Inspired by ‘anything and everything’, Australian eco fashion designer Rachael Cassar creates textural garments using second-hand materials, designed with a customer who has ‘a creative spirit and values the different’ in mind.
Since launching her namesake label back in 2007, a mere four months after graduating from the University of Technology Sydney, Rachael has gone on to international acclaim, exhibiting in London and receiving industry international awards.
LivingNow spoke with Rachael Cassar to find out how her designs are received in Australia and what challenges she faces as an eco fashion designer.
You knew from an early age you wanted to be a fashion designer. Education aside, what steps did you take in order to make your dreams a reality?
I just made sure I never stopped creating. This meant hours in my room, conducting my own projects, never getting discouraged if they didn’t work out – this set the strong foundations for me. I am not afraid to make mistakes. I am not afraid to jump right into cutting and stitching and forming even if it means I have to unpick the whole piece and start all over again – I am a true believer of doing rather than planning. That process works for me and helped me realise how great it is to make mistakes, because from mistakes comes problem solving which, for me, forces better and more creative solutions! So I suppose, education aside, it was about learning how I naturally design without being taught the ‘right’ way to create.
How do you strike a balance between creativity and commercialism?
To be honest I never really put that boundary on myself. I suppose the way it works for me is just making sure the piece is still functional as an item of clothing, but I wouldn’t say I think about being commercial.
How do you define sustainable fashion?
Fashion that is designed with consideration to the environment, consideration of the item’s life span, it’s footprint and that looks towards protecting the future.
Your garments are made from recycled materials. Where do you generally source these materials, and what are the challenges and successes faced when working with recycled materials?
I source my materials from anywhere – markets, garage sales, op shops, auctions, donations from friends, family and public. Sometimes finding large volumes of one fabric can be difficult, especially if I take something apart, start designing with it and realise the meterage falls short of my vision. The only other challenge I face with using re-claimed fabric is that it is sometimes really hard to identify the fabric contents.
Are consumers surprised to learn that that your collections are eco-friendly, especially given the tired connotations that eco-fashion has received in the past (an attitude that is slowly changing)? What’s involved in promoting yourself as a ‘sustainable’ designer? Do you actively make that distinction in your marketing?
Yes I believe the image of eco is changing; however it’s only through designers who are trying to show people that aesthetics should not be compromised or sacrificed for sustainability. I don’t think eco fashion will thrive unless it surprises society instead of offering what traditionally has been thought as eco.
Yes, people get surprised. I don’t think they are attracted to my work solely for the ‘eco’ element. I believe my design aesthetic holds its own ground. The fact that it is sustainable is a bonus. The two combined ensure a desirable product.
I try not to make a huge distinction in my marketing. I am proud that my work is sustainable and that I have managed to make a strong consistent aesthetic using recycled materials. So I do call myself an Australian eco fashion designer, as I do want people to know there is a consciousness behind my work that needs to be recognised and hopefully helps change society’s pre-conception of ‘sustainable’. However I still am a fashion designer; I promote my designs first and foremost.
Do you think the Australian perception of sustainable fashion is shifting? Are there any notable advantages or disadvantages of being a designer in Australia?
Yes it is changing, but, when going to another city like London or New York, you realise how slow and behind Australia actually is in terms of embracing sustainable fashion.
I do find it hard here in Australia for the type of fashion I create. I am all about slow fashion. Each item is hand made, valuing technique and quality over quantity. I want my garments to tell a story, to hopefully be a piece that gets passed on. Therefore my fashion isn’t very accessible or, thank God, disposable. Unfortunately this makes it difficult for a small label like mine to thrive here as it goes against everything our traditional fashion industry is about. To be honest, most of the attention I receive is from overseas. The fashion industry here seems to get to a point where it is comfortable with a handful of designers, and those designers seem to dominate the marketplace for decades.
Would you consider your work couture – each garment being an individual piece based on a client’s individual wishes and measurement – or is it actually ready-to-wear?
I wouldn’t call my work couture. It has elements of couture techniques – I like to say semi-couture creations. I think I just have always been obsessed with one-of-a-kind pieces – with anything – jewellery, furniture, art – anything where the buyer owns the design and knows it is the only one that exists in the world is so refreshing in a society dominated by mass produced quantities of everything! I hand make all my pieces, I like to think that my own ‘sewing handwriting’ is on each piece, even the imperfections, and this is what makes something special, sustainable – something that you just can’t throw away.
Do you have a sense of community within the Australian sustainable fashion, and how does that work within the wider Sydney fashion scene?
I can’t really say I do have that sense of community here in Australia. I am in contact with more sustainable designers around the globe.
Who is the client you have in mind when designing?
Someone who deep down has a creative spirit and values the different.
What else inspires your work?
Anything and everything. I am big on texture.
What are you working on right now?
I create one collection per year – so I do wait till I feel very inspired to put a label on what I am going to create next. I also like to take a break. I maintain I am one person, not a machine, and don’t want to produce just anything for the sake of it. A good break enables me to produce work that is still fresh and exciting.
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