THE GOLDEN TONES OF AUREUS
I first was introduced to the fashion brand, Feather Drum, when a women called Kelly-Lee Wright contacted me to talk about the launch of her new kids line. She was new to the game and wanted to see if I would creative direct her first campaign. Four years ago this wasn’t a call that had me jumping with inspiration. Back then, in general, there wasn’t much on the market that I could connect with. I had been dressing my children in vintage since they were born and even though this woman was intelligent and lovely, I wasn’t expecting much. Then she sent me the line drawings. Straight away I could see there was a player in town. Someone with a unique stroke that took the beauty of childhood and accentuated it with natural, simple designs and fabrications instead of covering it in a shower of plastic sequins and bright polyesters. Her intelligence as a human transcended into her collections, compounded by her commitment to sustainability.
In that moment, Kelly had me as her number one fan. Finally collections that were sustainable AND beautiful…for children. Not to mention her 'clothes that grow' philosophy, which I am a big supporter of, changing the mindset of parents that fast fashion isn't the only economical way to dress our children. It was such a pleasure to talk to Kelly in the below interview about what drives her commitment to this cause and what inspired her latest collection 'Aureus SS19'.
We worked together on your first campaign back in 2014. Tell us a little bit about your background and why you decided to get into fashion?
The abridged version is that prior to creating FD, I was a corporate lawyer in the heart of London. I took a chance on love in another land… Australia. We had a child together and it caused me to re-evaluate what I wanted to do.
I was always heavily into my fashion so it was natural that when Willow was born I’d be on the hunt for some cool threads for her. I never really managed to find what I wanted her to wear in the shops…six years ago kids fashion was not as huge as it is now. So, I decided to design a collection of clothes myself, even though I had no background experience in fashion or design! And here we are...
Hard to believe that it was just over four years ago that we shot our first campaign together!
How did the idea of Feather Drum come to life?
As soon as the initial idea came to the surface, I had a very clear vision of what Feather Drum was to be. I drew lots, and wrote copious notes and ideas, and ultimately breathed life into something that now has a life of its own.
Don’t get me wrong, many, many, many doors were shut in my face. Finding a manufacturer who was trustworthy and agreeable to making small runs was the hardest part.
You have been one of the first Australian childrenswear brands to adopt sustainable practices.. Why was this important to you?
For me, the journey towards sustainability began when, one season, I was advised that my shipment would be late due to the fact that the dyeing factory was forcibly closed for a few days - to reduce pollution in Shanghai - and as a result there was a work backlog.
I immediately felt sick to my stomach.
At home, as a family, we eat healthy wholesome organic food from the local organic markets, we teach our daughter the importance of not littering or wasting water or energy, we recycle our waste and use ‘keep cups’ at our local café, yet here I was, building a living from something that was directly contributing to the pollution of the planet. There was no way I could continue in my business and both live with myself and be a good role model to my daughter if I didn’t put the wheels in motion for change right there and then.
To become truly sustainable doesn’t happen overnight. There are so many different processes in manufacturing a garment that to ensure each and every one is environmentally friendly is a mammoth task. I’m still not 100% there, and don’t profess to be. But I am on the journey and heading towards a goal and each season we get closer and closer towards that goal. It’s been a big learning curve but sustainable practices are absolutely core to what and who we are as a business going forward.
What practices make Feather Drum sustainable?
I try my best to produce from as few factories as possible, to reduce our carbon footprint when it comes to shipping goods to Australia. I also do my utmost to get entire collections shipped in one go.
Currently, I manufacture from two family run GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) Certified factories in India which are also accredited to provide safe, hygienic working conditions for staff, do not use child labour and provide fair wages and protection from discrimination.
I select organic or recycled fabrics wherever possible. I learned pretty early on that some fabrics have an enormous MOQ if they are to be made from organic fibres so I’ve learnt to steer clear of those fabrications in the future until I can be confident enough to know the MOQ will be met. Organic cotton is at the core of most of the selects as I still prefer to work with natural fibres over manmade ones, however I’m presently looking to source swimwear fabric made from recycled fishing nets and plastic bottles.
I’m very mindful of the volume of packaging that comes along with wholesale orders so opt for bio-degradable poly bags to protect the clothing. I reuse boxes sent to me to post out our retail orders and take all our unused cardboard and plastics down to our local recycling centre once we have enough to fill a large sedan.
Outside of using recyclable and organic fabrics, I particularly love your ‘clothes that grow’ philosophy. Can you explain what this is?
