Thursday, 31 October 2013

Make That Change with One Colour

Models Amanda Rootsey and Jess Adjei wearing One Colour's latest collection Detour
All images in the article taken by Photographer is Greg Harm of Tangible Media
Hair done by Lyla Clare

One Colour established in 2007 founded by the enchanting Di Stitt, this is not an ordinary label with each garment from every collection telling a story of change. With a mantra "Creating positive change through fashion" One Colour is definitely like no other. While other labels worry about just simply the design of a piece, Di digs deeper peeling back each layer of the process. 

Each design has a bold message to think about where your garment is from and who is affected in the process, which is something most fashionistas and labels forget about. Di makes yearly trips to visit her partners in Kenya and works with organisations Treehenge and 500 Fellowship. It is not only inspiring but quite admiral for one label to start creating ethical and sustainable awareness in the fashion world. With her previous success at Undress Brisbane, One Colour is on the right track to uniting people throughout the world with one piece of clothing. 

I managed to steal Di away for a interview on how One Colour came to be, she shared many pinnacle moments in her life that aided in the labels conception and growth, see the full interview below. Make sure to see One Colour's garments walk the runway next week on Friday at Capulet Bar for Fashion Fridays, Heat 4 purchase your tickets on their Facebook.

Behind the scenes with Di Stitt on set on the Detour shoot.

1. One Colour came to life in 2007, was it your trip to South Africa that inspired the label?

One Colour's story starts in 2004 when I was reading a biography of Bono, U2 front man (yes, I am a U2 tragic from way back). He mentioned that his wife, Ali Hewson, was founding a clothing label, EDUN, with one of its aims being to support sustainable trade with Africa. At the same time I was learning about the extent of extreme poverty in the world – a global catastrophe where 1.4 billion were living on no more than $1 a day. I am still moved when I think of so many people living that way, although I don’t think I’d actually call it “living”. I have had all the advantages of education, good health and stable government so, as if I had been waiting for that time in my life, I decided that I would “do something” about it. That “something” took a little longer to emerge however when we moved to Brisbane in 2006 I started the venture now known as One Colour.

I travel to Kenya each year and am constantly inspired and challenged by the people I work with there. My most recent trip to Kenya in June 2013 presented me with a serendipitous opportunity to meet Ali Hewson informally and to let her know that her vision inspired me to create my own vision.

2. Tell us about the team behind One Colour?

The team consists of a few key players, along with my producer partners in Kenya, Viva Africa in Nakuru and the Kenana Knitters in Njoro. Both these towns are about 2 hours’ drive from Nairobi. I head up the enterprise in Australia and I work with people on various short to medium term projects. Libby Andersen and I design the fashion label and I am currently working with Rosie Helson who is handling PR (a first for One Colour). Rosie has also helped drive a sales project. Then there is the photographer, graphic designer, models, web designer, even the freight forwarder… there are so many wonderful individuals out there who are running their own small businesses. It’s been great to engage with them. My family is incredibly supportive, too. It would be impossible to do this without them. The business has now reached the point, though, where I really need to engage someone part time to help with, well, everything!

3. Why the name One Colour?

I woke up one morning with those words in my head after spending an afternoon walking through the Botanical Gardens with my family not long after we arrived in Brisbane in 2006. It sat really well with my life ethos, and still does. Then when we travelled to South Africa in 2007 I met a gorgeous woman and as we talked she said “I don’t know why we (in South Africa) fight each other. When you cut anyone of us we all bleed the same colour blood red." This image has stayed with me and reminds me that underneath our beliefs, our ethnicity, our likes and dislikes, our upbringing, we share a common colour – blood. It sounds a bit gruesome but really, I like that the stuff that flows around our bodies just under our skin is the same colour for everyone.

