Sustainable fashion has been a topic fast on the rise, especially with our lives being put on hold by the Covid-19 Pandemic and our increased appreciation for quality and comfort, over quantity. In particular, we have begun to look locally for our purchases, and thankfully a plethora of sustainable clothing companies proliferate throughout Australia, and Melbourne.
Australian ethical clothing brand Robb & Lulu has emerged within this competitive field as a leader of this industry. Robb & Lulu began their foray into the fashion industry 10 years ago with offerings of swimwear and high-end women’s resort wear. From within the mother brand, Fit Aesthetica Swimwear emerged about 3 years ago, with a focus on creating fun, functional, and sustainable swimwear for athletes. However, recently with the joys of lockdown, a more pressing market has emerged in ecoluxe loungewear and thus Lulu Organic Essentials was born.
Using only 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, Robb & Lulu has created a divine collection of women’s organic loungewear, evolving from cotton basics through to stunning linen pieces. By prioritising organic fibres, this sustainable fashion company greatly reduces its environmental impact, so you can feel good about making an environmentally-conscious purchase while wearing these luxuriously soft organic cotton pieces. Currently, the fashion industry is one of the largest consumers of water globally, and conventional cotton is one of the most water-intensive crops. By contrast, organic cotton requires up to 91% less fresh water to produce (Textile Exchange, 2017, p.54), and hence has a reduced social impact on communities near farms through improved accessibility of fresh water. Furthermore, because organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides, there is minimal ground and water contamination through chemical run-off from crops.
Robb & Lulu also prioritises the use of non-toxic dyes, which further reduces the environmental impact of these ecoluxe garments. Garment dyeing is one of the largest water polluters in the textile industry as the artificial chemicals used in many fabric dyes contain toxins, which require the water to be treated after use and before release back into catchments, however this step often does not happen (Fashion Report, 2019, p.24). By using non-toxic dyes, Robb & Lulu reduces the water treatment required, and further ensures that water released back into the basin is safe for human consumption. Thus, the environmental benefits of organic farming and non-toxic dyeing processes extend far beyond the creation of the product, and into the communities that rely on the textile industry. Organic has social, environmental, and economic benefits, and this is why Robb & Lulu prioritises organic cotton as an important component of sustainable fashion.
Furthermore, at Robb & Lulu we understand that the economic livelihood of all people along the supply chain is equally important. This is why we ensure that each person who creates our garments is paid a liveable wage. Additionally, the struggle for gender equality continues to be at the forefront of this ethical Australian brand, and our textile production factory is a small, female-led operation. In Melbourne, our team is made up of wonderfully strong women, with our amazing Director, Lulu Zagame at the helm.
Lulu is a young Melbourne Mum with a passion for the environment and equality. With an innate artistic flair, Lulu hand-designs all of Robb & Lulu’s offerings and participates actively throughout all aspects of the business. Raising two young daughters, Lulu understands the gravity of our climate situation and is taking an active stance in ensuring the world remains a safe and progressive place for her girls to grow up in.
Here, we analyse Lulu’s inner-workings with 10 questions.
What are your 3 top values in life?
Kindness. We must be kind to ourselves, to others, and to the environment. Simultaneously, we must be gracious, and express gratefulness for this life, this planet, and all that we are able to achieve.
Diligence. A good work ethic is indispensable, and hard-work will always be rewarded.
Responsibility and ownership. We each must have a sense of responsibility regarding all of the decisions we make in our lives. We should ask ourselves: what decision have you made, what is the effect of that decision, and who does this decision impact, beneficially or detrimentally?
How has your background, and upbringing influenced your value of ethical fashion?
I have always had an innate appreciation for nature from a young age. With a Mars and Venus in Taurus, I am unequivocally grounded and have a strong relationship with the natural environment around me. Additionally, I feel I was brought up with a strong moral compass, emphasising the preservation of the natural environment. This compass has guided me in all decisions made throughout my life, but especially when embarking on this journey with Robb & Lulu.
Growing up, both of my parents were hard workers, and have always run their own businesses. Through this experience I learned that you cannot afford waste in cost, time, and effort. Every second counts, and every decision made needs to be recognised in relation to the overall impact it will have. These values translate into the environmental aspects of Robb & Lulu, and we actively strive to reduce our waste from the fabric used, to the packaging of the final product.
What inspired you to make the transition from swimwear to sustainable loungewear?
