Celeste is the charming young designer behind independent Australian label, Celeste Tesoriero.
Was there a particular moment that influenced you to begin contemplating your responsibility as a designer?
Yes, this ‘awakening’ of sorts took place after I was confronted with the realities of the garment industry’s print and dye houses in Bali. You can read the full story here.
How have your personal values shaped your work?
To me, it seems common sense to have a business that works in line with your personal morals and values, otherwise you are in a state of constant conflict. I experienced this conflict a few years ago, as I was struggling with the disconnect between having a clothing label while also not wanting to support consumerism. Two pieces of advice helped me persist with the label: the first, that you cannot implement any change within an industry if you are not a part of it; the second, that people are always going to need clothes. Existing as a non-consumerist driven label offers customers an alternative to fast fashion, and therefore I feel am serving a valuable purpose in this industry.
On a personal level, I value a symbiotic relationship with those I choose to do business with. If the relationship doesn’t evolve in that direction, then I would rather not pursue it. I value the enjoyment of my work and the processes involved. I value working with people who truly believe in what I am doing, and who are working with me for more than just financial reasons. And, above all else, I value health, balance, and self-growth. My slow fashion brand aligns with my desire for a slow paced lifestyle.
“My work is a subtle rebellion to the fast fashion industry.” Can you please elaborate on this statement? How is your brand currently engaging in lower impact practices, and in what ways would you like to improve going forward?
My label pioneers for ‘The Rejection of Perfection’, which can be interpreted as my desire to eradicate the ‘conveyer-belt’ mentality of how we view our clothing to be made. I design to celebrate individuality in every piece I produce. I do this through the use of organic plant based dyes—in which the colour is almost impossible to match on a consistent basis, thus creating a slight variance for each small batch dyed by hand—as well as natural fabrications, and subtle design details like raw edges.
I’m not sure where exactly along the line people decided to switch off and believe that clothing just happily churns out of a big white shiny machine. This shift is linked to why some of us don’t question how a tee shirt could possibly be made and retailed for a mere ten dollars.
My lower impact practices include using organic plant-based dyes, organic and sustainably grown materials, and un-dyed natural and raw fabrications. I produce some of my garments in Australia to support local industry and lower my contribution to fossil fuel emissions, and package a portion of my production in canvas bags to reduce my use of plastic. I also introduced a ‘made-to-order’ model for my loungewear to reduce fabric wastage.
I like to question the pace of the procedures we all have become accustomed to—even when it comes to the amount of time it takes to receive an online order. Unless the purchase is for a specific event, why is it so important for us to get that item within twenty four hours? As a society we have this constant need for everything to be instant, faster, more perfect, more efficient, but no one is slowing down to ask why this holds so much importance to us and how all of it is even possible.
I have so many things I would like to implement in my company moving forward, and at times it is frustrating to have to hold back due to restrictions in time and resources. There are new technologies and advances in sustainable production constantly birthing worldwide, which is hugely exciting, but having access to these as a young, independent Australian designer is not yet feasible. Therefore, change for my brand has to evolve at the same pace as my ideals—slow and steady.
“Breaking the fast fashion cycle all lies within the power of the customers. Where and how often they choose to spend their money has an undeniable effect on how the whole industry operates.”
Has your attitude towards fashion changed as you’ve aged?
Yes, it is constantly evolving. I remember my excitement when I was first introduced to fast fashion chains H&M, Zara, and Topshop. This was eight years ago, when these stores were only available abroad and not online. As part of my job I would have to do buying at these chains for pattern blocks or technique references, and I would spend hours in the change rooms trying on around fifty garments in each store. Nothing would really look that incredible on me, but I would be so swept up in the experience that I would buy items anyway.
That excitement was immediately remedied with my first experience with true designer clothing. I vividly remember the first time I tried on a pair of Alexander McQueen suit pants. My whole adult life I had shied away from wearing pants, as I was convinced that people with my body shape and height simply could never look good in them. But these pants, they made me feel a million dollars. ‘My legs look great in these!’ I thought to myself. And in that instant I was awakened to the true value of well made clothing. The penny dropped and I understood that designer garments are worth every single dollar.
This experience introduced a new phase of my relationship with clothing: designer obsession. More often than not, the decision of what piece I would buy would weigh more heavily on which designer made it rather than the necessity at the time.
Now, in my late twenties, I am not as excited by trends or a particular designer swing tag. My attitude towards fashion is now purely based on buying less and choosing well.
What does the Slow Fashion movement mean to you?
Slow fashion is reintroducing us to the emotional connection available with our wardrobes. I long for the romance of the era when, if you wanted a new dress, you went to your local dressmaker and the process would take weeks. Being part of that journey gave the customer an emotional attachment to that garment; they treated it with importance and care.
Fast fashion is like fast food—the convenience and cheapness of it means you don’t connect with it on any of sort of emotional level. It is viewed as junk. This frame of mind is something I want to see change. I am not suggesting we reject the amazing technologies and conveniences we have now for purchasing, and return to pre-industrial revolution practices. Rather, that we use our technological advances to encourage radical improvement to our industry and personal happiness.
