For years, model and artist Rachel Rutt grappled with the idea of launching her own knitwear label. Her work in the Australian fashion industry, which she entered at the age of 17, made her acutely aware of hyper-consumption and the impact fashion has on the environment.
According to the UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned every second, while an estimated $US500 billion value is lost every year due to clothing being barely worn and rarely recycled.
“I thought, how can I put more into the world without their being extreme consequences?” Rachel reflects.
After years of experimenting and receiving requests for made-to-order items, Rachel decided to start RUTT Australia, a knitwear label with a focus on creating a low-impact product. Each item is handmade to order using locally sourced, minimally processed and organic materials.
Rachel says while made to order may have previously been more reserved for tailors, incorporating it into her brand has allowed for a more transparent experience where the consumer can learn the finer details of the product, such as where it was produced and what fibres are used.
“Once I embraced the idea of made to order, it opened me up to take a step forward because you are not driven by sales, the demand to get your product or empty your stock,” says Rachel. “It is much more about a relationship with your consumer that is more personal and direct.”
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While Rachel has worked across a number of mediums in textiles, art and music, she says knitting is incredibly versatile and allows for creative flexibility.
“If you make a mistake with knitting or if you outgrow it or get over the fashion, you can unravel it and start again,” she says. “There are not that many things in life where we get the opportunity to do that and it is a really wonderful metaphor for recreating, redoing something and trying again or just learning.”
Rachel’s interest in sustainability has also led her to launch Green Hands Craft, an after-school program designed to equip children with basic skills to recycle or up-cycle, mend and create. During the workshops, children learn the basics of sewing, mending and textile crafts, skills Rachel learnt as a young child growing up in a commune in Japan.
“As soon as you take time to look at what you have been wearing, to look at a rip or a tear and to put it back together, that act of mending connects you to it in a way that is irreversible,” she says. “You are much less likely to throw it away because you have invested time in it — a universal commodity — and also because you made the item unique. When you do it once, you are more likely to do it the next time and that everyday magic is the most powerful thing about the sustainability movement now.”
Sustainability in practice
For actress and artist Nikki Reed, launching her sustainable jewellery, apparel and home brand, BaYou With Love, was about creating an opportunity for people to become more interested in sustainability and to bring it into their home and practice.
“I would say 10 years ago, this was not even a conversation. Five years ago it may have been a conversation, but it would have been a very niche conversation,” Nikki says. “When you are trying to effect change, you can’t have a conversation that is polarising.”
Like Rachel, Nikki is also an environmentalist. She launched BaYou With Love in 2017 and has been crafting fine jewellery using recycled gold recovered from electronic circuit boards through a partnership with technology company Dell.
According to Nikki, over $US60 million of gold is thrown away in mobile phones in the United States each year alone.
The company’s diamonds are also sourced from a certified 100 per cent carbon-neutral diamond producer, Diamond Foundry, grown above ground in the pacific northwest and molecularly identical to natural diamonds.
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“I think jewellery is a beautiful way to do that (create interest in sustainability) because it is an easy talking piece. This is especially so when people get engaged because friends and family want to know the story of the proposal and now they get to know the amazing story about why their partner picked that ring.”
While Nikki is driven by her morals and interest in sustainability, she says building the company hasn’t come without its challenges — from understanding how to receive gold to moving slowly and consciously into apparel, sourcing sustainable plant fabric and finding alternatives to chemical dyes.
“There are always methods of doing and achieving that are better,” says Nikki. “It is our job as business owners to strive for that and to make ourselves life-long students of how to give back. I am proud when people tell me that they look at their life and the things they do differently because of BaYou With Love.”
Simone Ziaziaris is a Sydney-based journalist who writes about culture, human rights, sustainability and everyday yarns in between. She loves meeting new, creative people through her work and finds joy in listening and learning from those she crosses paths with. Find her at @simoneziaziaris.