Welcome to the first interview in our "ethical" fashion series. Today, we speak to Carlie Ballard - a sustainable fashion advocate and also the curator of online store Indigo Bazaar.
1. In 2012, you started Indigo Bazaar – an online store which sources and sells ethical clothes made in Australia and around the world. How did the idea for Indigo Bazaar come about?
I have always loved fashion and was also looking for something that had more depth, something I could resonate with. So it was while I was trekking in the Nepal Himalaya where I was immersed in the culture of this magical place and interacting with the locals where the idea to leap into ethical and sustainable fashion began. I could see combining my two passions of fashion and cultures could actually be an amazing business opportunity but also something that would empower people in the developing world and be better for the planet too.
2. The terms ethical, eco and sustainable fashion are increasingly being thrown around. How would you define eco/ethical/sustainable clothing?
It can get a little confusing for people on the outside to decipher the difference. Essentially I now like to put all of those under one umbrella term, “sustainable fashion’. I feel this sounds more appealing. Sustainable fashion encompasses a considered approach to its impact on people and planet and a sustained approach to manufacturing for garment workers and fabric production. It also encompasses good design and quality craftsmanship to ensure longevity in a garments lifecycle. In point form:
· Environmentally sustainable materials
· Fairtrade / fair working conditions
· Low/no waste production
· Directional design and systems
3. Indigo Bazaar stocks a number of small grassroots labels, for whom formal accreditation schemes such as Fair Trade and GOTS are often too costly. What do you do in such cases to ensure that the grassroots labels you stock maintain ethical labour and environmental standards?
The best part about working in this industry are the relationships created. I get to know my stockists well and build a trusting relationship with them. The obvious questions of who makes and where are your garments made need to asked, but if your creating a genuinely sustainable product you will never hesitate in answering these kinds of questions. Not all labels do all things, that can be extremely difficult for grassroots labels. It’s about starting the process and improving with each collection. Some labels are accredited with Fair Trade or Made-by, while others work in well know fair trade factories but just don’t have the accreditation as yet. As a buyer, I want to know more about the values of the designer first and foremost.
4. In the two years that you have been running Indigo Bazaar, have you seen any major changes in the ethical clothing landscape – in terms of either demand or supply? I would be particularly interested to hear what ramifications (if any) you think increasing media attention to the issue following the Rana Plaza factory collapse had on the clothing industry in Australia?
When I started research for Indigo Bazaar way back in 2008, every google search led me to the Northern Hemisphere. When I launched there was definitely an increase in labels working in the space in Australia but not anyone at that time doing an online marketplace dedicated to sustainable fashion. When the news broke of the Rana plaza collapse it was in the back of peoples minds but I still don’t think with most people there was a major leap in creating a connection with their clothing. It was far away from the shopping centres of Australia, even though there was a lot of coverage from the media, education is the key to creating direct connections with garment factories in places like Bangladesh and China to what is hanging on the racks here in Australia.
5. You recently started your own eco/ethical label Carlie Ballard – how did your experience with Indigo Bazaar drive you to create your own label?
I have always wanted to design my own range, but I got carried away with Indigo Bazaar and had to put designing on the back burner for a while. It was just a burning desire to put all of my own ideas into a tangible product, I would unpack all the other designers and was continually envious, so I knew I just had to leap and start my own.
6. All Carlie Ballard pieces are made out of Lucknow, India. What made you decide to manufacture in Lucknow? Especially compared to manufacturing in Australia?
Good question. My initial reason for starting Indigo Bazaar was to empower the makers in third world countries. So I was always going to produce somewhere that I felt my label was helping people living in very poor countries to sustain a better life for themselves and their families. Through my connections I stumbled across a women here in Australia who had started a small workshop in Lucknow with the mission for it to be managed by women and offer fair and safe working conditions to the local community. It was exactly what I was looking for and I am so grateful everyday for the relationship I have built with my manufacturer.
Probably getting major labels to start dipping their toe into sustainable fashion production. The fear of the unknown I think is the biggest immobilizer. Myself and 4 other sustainable fashion advocates here in Australia have started an organisation called Clean Cut Fashion to assist labels with creating more sustainable fashion practices in their business. So the tide is turning.
8. What are your favourite eco/ethical clothing labels?
There are so many to choose from now! Looking at my wardrobe I would have to say:
All photos from Carlie Ballard.