Our transition from swimwear to loungewear was one of pure necessity. At a time when Covid reigned, and lockdowns were the norm, our lifestyles were drastically impacted. Forced closures prevented athletes and recreational swimmers from enjoying water sports. Meanwhile, the functional and fashion aspects of swimwear were compromised by lack of travel. We had to think outside the swimwear square, and expand into an area where our business could truly grow. Now that we’re here, we’re definitely not going back: sustainable loungewear is the future of ethical fashion!
Many people argue that because fast fashion doesn’t have a direct impact in our backyard, we do not need to feel guilty about it. Why do we need to care about how our fashion is made, even if it isn’t in our own backyard?
Fast fashion is in our backyard. We live it and breath it through high streets, and shopping centres. Gone are the days of ignorance, where buying an outfit to wear it once before throwing it away was justified. We need to look at fashion as a whole because there is only one planet earth. It is important that we all understand the impact that our fashion choices have on the environment around us, and the social impact in garment manufacturing countries.
Why is slow fashion important to you?
Slow fashion breeds creativity, and encourages free-thinking. Moreover, slow fashion encourages problem-solving through its mission to reduce the environmental impact of fashion. Finally, slow fashion provides us with a quality, and conscious product that will last beyond one wear. Slow fashion benefits all producers along the chain of production from the fibre farmer, to the person purchasing the product.
How do you envision the future of slow fashion?
I think that appreciation of slow fashion will continue on the upwards rise. The novelty of fast fashion has worn off as people have become more aware of its social and environmental consequences.
Slow fashion will be on the rise more and more in a number of ways. I believe that slow fashion will increase the opportunities for up and coming, through a diversified market. Subsequently, this will influence big corporations to think differently as not changing will no longer be financially feasible. Finally, this will influence taste-makers to uptake slow fashion, which will in turn encourage the uptake of slow fashion throughout the entire cycle.
Do you believe there is the potential for a hybrid between fast fashion and slow fashion? If so, how would this happen?
Fast fashion by its definition is a quick response time to fashion trends. However, all fashion must take care when choosing fabrics and packaging beneficial to the environment. The logical combination of slow fashion and fast fashion is medium paced, sustainable fashion. Fashion can still be quick to respond to market changes, but designers and manufacturers must make conscious, environmentally-focused decisions. Manufacturers have a further responsibility to educate the consumer, and supply them with fashion that doesn’t damage the earth. Natural fibres should be a priority. However, the creator has the ultimate responsibility to ensure that their creations are sustainable. In the future, we might see a greater prevalence of capsule collections, which perfectly balance the promptness of fast fashion, with the quality of sustainable fashion.
Why do you think the uptake of sustainable fashion has been slow?
In truth, people are busy and have to make an effort to take responsibility. Slow, conscious fashion doesn’t always fit in with the busy schedule of working people. I am very aware that to be consciously aware, and to make the right decisions requires effort. However I am also aware that it takes time for people to realise that efforts have to be made, and that messages for change take time to become clearer. I believe that we are on the cusp of these changes in our collective consciousness, becoming the new norm.
How do we further encourage the uptake of alternative, and sustainable fibres by the textile industry?
We, as the sustainable fashion companies must lead by example, and set a market precedent. Across the industry, clear and effective labelling on garments ought to be standard. These must have clear explanations of their environmental benefits to improve clarity and understanding on the part of the consumer. This will in turn trigger further demand.
In some part, we must reinvigorate natural fibres that already exist, and reintroduce them to the industry. One example is banana fibres, which have been used in Japan from as far back as the 13th century. We have to understand the impact of trends, and replicate their impact on alternate fibres. From a practicality perspective, many of these alternative fibres are fantastic, and with education should be chosen every time. Banana trees actually only yield one bunch of fruit in a lifetime, and after producing fruit, the plant is generally thrown away and left to rot. However, the thick stem can be spun into strong, sturdy, biodegradable but soft fibres which can be woven into many different fabrics. Not only does this divert the waste from landfill or compost, but it provides an additional income for farmers.
Where do you see Robb & Lulu in 5 years?
In 5 years’ time, I see Robb & Lulu being one of Australia’s pre-eminent household brands. We will be known for conscious fashion, conscious decisions, and mindfulness throughout all our practices. Additionally, we will be renowned for offering a great product, with great ethics. I envision us having a global reach, with an established wholesale and retail business presence throughout the US, Asia and Europe.