04/09/2017 - 15:24

Creative approach to community change

04/09/2017 - 15:24


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SPECIAL REPORT: On the runway and in the shopfront, fashion has become an instrument for changemakers who want to make a difference in the community.

Creative approach to community change
Aleesha Kumar says fashion events are successful for fundraising because they create a conversation. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Fashion is more than just a business for a number of community-minded entrepreneurs in Perth, who are using the creative medium as a platform to raise awareness of, and drive results for, social issues.

Local designer Zuhal Kuvan-Mills is taking her passion for sustainability in her work and broadening it to create a fashion festival dedicated to the issue.

The founder of the Green Embassy label, Ms Kuvan-Mills is organising the inaugural Eco Fashion Week, to be held later this year, with a range of events across Perth to include pop-up stores in Fremantle.

Part-proceeds from stall sales will go to RSPCA WA.

Ms Kuvan-Mills said the intention of the event was to use fashion as a tool to educate the community about sustainability, and to provide exposure for younger designers.

A former teacher of animal science and bioconservation, she said using art and fashion enabled her to reach a larger audience.

“I thought, ‘if I’m just a designer that’s not good enough’,” Ms Kuvan-Mills said.

“(I had) to create a week-long show… so I can reach every member of the community.”

The same focus on sustainability permeates her label, with a focus on organic textiles.

Elsewhere, the Australian arm of global non-profit network Love Foundation is organising a series of events intended to raise funds for an Opportunity International Australia microfinance project in Indonesia.

The Love Fashion Exhibition is targeted at students and young professionals, according to Australian branch founder Aleesha Kumar.

Ms Kumar told Business News her goal at the December event was not just to raise money, but also to bring art and fashion to people who might not otherwise experience it.

“I think art, creativity, fashion design, they start conversations,” Ms Kumar said.

“And they don’t start conversations about whatever you’re raising money for, they get people talking, and they get people thinking in ways that aren’t confrontational.

“It’s not about prestige or eliteness; it’s bringing the conversation back to something bigger.”

As with Eco Fashion Week, emerging designers will have an opportunity to show their work, which Ms Kumar said was a further benefit of the project.

Love Foundation will soon open an online store to sell handmade t-shirts as an additional fundraising opportunity, making an easy way for younger people to support charity.

“A lot of young people don’t have a lot of money, but they have $30 to be able to buy a shirt,” Ms Kumar said.

“The brand is memorable; the shirts haven’t been mass produced, they’re hand made.”

She suggested local designers could be given an opportunity to retail through the platform in future.

Satterley Property Group chief executive Nigel Satterley has been a driver of one of Perth’s largest fashion initiatives, Once Upon a Dream, an event expected to raise about $100,000 for Telethon Speech & Hearing.

Mr Satterley is a patron of the organisation.

The event, to take place this Friday, September 8, is in its fourth year.

RUNWAY: Last year's Once upon a dream fashion show.

A spokeswoman for the event told Business News the property developer was passionate about fundraising for Telethon, with $350,000 raised through the event in the past three years.

She said it would feature a range of top international designers.

“All the people that come to these events love fashion; Nigel puts on a good party,” the spokeswoman said.

Any fashion-focused initiative would do well to match the success of StyleAid, which for two decades raised money for the WA Aids Council, with around $1.5 million going towards preventing the spread of HIV and helping sufferers.

Even successful events have a shelf life, however, with StyleAid’s most recent installment the last, at least in its existing black tie ball format.

Business News understands the event’s organisers are hoping for a return in a new format in 2019.

The Friends of the Cancer Council Western Australia has its own fundraiser, Spring Festival, taking place this week.

Friends of the Cancer Council president Meredyth Greay told Business News many attendees were older women, in their 40s and upwards, who weren’t working full time.

The event usually raises about $8,000 for cancer research, Ms Greay said, with about $30,000 made across its four years of operation.

Amanda Healy will take part in the G’Day USA Festival to promote her Kirrikin brand. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Social enterprise

Some local designers are making social impact a core part of their brand’s purpose.

One example is South Perth-based Kirrikin, founded by Amanda Healy in 2015.

Kirrikin sources artwork from a number of indigenous artists across the country and uses those pieces as designs for items such as scarves and pocket squares.

The artists receive a share of profits, which Ms Healy said made a difference to their lives.

“Some of (my inspiration) has come from the fact I’ve matured a bit, grown up a little bit, I see the poverty in my own community,” she said.

Ms Healy said the project so far had been positive, with strong revenue growth in its second financial year.

“You have to dream big, don’t you,” she said.

“We’re getting a great profile, (although) we’d probably love a lot more volume of sales.”

A portion of those sales come from overseas markets, including the US and, surprisingly, Russia.

Ms Healy said the business would next year take part in the G’Day USA festival as part of the overseas push.

A further brand with a focus on social impact is The Silk Merchant, cofounded by sisters Lauren Chaine and Leah Dybeck, and their mother, Karen Dybeck, last year.

Leah Dybeck told Business News the first 16 months had been a learning experience for the brand, which sells a range of mostly silk products online.

Production is largely in rural towns in Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar, where Ms Chaine said the artform was making somewhat of a resurgence.

“Because of the huge urbanisation, the art of silk making was very much on the wane,” she said.

Now, young people were staying in the towns and learning the craft, Ms Chaine said, having a direct positive impact on communities.

The business donates a portion of profits to fight breast cancer through Awareness Cambodia.


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