Kalaurie is the founder of her eponymous womenswear label, Kalaurie.
Tell us about Kalaurie. How has the brand been shaped by your personal values and life experience?
Kalaurie is a womenswear brand that was founded with storytelling, craftsmanship, quality and environmental consciousness holding equal priority. After finishing my fashion degree in 2016 I couldn’t picture myself designing for someone else, so I decided to create something that was my own. The brand is self-titled, as it is my medium for personal expression. Conceptually, Kalaurie’s collections explore emotion, and personal experiences. I’m fascinated by history and nostalgia for bygone times, and often make wearables that draw upon my time studying costume design.
I grew up travelling and living on a boat with my family until I was about 12. Everything I owned had to fit into a small A4-shaped cupboard under my bunk bed. I didn’t have much, but everything I did have was really special to me, and everything had a story of acquirement. I wasn’t allowed to collect too many things simply because there was no room, and I often wore secondhand clothing passed down the sibling line.
Upon reflection, I believe these childhood experiences contributed to my aversion to excess, taught me resourcefulness, gave me a great sense of awareness of the environment surrounding me, and instilled in me a deep awareness of the importance of quality and emotional value.
At what point did you decide to build a business that adopted a different, healthier model to other fashion brands? And in what ways has the business evolved since then?
I’ve always wanted to do something that had a traditional craftsmanship approach, where I could retain control and ensure everything would come from a place of deep consideration. It’s always made the most sense to me to keep everything in-house and at a small scale, where the client experience is an intimate one. Clients deal with me directly, in the knowledge that their piece is made in my studio especially for them.
I’m not interested in turning my brand into an international empire. I’m interested in creating something that can sustain me, and contribute to the local industry in a positive way.
Keeping everything really small-scale while building strong foundations has been a blessing, and has allowed the business to grow with me. It has given me freedom to run things the way I want, and to explore ideas at a pace that suits me. By cutting out a traditional wholesale model, I don’t have to worry about churning out collections each season. I can take my time to create something more meaningful.
Why have you decided to produce locally? Talk us through Kalaurie’s hand making process; do you make everything yourself?
My approach to fashion comes from a fine art practice. Creating clothing is like creating art for me—it’s deeply personal, therapeutic and satisfying. The idea that someone else might create my art for me seemed to defeat the purpose of expressing myself and my story. I’ve always found great pleasure in creating something from start to finish. Therefore, it made sense to keep everything in-house and to only create pieces which I have the capacity and skills to meticulously craft myself.
At the moment I do almost all the work myself, from designing to pattern-making to grading to cutting and then sewing. Everything is made to order, so I only produce my clients’ orders, along with a set of samples per collection for promotional and creative projects.
As things grow, I’m looking forward to being able to create a team around me. To engage them in a really meaningful business ethos, and help them appreciate the pleasure and importance of craftsmanship.
“It has always made the most sense to me to keep everything in-house and at a small scale, where the client experience is an intimate one.”
How do you define the term ‘ethical fashion’?
For me, ethical is about being responsible. It’s considering the whole picture of a garment’s lifecycle and doing whatever is in your power, or within your resources, to be responsible. It’s about ensuring that you’re not compromising anyone or anything around you to achieve your goals, whether they be aesthetic or financial.
In what ways is Kalaurie embracing lower impact practices, and how would you like to improve moving forward? Are you curious about any particular innovations or technological developments?
Made-to-order and working with deadstock materials are practices that are at the core of Kalaurie’s brand ethos. Working from a made-to-order manufacturing model means only what is needed is produced; everything has a purpose and an end destination. It also allows me to be resourceful with materials, more responsible with waste, and it eliminates ‘deadstock’, which is a massive issue in the industry. Typically, large brands with leftover undesirable stock send it to landfill or have it destroyed, which is heartbreaking.
From the outset, I’ve been passionate about using premium deadstock materials in my collections. Like deadstock clothing, these are materials that are left over and considered undesirable for reasons as basic as being not quite the right colour. Ultimately, they can end up in landfill or being destroyed. I’ve always found it really exciting to take what is considered undesirable and give it a new beauty and life. Our shirts are made completely from deadstock materials, right down to the buttons and fusing. It’s something that I’m incredibly proud of! I actually find the process of hunting around for materials to transform really thrilling. I recently bought a box of pleated ruffles from an old shirting factory that was closing down, and I’m looking forward to working them into a collection.
With every collection, I’m using more and more deadstock materials. My goal is to only work with deadstock fabrics.
As a result of the way I work, my clients are emotionally invested in the pieces they buy, and aren’t likely to ever part with them, or throw them out. I want the people who wear my clothes to have a long term love affair with their pieces, so in addition to my focus on creating pieces which are of the highest quality, repairs are always welcome in the studio to ensure longevity.
In regards to innovation and technology in the fashion industry, I do stay up to date and I’m super interested in zero-waste technology, recycled fabric innovation, and dry dying processes. Although, I have to admit, I am a bit of a traditionalist trapped in the wrong century.
In terms of the fashion system and how it has been operating for the past few decades, what do you believe is most in need of reform? Where do you see the most significant challenges / opportunities?
It’s really hard to pinpoint just one element most in need of reform when the current fashion landscape is broken across so many levels of the supply chain, from pollution to modern slavery. I personally find it quite overwhelming to try and identify what’s most in need.
It may or may not be a popular opinion, but I believe that if companies had chosen to keep their production and design in the same country, many of these issues wouldn’t have spiralled so out of control. I see opportunity for positive change and economic benefits in brands reshoring and returning to local production. It’s really sad visiting old factories that are closing down—which I often do—because there isn’t any work for them. We need to cherish and support our local suppliers and craftspeople.
“Working from a made-to-order manufacturing model means only what is needed is produced; everything has a purpose and an end destination.”
Do you see scope for fast fashion businesses to drive positive change in the garment industry without changing their overall business model?
This issue is a double edged sword for me. I do see scope for positive change in the sense that these large-scale companies have a huge power of influence. At the same time, they are making products at a level that’s beyond excessive, and I just don’t think there’s any way for those businesses to be sustainable when growth and excess is at the core of their ethos.
When it comes to this movement and shifting the way people approach their purchasing behaviour, price is a sensitive topic. How can we encourage people to redefine their sense of value and look beyond an immediate price tag?
Educating customers on the true value of an item, and what’s required to create that item, will help engage customers in more positive purchasing behaviours. Traditionally fashion has always been a secretive and opaque industry, but in this era of social media customers have much more direct access to the brands, as well as more information about the fashion industry at their fingertips. Whether they realise it or not, everyday citizens are able to make powerful statements and bring about change with something as simple as their purchasing choices.
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?
The feedback and acknowledgement I’ve received since launching Kalaurie has been heartwarming, and reassuring that I am on the right path. And I’ve been really pleased with how people have responded to our made-to-order model. It was a little difficult in the beginning when people didn’t understand that they would have to wait for their garment to be made. It did put some people off, but as time went on I began to notice those people coming back, having warmed to the process. To me, that’s a huge step towards reshaping purchasing behaviour and helping people understand why good craft requires patience.
When looking to the future of the fashion industry, what excites and/or daunts you most?
One of the most exciting things happening at the moment, in my opinion, is the change in conversation. I’m inspired by the amount of people opening up and engaging in a dialogue about positive change in the context of fashion and the environment. I’m glad large companies are being put in the spotlight as a result of their unethical practices, and that they’re being forced to make change for the better.
Photography Vlad Savin
Production Sigrid McCarthy
Sub Editor Reb Mery