Kyra Brown studied architecture but fashion wooed her heart. A self-taught designer, she launched Verdant the Label in 2016 where she custom makes made-to-order pieces and meticulously dyes all fabrics by hand. We spoke to the Perth-based slow fashion designer via WhatsApp ahead of Eco Fashion Week Australia to discuss the challenges of running a fashion startup and how being raised on a hobby farm has helped shape her sustainable business.
Eco Warrior Princess: So tell me about your move from studying architecture to becoming a fashion designer.
Kyra Brown: It’s interesting because I wanted to do fashion at the beginning and then I kind of got talked into doing architecture as a good alternative, a better option. And I really loved it, enjoyed studying it, but I never felt that I was naturally good at it. It always felt like a bit of a struggle. And when it came down to designing things it was really difficult. The degree was difficult anyway but yeh, it was difficult.
But with fashion it’s different. I had been making clothes for myself for years and for other people, and getting paid for it as I was doing custom pieces. So I was studying architecture and it wasn’t really for me and I always wanted to do fashion and I had a lot of good feedback from [my designs] so I thought, I should really give this a go. And that’s what’s led me to where I am now and so far, I’m loving it.
EWP: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?
KB: It has been very challenging but loving what I do makes it so much easier because you don’t feel as blocked when you come across a challenge because you’re so much more invested in finding a solution to it. I love working for myself and that hasn’t been challenging but definitely the financial side has been challenging and working with other businesses that aren’t reliable has been a real eye-opener. Sourcing especially was so much harder than I expected. I mean, I expected everything to be really difficult but actually finding reputable companies to buy my fabrics from took me months.
EWP: So I read somewhere that you only source natural fabrics? Are these certified organic fabrics?
KB: Not organic because at the moment there aren’t really any standards for organic silk. And silk is the main fabric I’m working with because with cotton, there’s so much water used to grow it and even if it is organic, I find it really hard being Australian and growing up knowing so much about drought to be okay with [using so much water]. And because most of my clothes are evening wear, silk works really well for me there.
I did look at a few companies who say that what they’re selling is organic silk, but there aren’t any standards so you can’t really tell what they think organic means and then when you ask them, a lot of them will just say, Oh we don’t spray it with whatever. But then I think, Well this other company doesn’t do that either and they don’t call it organic. It was a very long process trying to figure out what was right. And then a lot the companies have really large quantities that you have to buy and for me, that just isn’t sustainable. Firstly because of the money factor, but also if I buy a large volume and don’t use it all up, it’s a waste.
EWP: There is peace silk. Would you consider that a better alternative?
KB: It does impact on the quality and it’s also very hard to source in small quantities. It’s quite hard to get in Australia. There is a type of silk worm and the way they cocoon; the silk worm can actually get out without breaking any of the fibres but the silk is thicker than other types of silk and this is a similar result as with peace silk, but because the silk fibres are smaller, they will fray – like microscopic fraying – and so the fabric will wear out more easily.
EWP: There are so many considerations and people aren’t usually aware of the challenges facing designers. How did you get into sustainable fashion?
KB: I grew up on a hobby farm growing and picking our own veggies and that kind of stuff. When I decided to start my fashion label, I didn’t want to do it and not do it properly. In my mind, doing it properly was making sure that everyone that was involved in my business was paid and that my business didn’t have any major impact on anyone and on the planet. Using natural fabrics and low-impact dyes was just part of what I feel is the right thing to do when it comes to launching a fashion label. I wouldn’t have been satisfied if I took the ‘easy’ route which of course wouldn’t have been easy, but doing it this way makes me feel better about it.
EWP: That just comes from inner values because you’re approaching your business as though it is an extension of yourself. I guess for those who start their business with deep values like yourself, it makes sense that the values of your business are aligned with your personal values. So how are you approaching your business model, is it all made-to-order?
KB: Yes it’s made-to-order and I also have a small selection of garments that are going to be for hire, like all the samples I’ve made for photo shoots. So I’m hoping to hire that out and add some more sizes and pieces.
EWP: I think that’s the way the industry is going so I think it’s a great idea. I think more of us are comfortable hiring and returning clothes and it reduces clothing waste too.
KB: I’m going to test out the idea anyway. There’s another option available which is go 100% hire so I can do a very large variety of designs that are available for hire. It’s probably the only way to get as many people to enjoy my designs too. I’ll still offer services to customers as I’ve really enjoyed working with them one-on-one and creating things for them that fit really well and is exactly what they want.
EWP: Yes I love that idea of co-designing and think it’s important that people get back to being involved in and connected with how their garments are made and the people who’ve made them. Now you’ve been running an eco-conscious ethically-driven business, are there any stats or facts about fast fashion that shocks you, still?
KB: Yeh I think just the overconsumption. I’ve never been a big shopper myself and it still shocks me when I see the statistics about the amount of clothes thrown out. I was watching the War On Waste and these group of girls who were impulse shoppers were saying how they go out and shop every week. I feel like I have a lot of clothes in my own wardrobe but there has never been a time where I’ve even considered going shopping each week. That’s just excessive.
EWP: You’re still in the startup phase of your business. Are there any eco designers or brands that inspire you?
KB: There is an ethical brand I really like called The Summer House. They do really nice separates and day wear. There are a lot of sustainable fashion brands and while thy clothes they create are cool, I sometimes think, Who would actually wear that? Whereas with The Summer House, they have a good balance between not being boring and average; the clothes are really well made and quite interesting, but they’re not so strange that I couldn’t imagine anyone wearing them.
With Verdant’s distinctly feminine aesthetic, use of classic silhouettes that aren’t restricted to age or season (yay, trends are so not ‘eco’), and embrace of the art of slow, we can’t wait to see its glamorous pieces sashay down the runway at Eco Fashion Week Australia.
Want to support this gifted local Australian designer and see Kyra’s collection up close and personal? Make sure to get your tickets to Eco Fashion Week Australia here.
Responses have been slightly edited for clarity.
Fashion shoot credits:
Photographer: Tijana Lilic
Makeup and hair: Barbara Cavalli
Stylist: Andrea Lewin
Model: Bella Tanasi