It’s a little known fact that to design and manufacture a child size garment is almost as expensive to design and manufacture an adult size garment. Where adults are happy to splash the cash on a piece of clothing for themselves, knowing it can be a staple in their wardrobe for up to a decade, the same cannot be said for a kids piece as it simply won’t fit them after approximately one year’s growth, no matter how good the quality is!
This has been a constant challenge for me as a designer of a boutique kids label that doesn’t mass produce. How can I get parents to invest more in their children’s fashion???
Aside from good quality and great design, I knew that If I could lengthen the ‘shelf life’ of the garment, parents would be getting way more bang for their buck. For this reason, I try to consciously incorporate design elements that make the garment ‘grow’ as the child does. With this in mind, you will see many of my designs have adjustable straps or waist adjusters. Pants are often made longer in the leg so they can be worn rolled up to start with, and gradually rolled down. We favour loose fitting maxi lengths in dresses and skirts that can be worn midi length 2 years later and mini dresses convert easily to smock tops. This is our ‘clothes that grow’ philosophy and I have so many customers who tell me with delight that a pair of pants or dress they bought 3 years ago is still going strong…and still in good enough condition to hand down to a sibling to wear for another 3 years!
For me, whilst I’m obviously in the business of selling new clothes, this completes the sustainability circle. Not only producing garments in an ethical manner, but designing them to last longer and moving away from harmful fast fashion.
Do you think the mindset is slowly changing where parents are opting for a more quality, long lasting alternative to fast fashion?
I think mindsets are only changed if people are educated and thankfully the media is shining a bright light on the fashion industry and sustainability.
I don’t think ten, or even five, years ago, you would see Vogue publish a whole edition dedicated to sustainability. It’s great to see fashion icons and celebrities, such as Emma Watson and many others, champion change in the industry too. Awareness is definitely on the rise and yes, I do think parents, and consumers generally, are slowly choosing to spend their dollars on more environmentally friendly options, whether it be the way our clothing has been manufactured, a move away from fast fashion (or even the way our food has been grown or how economical electrical appliances and vehicles run).
There’s a definite change in the air.
I am in love with your latest collection SS18/19 Aureus. Where did the inspiration come from for this?
Oh thank you!!! I have to say, I love it too ha!
Aureus (or Aureum) means ‘golden’ in Latin so it’s no surprise that this collection is filled with pieces in rich golden tones and bold tans. Olympic blue and white stripes also feature, inspired by the stunning bright blue dome topped buildings in Santorini, a place that holds special personal memories to me (and where I’m lucky enough to be heading back to later this year!!!)
The Hi-Summer Collection launching end of September is completely different and takes you away from the sea, inland. It’s called Botanica, inspired by anything and everything botanical.
Tell us about Pilgrim and why this label is different to Feather Drum?
Pilgrim was really a side experiment to test the knowledge I had acquired about sustainable manufacturing before applying it across to the Feather Drum brand.
I chose to develop the entire Pilgrim collection from linen and plant dye. It was a huge departure from what Feather Drum previously was, which was very print heavy. The aim was to ensure Pilgrim was a design focused eco-brand, an opportunity for me to experiment with keeping things clean and streamlined, to create a line that was modern, edgy, yet still very wearable. It also marked my first venture into doing a small women’s line.
The lessons I learnt from doing Pilgrim have now been passed over and applied to Feather Drum, so you will see many of the Japanese inspired silhouettes, natural fabrics, oversized, bold and subtle designs in the new SS18/19 Collection which is about to launch, as well as another small women’s line.
What frustrates you about children’s fashion?
I guess the same issues that affect all designers, such as people not understanding why your clothing is not priced the same as the likes of Big W/Target, and cheap knock-offs of your original designs popping up all over websites like Ebay, Alibaba etc. That’s never a good feeling!
What is it that makes you passionate about your work and designs?
Since my first sketches back in 2013, the kids fashion world has truly exploded. There’s barely a fashion house, from Gucci, to Fendi, to Dolce & Gabbana that doesn’t now offer a kids line, and the number of brands you can find on Instagram is just enormous. I truly think this is fantastic as there are so many options for parents out there these days.
I do feel, however, that so many brands, whilst beautiful in their own right, are just offering the same thing as so many of their counter parts. From the start, I came into this business to offer something different to the kids wear market, and remaining unique and bringing something new to the fore is what keeps the passion burning season after season.