Looking for stylish eco-friendly activewear but coming to a dead end? I understand, I've been there myself. But you can give up your frustrating search because I’ve found the answer for you: Surrender Apparel.
Surrender Apparel is the ethical activewear brand created by Julie Belic, a Melbourne-based designer who I've come to really admire not just for her commitment to ethical fashion but because her quirkiness resonates with me. She's one of the only few designers I have interviewed that prefers winter over summer (“It's the layering that really speaks of one's fashion prowess!”). She's partial to Northern soul music (I had to Google this because I had no idea what it was) and who names Frida Khalo as her style icon (refreshing to hear, and didn't I tell you she was quirky!)
Julie created Surrender Apparel as a yoga wear label for men and women that focusses on using luxurious high quality eco-friendly fabrics. “Wearability, sustainability and style are the three elements we design for with each collection,” says Julie. Thank goodness because I am definitely more yoga meets style meets sustainable than yoga: hippie style.
MINDFULNESS + SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS
Julie is typical of other ethical fashion designers: mindful, thoughtful, determined and extremely passionate about trying to making a difference through fashion design. “My aim for the business is to one day partner with an NGO, to make Surrender a social enterprise,” Julie reveals. Her ambition to change the way that business is conducted is admirable. After all, it is this same ambition that drives my business partners and I in our quest to create our organic food range.
“I just think the days where employees endeavour for a company, the goal being to put more money into a shareholder or business owner’s pocket are leaving us. There is an emptiness to it,” explains Julie. “Business cannot keep taking from communities and the environment, ripping out resources, aiming for a forever growing economy and claim that this is necessary because they are providing jobs. Businesses can do more than that. They need to start giving back and have community goals on their agenda as well as profit. The triple bottom line – people, profit and planet is the new paradigm.”
One other thing that differentiates Julie from other designers is that she doesn’t just focus on the design, production and manufacture of her garments. She also considers the garment’s environmental impact post-sale.
“The greatest environmental impact of a garment occurs during its use by the consumer in laundering. We have considered this during our design process, as yoga wear is a type of garment that requires constant washing,” explains Julie. “We know that botanical dyes are kinder to waterways during the fabric dyeing process. The point is that once the garment is sold, a botanically dyed garment also requires that the wearer wash the garment on a gentle, cool cycle and line dry in order to extend the colour. So using botanical dyes encourages the consumer to wash gently and therefore reduces the impact of the garment over its whole lifecycle.”
TURNING INSIDE OUT FOR FASHION REVOLUTION DAY
When I received Julie’s email two months ago promoting her brand, I knew it was fate. I had been considering purchasing yoga wear since I had begun practising yoga on my balcony almost a year ago. But when Julie offered to send some my way I knew the universe had answered my prayers.
Being known for championing Australian designers, I knew I had to share Surrender Apparel with the world. Up until Julie’s email, the only ethical activewear brands I had come across in my online travels were international brands.
So to help this emerging designer, I decided to wear Surrender Apparel for Fashion Revolution Day on April 24th (check out Eco Warrior Princess on Instagram for more pics) and decided to interview Julie so that other yoga and fitness enthusiasts could learn more about her and the brand.
5 MINUTES WITH JULIE BELIC, FOUNDER OF SURRENDER APPAREL
How did you get started?
I moved to London after studying fashion and did an internship at Boudicca but couldn’t find any paid fashion work after that. It was right around the time the GFC was hitting hard. I didn’t like London much and I returned to a drizzly, grey Melbourne and worked in a tiny, dingy café. I hated life! I was out of money and out of ideas.
I’d been doing yoga once a week for years by then. A guy I worked with insisted I join his yoga studio in the CBD. He went on and on about it and I now pay attention when things come up repeatedly in life. I thought I’d better listen to this guy, he was so insistent. I went to the studio, I liked it and I started doing yoga three to four times a week.