Something that interests us at Intent is the psychology of fashion and people’s relationships with clothing. How would you describe your own relationship with clothing, has it evolved over the years?
My relationship with clothing is multi-tiered, due to design being my passion and also my business. I think every designer works from a personal place when it comes to what they choose to create, whether they are conscious of it or not, so the intricacies of my life are consciously and unconsciously woven into my collections. It is a very intimate practice and an incredibly important relationship to me.
My push to produce beautifully made clothing is a direct reflection of the power that I know is held in a high quality garment. When I wear something expensive and well made, I feel worthy. There is a sense of self-love to it. There is sentimental value to most items in my wardrobe.
Has there been any progress over the past few years (throughout the fashion industry or society as a whole) that has been heartening to you on both a business and personal level?
Positive progress is undoubtedly happening worldwide across both our industry and wider society. It is a very exciting and slightly confusing time to be alive! It feels like the beginning of a true revolution that will hopefully see a reconnection of humanity to what’s truly important. There does seem though, to be a large divide between the people waking up and getting geared for change and the people still driven by fear, who would rather occupy their minds by catching Pokémon.
"We need to understand that this vicious consumerist model is geared towards creating a nasty cycle of internal bullying. You start to think that perhaps your body, skin, hair, nails just aren’t good enough, and that’s why nothing seems to look that good on you. This inevitably leads to you unconsciously buying more."
When looking at the current fashion system, what do you believe needs to change and why?
The psychology of how we consume is the protagonist for change we need to address. It is as simple as that. Breaking the fast fashion cycle all lies within the power of the customers. Where and how often they choose to spend their money has an undeniable effect on how the whole industry operates. The misconception that ‘buying sustainable’ comes with the same amount of satisfaction and quality, albeit with a more expensive product, needs to be eradicated.
When you wear something cheap, nine times out of ten the piece is also unflattering due to poor construction and fabrications. Buying cheap is never personally satisfying. These types of purchases make you think you have saved yourself money, but you will keep buying items aimlessly out of a desire for the emotional fix found in a flattering result. Before you know it, you have bought ten $80 dresses that all make you feel bad about yourself, when you could have bought a few amazingly-made pieces that make you feel beautiful.
We need to understand that this vicious consumerist model is geared towards creating a nasty cycle of internal bullying. You start to think that perhaps your body, skin, hair, nails just aren’t good enough, and that’s why nothing seems to look that good on you. This inevitably leads to you unconsciously buying more.
We cannot function in society while successfully escaping the power of marketing, so all we can do is simply ask questions and start to recognise patterns within our choices. To join the dots in our own habitual thought patterns. For example, someone I really admire was recently wearing R.M.Williams, and a couple of weeks later I found myself thinking about buying a pair. Before I purchased, I asked myself: ‘Do I need new shoes? No. Would R.M.Williams suit my style? No.’ And I instantly let go of that craving and no longer felt as though I needed to buy them. I realised it was simply a projection of admiration onto a product.
The business model is such an important key to driving long term change in companies and the way that they operate. Which business models or ways of approaching sustainability do you find particularly interesting and why?
The standard business model is geared for profit and financial gain above all else. There is a misconception that doing the right thing throughout your supply chains and by your employees will mean taking a financial cut. I really admire pioneers like Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia who gives 1% of all profits to environmental charities and calls it his ‘Earth Tax’, and Richard Branson who proves in his book Screw Business as Usual that doing good is actually good for business.
Imran Amed—founder of The Business of Fashion—spoke as part of the ‘Power of the Media’ panel at the 2016 Copenhagen Fashion Summit, and drove the point that sustainability within business is still viewed as an afterthought, something separate from the core model. Large businesses are adding ‘sustainably focused’ sections but I believe if we keep viewing it as segregated, it will continue to have a segregated customer base. It is time to scrap this mentality, and shape new business models where this sustainability is ingrained from the start.
What have been the greatest lessons you have learned since beginning your career?
I have learned that it is impossible to avoid making mistakes, and that each mistake is more valuable than a triumph. You learn and grow from your errors, but your triumphs are short-lived and can give you a false perception of stability. I have also learned that you are presented only with what you can handle at a particular time, despite your ambition. So, instead of constantly striving for more, I have found an appreciation for giving my business the space it needs to evolve organically.
What excites and/or daunts you about the future of the garment industry and why?
It is daunting to think that true change will perhaps take longer than my lifetime to be common practice. It is said that we are the first generation to realise the urgency of the state of the planet, and the last one that will be able to do anything about it.
I am excited for evolution. The evolution of the industry and the new advances in technologies are a highly creative rollercoaster to be a part of. Right now, things like mushroom leather and kombucha fabric seem like strange science experiments, but I know in a decade’s time it will be looked down upon to the use the materials we view as ‘common practice’ today. The future of fashion is going to be mind-blowingly amazing.
Photography Hannah Roche
Production Sigrid McCarthy
View our Celeste Tesoriero editorial