Lately I've been thinking a lot about the link between the fashion industry and the environment; in particular, the egregious speed and level of consumption that has become the norm in our society.
The throw-away mentality of clothing is clearly not good, but it can be difficult to avoid when the majority of affordable retailers encourage it, not only through the addictive arrival of new items, but fundamentally in the terrible quality of the clothes themselves.
To aid my transition into a better way of approaching fashion, I spoke to Johanna Howe and Sarah Russell from Melbourne label Caves Collect, who are leading the way in their community with locally made, classic garments built to last.
Emilia: What made you decide to start Caves Collect?
Jo: I never expected to start a label straight after I finished studying fashion design at RMIT, but after I graduated, I was so unenthused by the prospect of working for a label I didn’t believe in. I was getting pretty stressed out looking at jobs on SEEK, and that’s when my boyfriend suggested I do a project with Sarah, who I’d known since we were kids in Adelaide and who was living in my share house. It kind of just went from there. We’ve been joined at the hip ever since!
Sarah: I studied a shoemaking course in Adelaide, after which I made shoes and bags for 8 years or so. I was approached by Amanda Briskin-Rettig, of high end leather goods brand A-ESQUE after she saw my work stocked in Craft Victoria. I went on to work at A-ESQUE for two years, and it was towards the end of that period that I moved into Jo’s share house. We’d sit on the front porch and talk about the kind of design we were excited about. We realised we had a lot of commonalities and decided to do a project together, which got serious pretty quickly and soon turned into Caves Collect.
You started off by making each piece to order by hand in your Collingwood studio.
Jo: Yes, we used to make everything ourselves in-house. It was a bit of a nightmare though, we basically lived at the studio in those days! It’s very difficult to try to design new things and keep up with the daily runnings of the business when you’re stuck behind a sewing machine. That said, we do love sewing and we miss it. We are so grateful for our incredible local makers who now make all of our clothes and leather goods. They are amazing human beings who take such pride in their work and we couldn’t do it without them.
Why do you continue to produce locally here in Melbourne?
Sarah: We want to support the local makers whose livelihoods are dependent on keeping an industry here. We love that we have personal relationships with our makers and know they work in good conditions with fair pay. It’s very difficult to moderate that sort of thing when your makers are overseas. Also, from an environmental perspective, it’s a lot more sustainable to keep manufacturing local.
All of your pieces seem to be quite cohesive. Do you have any particular themes that you gravitate towards when you design?
Jo: Sarah and I are both very inspired by the idea of classic, wearable, items which age well. I once heard that when a french lady is shopping, she will think about whether she will want to wear a piece in 10 years time. I think that kind of mentality is what most inspires us most.
Sarah: There is something so soulful about an object that has been created with thought and integrity. Creating simple, classic designs which can be worn effortlessly is our vision for the brand.
You've mentioned previously that creating high quality products is a big part of your brand’s philosophy. Why is quality so important to you?
Jo: We always consider how to construct our pieces so that they will wear well over the years. The last thing we want to do is put stuff out there which is going to fall apart the second time it's worn. We just don’t believe in fast fashion - we want to encourage people to really consider their purchases, learn how to look after their clothes and make them last.
Sarah: Having less in your life but loving and caring for what you do have is personally so important to us. It’s important to buy quality items that deserve this care and attention and to learn how to care for them so that they do last.
I’m assuming that there is a lot of emphasis placed on the materials that go into your clothes in order for them to last a long time. Where do you source your materials from?
Jo: Absolutely, we put a lot of energy into sourcing quality fabrics. We love natural fibres which breath on the body and continue to look good over the years. We would absolutely love to source locally made fabrics, but nothing is being made in Australia anymore, which is a real shame. So we source fabrics predominantly from Italy, Japan and New Zealand. Our leather mainly comes from Italy.
How do you feel about the rising state of fashion consumerism in our society, and in particular, what are your thoughts on fast fashion?
Sarah: We hate it! Fashion is one of the most destructive industries for the environment. We believe that as a brand we have a responsibility to be thoughtful and considered about our processes and what products we are putting out there. Fast fashion is the opposite of that idea; it’s thoughtless and shortsighted.
How important do you think supply chain transparency is when it comes to fashion?
Jo: We believe that transparency is imperative for ethical and sustainable manufacturing.
You strike me as a brand that grew quite organically in your local community. What do you think has been the key to your success in growing such a substantial following?
Jo: I think that, in certain communities, there is a huge shift in the way that people are buying clothes. I think people are buying for the long term, and because we make such classic, understated items, people can do that with our products.
What’s the plan for Caves Collect in the future?
Sarah: We just want to keep on doing what we’re doing!
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