Now if you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll have noticed a recurring theme on this blog and it’s this: I have a soft spot for Australian-based ethical fashion designers.
It’s probably not so much a soft spot as an innate instinct to protect “one of my own”. Whether the business manufactures here or overseas, if they’re Aussie-based, prioritise the welfare of their fellow human and inject a whole lot of eco-friendliness into the supply chain, I treat them like a distant relative, someone who I have common ties with and whom I’m desperate to learn more about.
Which brings me to Rachel Pines, the remarkably talented woman behind the ethical eco wear brand Moonbird Designs.
There’s something about Rachel.
I first discovered Rachel’s ethical label while sitting in the front row of the Undress Melbourne sustainable fashion show in 2014. Her designs came bounding down the runway donned by beautiful models and I remember thinking: how incredibly cute and comfy!
For those of you who aren’t aware, Moonbird is eco wear made in fair trade facilities in India from GOTS organic cotton fabric usually handprinted or handwoven. The brand doesn’t hold any vegan certifications (“because it would be too costly for us” explains Rachel) but does avoid animal products in garments.
As it so happens, this is where the Moonbird story and my connection with Rachel begins.
A couple of hours later at the after-party, I had the good fortune to meet Rachel in person. She introduced herself to my best friend and I, and if memory serves me correctly, we chatted outside the women’s bathroom; as women do.
While the encounter was extremely brief, I felt good vibes emanating from her. And the meeting obviously had an impact on me because Moonbird Designs has been featured three times already on Eco Warrior Princess!
After that chance meeting, here’s what I’ve since learned about Rachel: before Moonbird, she was a film costume maker and fabricator. She’d worked on films such as Star Wars, The Mummy and Harry Potter. I knew there was a reason why our paths crossed. Aside from having ethical fashion in common, I’m also a #geekgirl and as she has participated in the making of some of my favourite films, it makes me a Rachel Pines #fangirl.
And then along came Sally.
Now over a month ago Moonbird’s business development manager Sally got in touch and explained that the business would be “branching out” and would be introducing several new product lines such as breastfeeding tops and children’s sleepwear.
Wonderful! I thought. Fantastic to see an Aussie ethical brand growing.
I continued reading: “We’re exceptionally excited to be heading in a whole new direction with the launch of Moonbird’s sister brand, Sunbird. Changing the face of how women feel about wearing & purchasing swimwear. Practical, beautiful designs featuring Italian made, recycled fabrics – produced using recycled water bottles.”
Then I learned that Sunbird will be launched in October and will be made in Australia from recycled lycra.
Growing so much they’re diversifying into new product segments, and manufacturing in Australia. Way to go Team Moonbird!
Mum’s the word.
Business is tough, and now that I myself have my own business (I launched my own digital agency), I can appreciate just how tough. I met Rachel when she was just at the beginning of her business journey and to see how far she’s come is encouraging, and all the more so as she holds down one of the most challenging roles on the planet: being a mother.
“I have two amazing children aged 8 and 6 that bring me so much joy. They have taught me the importance of saying sorry, and how everyone just wants to be heard,” shares Rachel. “Motherhood has been a rollercoaster of a journey and I’m sure I’ll never stop learning.” Anyone who can run a growing business and raise kids simultaneously is a superwoman in my books. I can barely look after my cat Coco, and she’s highly independent!
Rachel explains what inspired her to launch Moonbird Designs: “After having my kids I wanted to go back to doing something creative because in my previous life I’d worked in the film industry. But when I realised how unethical the fashion industry can be, I found that unless I did it in the right way I couldn’t do it at all.”
Rachel admits that her high ethical principles “has made business life very hard at times” but acknowledges that the team is committed to doing the best they can with the resources available. The other challenge is educating the public about “the true cost of garments” and why her products cost more. “When you buy a $6 t-shirt it can’t be made with people or planet in mind, someone somewhere has suffered to make that garment.”
The ethical mile.
Rachel is an incredible role model, not just for her kids, but for people everywhere. She makes organic cotton eco wear, eats mostly vegetarian, has solar panels, recycles everything, prefers to give books and experiences as gifts and thinks about how her buying decisions affect people and the planet down the chain.
To add to that, she and her team also recently launched a #loveislove campaign in support of marriage equality.
But make no mistake, saintdom is not what Rachel is after. Like many heart-centred people, Rachel is just aiming to live a life of true integrity. She embraces her humanity. “I suffered for most of my adult life from anxiety,” admits Rachel. “But recently with the help of my nutritionist, (as I was trying to fix some other health issues with a change of diet and supplements) the anxiety has 99% disappeared. I wake up every day and feel grateful for this new life where I can just be me and not worry about going anywhere and how to handle stressful experiences.”
Words of encouragement.
It wouldn’t be an interview with an ethical designer without asking for advice about conscious shopping. And Rachel’s responses didn’t disappoint: “Buy less. Buy well. And if you end up buying something from a place that you don’t like their ethics write to them and tell them about your discomfort. We have so much more power than we think we do. Every time we spend money we have the option of doing good, let’s use that to empower ourselves and our communities.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Rachel it’s this: when passion for people and planet intersects with a higher purpose, anything is possible.
*** Updated 23/6/2020: Moonbird Designs has closed down and is no longer in business. Read Rachel’s note about her decision to close here. ***