Ethical fashion takes silk road

22/04/2016 - 14:45

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Ethical, sustainable and support for communities in need are growing trends in the local fashion industry.

POWER OF THREE: Lauren Chaine (left), Karen Dybeck, and Leah Dybeck co-founded The Silk Merchant.

Ethical, sustainable and support for communities in need are growing trends in the local fashion industry.

Three Perth women are hoping to do more than just sell high-end clothing and accessories with their recently launched fashion brand, The Silk Merchant.

Sisters Lauren Chaine and Leah Dybeck, and their mother, Karen Dybeck, cofounded The Silk Merchant to design, import and sell silk products including handbags, accessories and scarves.

But they’re also seeking to give back to the areas where they source the products.

“We’ve been involved in humanitarian organisations since we were really young,” Ms Chaine told Business News.

“Our family actually started Awareness Cambodia.”

That charity, established in 1996, focuses on child development, education and medical services in a province of Cambodia, with its latest initiative targeting breast cancer awareness.

The Silk Merchant is contributing all proceeds from the first 100 sales of a line of pink Kashgar handbags to support a breast cancer-screening program.

In addition, part proceeds from other sales will go to the program.

Ms Chaine, who is a lawyer at King & Wood Mallesons, said the family’s travels overseas when she and her sister were young had sparked their interest in quality silk goods, particularly from Asia, and they always wanted to turn it into a business.

“Through our travels, we’ve travelled to Cambodia and other places, and we’d bring back these gorgeous silks that were made out in regional areas,” Ms Chaine said.

Some years later they did a fundraiser with silk handbags bought overseas, which proved very popular, she said.

“Because it was borne out of our humanitarian work, we wanted to make giving back a really big component of it,” Ms Chaine said.

The designs can be extremely intricate, and are handmade, with the process from start to finish sometimes taking months.

A further benefit from handmade production was that the people creating the garments had grown up around silk.

Ms Chaine said they wanted the product to be authentic, rather than mass-produced, with items sourced from Cambodia and beyond, and most of the design work done in Perth.

The Silk Merchant will be working to stock a few select stores, although the business is initially operating online.

The founders also hope to target the international market, although this plan is in its embryonic stages.

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The work by The Silk Merchant follows that of other local fashion brands, which have added an ethical or sustainability touch to their offering.

Corporate wear-focused Rana Clothing is targeted at women who were conscious of the supply chains, manufacturing processes and workforce conditions that went into making what they wear.

That brand crowdfunded nearly $16,000 last year and now operates an online marketplace, where it sells its own designs and those of other ethical brands, such as Textile Trails, which was founded by Perth’s Wendy Garrity.

Teagan Cowlishaw launched indigenous label Aarli in 2014, which is described as “a fashion label with a conscience”.

Ms Cowlishaw has created designs using recycled plastic.

Internationally, US-based Tom’s Shoes is a for-profit company that donates one pair of shoes to a person in a developing country for every pair it sells.

In 2014, it was reportedly valued at $625 million when Bain Capital bought a 50 per cent stake in the business.

Closer to home, popular Mexican food chain Zambreros donates a plate of food to someone in need for every plate it sells.

It has 24 stores in Perth and according to its website has donated more than 8 million meals.

Locally, Alex Carpenter founded Atma Cycles in 2014, which donates a bicycle to a schoolgirl in India for each one it sells here.

That operation became not for profit in March 2015.

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