Bob People: Esther Kirwan of Theo the Label
With a natural and sustainable mindset equal to Bob's, it is no surprise that a chance passing of Theo the Label's South Melbourne Market store would lead the Bob team to fall in love with the local fashion brand.
With a collection of minimal, modern clothing for men and women - usually created in small quantities in a neutral colour palette of blacks, greys, blues, and whites - founder and designer Esther Kirwan creates sweatshop-free staples for the everyday wardrobe.
With a focus on the maker, the materials, and the longevity of each piece, Kirwan's label bucks the notion that sustainable and natural fashion is too expensive for the everyday person.
Here we talk that 'AHA' moment, designing for longevity, and slow rituals.
Tell us a bit about your fashion background?
My mum taught me to sew early on and I made costumes and dresses for myself in high school without considering it a career pathway. I ended up choosing to study fashion after a few unfulfilling years in physiotherapy, but I honestly don't know how I made that decision. I have a tendency to make rash decisions so perhaps this was one of those times. I applied, prepared a folio and before I knew it, I was a fashion design student.
When did sustainability come into the picture for you? Was there an 'AHA' moment?
I became aware of sustainability after viewing the documentary 'China Blue' (think a more basic version of 'The True Cost' following the life of a Chinese garment worker) in a compulsory university course. It was one of those subjects that no one took seriously and only completed the bare minimum to get by, but that was really the 'AHA' moment for me. I couldn't believe that 95% of my course was emphasising original design, inspiration and fashion history while people were literally dying while sewing our clothes. In hindsight, I was probably studying the wrong course again, but I'm thankful it still directed me to a path I'm very passionate about in ethical consumption.
If you could teach consumers of fashion just one thing about the fashion industry and its impact on the globe, what would it be?
I would love for people to get in touch with their feelings of empathy and empowerment. I mean, imagine what it's like to be a mother working 10-hour days in a factory that's three hours away from your family and yet you're still not making enough to pay your bills let alone save for your future?
All of a sudden, we think 'that could have been me' and if we can fully comprehend the reality of millions of men and women in these hopeless circumstances, there is no way we would continue to support the system that is oppressing them. By allowing empathy to run its course we naturally begin looking for ethical alternatives, learning a little bit more each time we need to make a purchase, cook a meal or get our hair done and before we know it, we feel quite passionate about this whole sustainability thing! That's what happened to me anyway. I feel empowered knowing I'm contributing to the world for the better and I think others will feel the same when they experience it for themselves.
How do you design for longevity and sustainability?
Personally, I hate having to choose what to wear on a daily basis, so I like to design capsule pieces that are mixed and matched with very little effort. I'm naturally drawn to simple lines, so my designs always take classic silhouettes with a little spin, and because of that they remain relevant season after season. An important thought process I go through is ensuring that clothing equips us to live comfortably and practically rather than limiting us or causing unnecessary conflict. Natural fibres in neutral colourways play a big role in achieving all these factors as well as being much more sustainable than synthetic counterparts.
Favourite natural/sustainable products and rituals?
It's not really a ritual but recently I've enjoyed exploring sustainability around food which ties in closely with health and wellbeing. This year I decided to eat plant-based meals at home and it has done wonders for my energy, food budget and curiosity! Who would have thought the world is monopolised by giant food corporations?! (I say that lightly but it's an extremely challenging philosophy to explore).
Also food related, one of the first steps I made towards sustainability in my home was to replace capsule coffee with an excellent espresso machine. It's not only cheaper to buy fresh beans with less/no plastic, but you can also support local roasters and try a much bigger variety of beans (with Fairtrade options) and enjoy a much richer cup of coffee! (Warning: once you switch, you can never have capsule coffee again). It's become a bit of ritual to make my coffee while sipping on hot water, then sitting down to do morning pages (basically free-hand brain dumping on paper for three pages) and watching the sunrise before I start the day.
I love non-fiction, particularly about spirituality, business and self-development (super cliché I know). Francis Chan, Seth Godin and Tim Ferris are favourites as they challenge the status quo and widen my perspective across all different areas of life.