proved so successful that plans for two other stores in Sydney are now underway.
She said she remains confident of the brand’s viability, despite high-profile brand failures and increasing competition from gargantuan global online retailers, such as Shopbob and ASOS. “We’ve had a lot of support from within the industry due to the fact we’re keeping our business in Australia when so many others are using cheaper overseas suppliers.” She added, “It’s a small industry here but everyone is watching each others backs because we want each other to survive.”
Tluxe uses its social media presence to bring home to followers the message that cheap, disposable fashion devalues the fashion industry and wreaks environmental damage. “We’re trying to re-educate people on how to build their wardrobe, how to investment dress as opposed to fast fashion,” said Powell.
It’s a sentiment echoed throughout the Tluxe team: “I think it’s important to work for a company that lives up to its core values,” said Josefin Persson Ekedahl, Tluxe graphics designer. “Tluxe manages to create beautifully designed pieces of clothing while supporting local industries and working for a better environment,” she said.
And for Tluxe, sustainability drives every aspect of the product: from biodegradable bags and recyclable tags, to having as few buttons and trims as possible. It donates scrap fabrics from the design process to local fashion colleges, no longer produces hard-copy look-books and has moved its marketing and administration processes wholly online.
Tluxe is one of the founding members of the Ethical Fashion Forum, committed to ethical fashion it provides an intelligence database and is a forum for its accredited members to connect with each other. Tluxe also belongs to trade groups Global Organic Textile Standard,Ethical Clothing Australia – accreditation by which guarantees the consumer a sweat-shop free product – and Woolmart, one of the world’s leading wool organisations. “So we’re not just standing our ground, we’re doing it with morals,” said Powell.
And with globally recognised Australian icons Miranda Kerr and Jennifer Hawkins as Tluxe devotees, offering further proof that eco-friendly fashion has shaken off the shackles of its hippy-tragic past. But, according to Powell, there is not enough focus on Australian designers in the international market.
Australia has its own highly marketable, distinctive style but needs to look internationally if it is going to thrive, she said. She explained that very few Australian designers show overseas due to the costs involved and cites a lack of government support for the fashion industry.
“It’s always been a very local market but that market has been saturated with cheap imports from overseas. So there is a big need for a push on Australian exports,” said Powell. She said she is keen to expand her business into Asia and has her eye on the lucrative Hong Kong market. But until very recently the strength of the Australian dollar has meant that exporters are at a competitive disadvantage even before costs such as freight and import duties are included.
Also, practically, Powell’s home-life has limited the scope for international expansion. “I’ve deliberately kept the business relatively small so it’s still manageable while the children are young,” she said. Even so, the business demanded every bit of free time she had while her eldest son, Luka, was at kindergarten or sleeping, she added.
So would Powell change anything? “It’s been incredibly tough,” she said “But I’ve enjoyed every single moment of the ride. And I still get an enormous amount of pleasure from walking down the street and seeing someone wearing Tluxe. We’re not turning over as much as we would ideally like but we’re afloat, we’re being paid, we love what we do and we’ve got a brand and a philosophy we’re really proud of.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Tammy Allman obtained a degree in English Literature and worked as a high net wealth tax adviser for 14+ years. Following a move to Asia she recently completed a masters degree course in journalism. She has lived in Hong Kong for the past four years with her partner, Jonny, and their little girl, Maggie. Some of her main interests include literature, travel and the study and practice of yoga. She is a supporter and volunteer for the Cambodian Children’s Fund, a Cambodian-based charity. Follow Tammy on Twitter @TammyAllman1
Lookbook photos via Tluxe, photos of Powell courtesy of Powell
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