Model Amanda Rootsey in the Detour collection

4. Why is sustainability a vital part of your label?

Sustainability is such a buzz word right now. A few years ago it was green, or was it ethical...anyway, now it’s sustainable. I think it’s really hard to define what makes a fashion label sustainable because there are so many approaches to it. The recent Undress Brisbane runway show was testament to that – vintage, recycled, up-cycled, organic, fair trade, carbon neutral – everyone has a passion that they are working to incorporate into their label. For One Colour it is definitely the justice angle, someone should not be exploited just so that I can have a fashion garment that I will look great in. Sustainability for One Colour involves sourcing fabrics and manufacture almost entirely from within East Africa, keeping as much of the value chain in Africa, and then bringing that fashion to our customers. All our jersey and woven fabric is grown in Africa by small scale cotton farmers who rely on rain to water their crops and crop rotation to keep the soil healthy. In the near future I hope to use cotton from Uganda. The sourcing and use of this Ugandan grown cotton will close the loop between farmer and garment, or from field to fashion, again protecting the value chain from exploitation as the focus will be on giving adequate payment to the farmers for their crop.

5. Tell us about the unique process for designing and creating a garment?

Our customer is the woman who likes the flexibility of being able to wear her outfits at work and outside of work, too. With that in mind, we look at what shapes will work with the fabric we can source in Africa. As African fabrics fall mainly into cotton woven or jersey we have, until now, stayed with this, designing garments that work within these guidelines. We also look at how we can incorporate the traditional print fabrics into the garments but still maintain a contemporary edge. In the past we have incorporated beading as well.

All design, pattern making and sampling is carried out in Brisbane then we send patterns and samples to Kenya. The production house in Kenya is amazing. It has been such a pleasure to work with them over the last few years. When I first visited them in 2008 they worked with 28 people, some of whom were very disadvantaged either physically or socially. Now, the Viva Africa team has grown to around 280 people and One Colour is just one of their clients. As an aside, the production house also makes homewares for the domestic market and is involved in a beaded bag project with the Feed Project in USA.

6. One Colour has partnerships with producer partners in Kenya, an eco-partnership with Treehenge and a member of the Fellowship 500. How did you accomplish all of this?

This is one of the best parts of One Colour, being able to align the business with other wonderful businesses and enterprises in Africa, Australia and globally. Over the years I have been fortunate to meet people who are doing wonderful things. Obviously, Viva Africa and the Kenana Knitters in Kenya are key, but I now work with Mikono Knits in Nairobi and am exploring ways to partner with a young Maasai designer living in Nairobi who makes the most incredible contemporary jewellery.

My membership with Fellowship 500 is due to my keen interest in the ethics behind the garment. The Ethical Fashion Forum in UK, of which Fellowship 500 is a part, have spent the last few years really pressing into the sustainable fashion space on a global scale. Why wouldn’t I want to be partnering with them?

Treehenge is a project that is much closer to home in that it is about looking after the sustainability of our own back yard. I have such a strong focus on Africa that it is really great to be able to support the work that is happening just a few hours’ drive from Brisbane, even if all I do at the moment is raising awareness around land restoration and tree planting for the future.

Models Amanda Rootsey and Jess Adjei showcasing pieces from One Colour's latest collection Detour

7. Are there any obstacles you've had to overcome?

I’m not sure I would have founded One Colour if I knew how many obstacles I would have to tackle, not least my own inexperience in business and lack of confidence. However, I’ve discovered just how bloody-minded I can be. I want this to work and I’ll find a way.

8. What has been a major highlight for One Colour?

Seeing the transformative power of regular work in the lives of the people I partner with in Kenya. On-going, fairly paid employment has the power to change communities. A regular income means that people can feed their families, send their children to school, pay for medical expenses and support small businesses in their own local community. I want One Colour to be part of that transformative culture.

A close second would be still being here after 6 years of some of the toughest retail years known in recent history. And a third achievement is graduating from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in May this year. This achievement, coupled with an incredible mentor, has been pivotal in helping me to plan now for the future of One Colour.

9. What are 3 words you'd use to describe your label to someone who has never seen it before?

Classic, versatile, made-to-last.

10. What's does the future hold for One Colour?

Long term it is to build a sustainable business through the ethical trade of our fashion and gifts, with the core focus of seeing an end to extreme poverty in the world. Right now I am working on the new collections for 2014/15 and keeping my Australian retailers stocked with the gorgeous Kenana Knitter critter hand knit toys from Kenya – yes – the other part of the business!

Behind the scenes on the set of the Detour shoot.

To follow the incredible journey of this label follow One Colour on Facebook and their Website.