This article was first published in the Newcastle Herald ‘Weekender’ magazine and online on April 18, 2021. Image courtesy of Saint.
Slow fashion brings the feel-good factor to buying new clothes. With a focus on being locally made, minimal or zero waste practices, ethical production methods, low environmental footprints, and sustainability central to their business models – slow fashion brands are everything that fast fashion producers are not.
Here are six Newcastle-based slow fashion labels that are crafting beautiful, thoughtfully made clothes designed to last years, not just a season.
High Tea with Mrs Woo
Newcastle’s grand dame of slow fashion is, without a doubt, High Tea with Mrs Woo. Established in 2004, sisters Rowena, Juliana and Angela Foong are the creative force behind the much-lauded slow fashion brand and slow clothing design practice.
The trio design and manufacture their striking clothing range in-house, which is sold through the Mrs Woo x Studio Melt co-retail store in Newcastle city, online and a selection of national design markets.
“We choose to operate in slower and smaller ways so that our business practices can are relevant, ethical and sustainable – from the materials we use, to supply chains, from the way we connect with customers, to the way we power our business,” explains Rowena.
The philosophy behind High Tea with Mrs Woo is the antithesis of fast fashion. Clothing that is well-made, stylish, and designed to “make women feel comfortable and confident in what they wear”.
“We create eloquent, meaningful clothing for every day – honouring people, lifecycles and the passage of time. These practices and principles are woven and felt in every part and product of our work.”
“We make clothes, as well as support and engage in its lifecycles,” says Rowena.
They achieve this through initiatives like their Mrs Woo Lifecycle marketplace, where customers can buy and sell pre-loved Mrs Woo garments; their FABRICA project, where fabric cuttings are regenerated into cloth and clothing; community initiatives like Slow Wearing Well, and events like their LIVE Wardrobe Edit sessions, which are designed to inspire good clothing practices and ethics.
119 Hunter Street, Newcastle
Laura Howard of SAINT has always loved fashion. She learnt how to sew from her mother from a young age and spent endless hours as a teenager pouring over fashion blogs and magazines.
“I have always wanted to be a clothing designer,” she explains. “I loved being able to make clothes for myself or my girlfriends over the years growing up.”
Howard is a talented self-taught designer who preferred hands-on learning to the more formal education model of TAFE.
She honed her skills working as a production manager at Newcastle fashion concept store The Lair for four years and also undertook the government’s New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) program.
Launched in April 2020, the SAINT range consists of timeless pieces with classic shapes and a minimal aesthetic. Each garment is made with 100 per cent natural fabrics, such as silk, wool and organic cotton. Luxurious silk shirts are a SAINT signature staple.
“The intention of the brand is to be the core pieces in your wardrobe that last, last and last,” says Howard.
The decision to be a slow fashion brand was a natural one for Howard, who realised the value of mainstay pieces after dabbling in trend-led fast fashion items as a teen.
“They depreciated really quickly and weren’t something that would carry through my wardrobes for years.”
SAINT has enjoyed rapid growth in recent months but Howard notes that SAINT will always be an Australian-made brand.
“I will definitely remain sewing at least two to three days myself too.”
Lita Studios was founded by friends Lauren Steel and Brigita Millard in 2019. The creative duo is also behind Wickham-based destination boutique lifestyle store House of Lita.
“Lita is a capsule collection of linen designs that fuse timeless style, comfort, quality and versatility designed to take the guesswork out of getting dressed,” says Millard.
Made in 100 per cent linen, the Lita collection features breezy, easy-wearing everyday pieces for women, including dresses, slips, robes, shirts, shorts and pants.
“We design classic wardrobe staples that can be worn from dawn to dusk, every day of the week for the years to come.”
Millard and Steel’s goal was to create a conscious clothing brand that was an antidote to fast fashion. One that was thoughtful in design, purpose and process.
“We don’t follow trends, rather we design timeless pieces made with natural materials that are manufactured with exceptional quality as to last the test of time. We work closely with our manufacturer to ensure minimal wastage and sustainable packing.”
House of Lita, 24 Greenway St, Wickham
Renee Verdon launched her slow fashion womenswear label VOUS in 2013, after graduating from Sydney’s reputed Fashion Design Studio.
The label’s name is derived from the French word for ‘you’. Verdon says, “Each garment is designed for women who love beautiful high-quality fabrics and interesting silhouettes that have a contemporary feel.”
The VOUS range is designed in-house in Newcastle and made by small, Australian-owned family businesses in Sydney.
“There is a strong emphasis on ethical production and sustainability with each garment produced with longevity in mind. Each collection utilises natural fibres and each piece is considered in terms of finish and wearability.”
As much fabric as possible is utilised in the VOUS production process, with leftover materials (that would otherwise be sent to landfill) repurposed to create the label’s Zero Waste accessories.
“We believe that fast fashion – trend-driven, high turn-over, poor quality garments – has a negative impact on our everyday lives. From the landfill it creates, to the social inequity in garment production factories, fast fashion poses serious ethical issues to the garment manufacturing industry.”
“VOUS has chosen to be a slow fashion label in order to make a stand against the issues related to fast fashion.”
Timeless, considered and comfortable womenswear pieces with a minimal aesthetic and neutral palette are the hallmarks of the HALLE label.
From conception through to production, each garment and collection is thoughtfully crafted by label owner and namesake Olivia Halle.
“Nothing is outsourced and every item that leaves the studio or finds its way to the floor at Maker Store my hands have created,” says Halle, who started the label in 2018.
She aims is to make everlasting garments “that can live in your wardrobe year after year adapting to however you need them”.
Being an ethical business and practising a mindful approach is central to the philosophy behind HALLE.
“From the start, quality over quantity and treading lightly have been engrained into me. Then, through my studies, I became more in tune with the consequences of the fashion industry, so I wanted to create a brand that encouraged thoughtfulness towards adding a piece of clothing to your wardrobe.”
“This thoughtful practise is also incorporated into all stages of an item. Each piece is designed in high-quality fabrics for longevity, cut and made-to-order to minimise waste and overproduction, then shipped using recyclable packaging.”
Maker Store & Studio, 3/148 Parry Street, Newcastle West
WOODS The Label
Emilly Woods is the 21-year-old fashion designer behind WOODS The Label, which she started in January 2020.
“I love every day of my job,” says Woods. “Not only am I the designer but I do everything behind-the-scenes. I design, pattern-make, cut, sew, pack orders and all of the bookkeeping, and website development, and more.”
“One day, I hope to be able to employ people and would love to keep every aspect of my business local!”
Woods says her men’s and women’s garments and accessories are versatile, designed to last years and to be worn over and over again.
“Our customer is someone who likes to wear a subtle pop of colour but also loves black and white in the mix and has sustainable and ethical values.”
Woods uses natural fabrics to make her clothing and accessories, sustainable packaging and is committed to making quality clothing and accessories that will last a lifetime.
“There are so many fast fashion brands that create way too much waste that will never break down. I hate the thought that my business would add to that.”