I tried different styles of yoga too, and soon I was addicted to that floaty, blissful feeling after a class. I realised though that if you didn’t want to wear Lululemon and synthetic fabrics, there was virtually nothing available in the yoga market. I wanted clothing made of natural fibres, and I wanted more of a fun, arty aesthetic, not the shiny athletic look. I also wanted clothing that aligned with my environmental ideals. I realised that I could fill this gap in the market.
What makes Surrender Apparel eco-friendly?
We start with fabric. Choosing fabrics that have some eco credentials as there is no such thing as a perfect eco fabric yet. This time around we are using modal and Tencel – they are both biodegradable and Tencel is great because it is very nearly a closed loop process, meaning there is hardly any waste water when being processed into fibre.
We are also using natural dyes this season. I found a wonderful natural dye house in Bali who created some stunning colours for us. Natural dyes are great because not only are they gentler on the environment when the fabric is being dyed, they also require that the user of the garment wash them gently with a bio-degradable detergent. I have found that a lot of people have not made the switch and seem to be sticking to their old detergents. Biodegradable detergents are so easy and cheap to find nowadays, I am surprised they aren’t used more widely.
Where are the garments made?
Surrender is made in Bali. I spent three months in Bali last year, dropping in to the factory several times a week, so I know the conditions there and I met most of the workers. It's a small to medium sized factory with about 70 employees. They have an hour for lunch, and often sleep after they have eaten as this is the hottest part of the day. Also some workers who have difficult family circumstances or young children who prefer to work from home are allowed to do so, and they bring their work into the factory once a week. Bali is primarily a Hindu island, however at the factory there are many Muslim employees as well, and employees can take time off for their various religious holidays and ceremonies. They also take time off to do activities together such as a picnic, soccer or a visit to the mountains.
Sources of inspiration?
The construction of clothing is a big inspiration. How garments are used and how they will age and change with washing and wearing. What people are wearing at yoga and on the street and how they style it. Also colour and light and reflection, nature and lifestyle and travel! Lots of things inspire me!
Your biggest challenges?
Garment construction is so labour intensive but is so undervalued. Consumers are now so used to having garments so cheaply. They don’t consider the human and environmental cost of having garments at such a low price. Someone is losing out somewhere – often it is the destruction of environment from where the materials are taken and where the garment is made. So I’d say my biggest challenge is that quality garments are undervalued by the consumer due to the lure of fast fashion. Surrender prices reflect the fact that it is a thoughtful product from an independent label made with quality fabrics.
Achievement you’re most proud of is… every step I take to solidify the brand into something bigger and better. I am working another job as I am running Surrender, and it is an achievement that I can continue to grow and improve the business in a competitive industry, despite financial constraints and all the things life may throw in the way!
What are you favourite eco fashion brands?
I admire Patagonia and I aspire to make Surrender the Patagonia of yoga wear! Best ‘eco couture’ brand is Alabama Chanin, and in Australia I think Bhalo is a beautiful label with a beautiful story.
How do you incorporate sustainability into your life?
I shop for second hand furniture and clothing mostly. I reduce, re-use and recycle. I take public transport a lot and I ride my bike to work.
If you loved reading about Julie and her brand, why not show your support and follow Surrender Apparel on Facebook and Instagram. The brand is also planning yoga studio pop-ups in Victoria (Australia) and you'll get updates and event details on social media. Julie's one request: "Comment please - we love feedback and witty repartee!"
You can also shop for Surrender Apparel by visiting their website www.surrenderapparel.com.au. If you’re not a click chick and prefer to shop the old fashioned way, you’ll also find a list of their current stockists on there too.
A massive thanks to Julie for being such a good sport and being so generous in sending some garments my way, for opening up your brand (and your life) to Eco Warrior Princess and for being a trailblazer in functional, ethical and stylish activewear.
If you know of other ethical fashion brands that you'd like EWP feature, feel free to leave a comment and tell us what you love about their brand and why you think they should get a mention.