Podcast Ep. 41 BIANCA SPENDER, ON NATURE, PROCESS & CREATIVITY
EPISODE 41 FEATURES AUSTRALIAN DESIGNER BIANCA SPENDER
She’s a brilliant tailor, cuts a mean coat & has been a Woolmark Prize finalist. One of the most considered, creative, thoughtful designers working in Australia today, Bianca Spender thinks deeply about sustainability & making positive impacts on people & planet with her work.
In this interview, recorded live at the recent SCCI Fashion Hub in Sydney, we discuss Bianca’s approach to integrating sustainability into every aspect of her business. We talk about her use of deadstock, her design process and relationship to and obsession with Nature, and what it ws like to grow up in the fashion business—Bianca’s mother is Carla Zampatti, who, but the way, presented her first collection in Sydney in 1965.
Bianca's AW'18 collection is titled 'Letters to Nature' and explores how we stand in Nature, literally in terms of the elements, but also existentially—what sort of world do we want to create for future generations, and how will the actions we take today impact on tomorrow? In May, Bianca showed her Resort '18 collection at Australian fashion week to critical acclaim. Check out her Instagram here.
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT...
IMMIGRANT FAMILIES and their attitude to waste-not-want-not. Carla arrived in Australia from post-war Italy, and instilled in all her kids the need to be thrifty and value resources.
CONSUMERISM. Could being picky be one solution to over-consumption? Bianca admits to this trait, and say she rarely finds things she wants to buy, and that her family jokes that if she can't make it, she doesn't own it.
RESOLVE. As a designer, Bianca is keen on this word. "I'm not a person who adds a lot, so everything I add is very considered," she says. How does she begin? Research is always the starting point for a new collection (read about her Resort '18 inspirations, which include the 19th-century designer Emilie Flöge and the water stewardship council of Australia, here) but it's the process that results in a resolved idea or collection; the completed journey along which every element has been carefully taken into account and is sure to earn its keep.
The physicality of clothes and their ability to protect, cocoon, and transform. Bianca's designs often play with volume and feature knots, twists and drapes. She's also queen of the statement sleeve and never met a cape she didn't get along with.
WEATHER. Bianca finds the wind particularly exhilarating. Which weather elements get your heart racing? Also, how does fashion today respond to weather? "Dress was historically born as a defence of the body from the elements and, at the same time, in response to natural human instinct for aesthetics. In contemporary fashion, thanks to the evolution of art, technology and science, the relationship with weather’s elements is much more complex. It is not just a cause-effect relationship: a particular type of climate induces the development of specific solutions to tackle its negative consequences, but there are also symbolic references, citations and interpretations." Via Digicult. Read more here.
BEING EARTHED. The power of wearing no shoes. Sitting on the ground to feel connected. Earthing means "coupling your body to the Earth’s surface energy by walking, sitting or sleeping outside in direct contact with the Earth." And boy do we need it! Rubber-soled shoes insulate us from the Earth’s current; we spend too much time indoors and our obsession with tech hits us with major disrupting electromagnetic waves. Read more at Critical Cactus.
CHECKS, mate. "They're the most human-made thing I can think of!" say Bianca, who has often used Prince of Wales checks and Houndstooths in her collections. She enjoys the contrast with Nature's organic fluidity. "Nature doesn't come in rigid lines like that."
LOCALLY MADE. In most cases, it's easy to find out where your clothes were made—just read the label. Although the Australian Consumer Law does not require businesses to make country of origin claims on garments, thanks to customs and import/export requirements they almost universally do. The questions is, do consumers care? 92% of the clothing sold in Australia is imported. We're used to it. This is our normal. But...that still leaves 8% of people making their collections here...
"Fashion is a human process. Strip out all the jargon and it's basically a bunch of women sewing in a room." - Bianca Spender
ETHICAL CLOTHING AUSTRALIA. Bianca Spender is ECA accredited, which means her local makers go through a regular independent audit process to ensure fair and safe working conditions. Read more here and here.
RE-SHORING. Bianca mentions that when the Australian dollar was last at parity with the US dollar, many brands sent their production off shore. Cost is always a factor, but she says since the exchange rate is always changing, it's not as clear cut as people imagine. Certainly you find a make cheaper make overseas, but you also lose something in the process—the ability to Bianca says that the people who make her clothes give them soul.
DEADSTOCK. Bianca has set herself a goal to use 50% deadstock fabrics in each collection. As Clare says, "We have no idea how much fabric becomes pre-consumer waste, but we do know that it gets burned and destroyed." Further reading, check out chapter + of Wardrobe Crisis, for Clare's interview with Orsola de Castro on this topic.
MAKING FASHION BUSINESSES MORE SUSTAINABLE. What can designers do? Work towards longevity in design, so that pieces are designed with multiple owners and future lives in mind. Bianca has introduced systems to quantify things like pattern off-cut waste and use of deadstock. "There are always solutions, they are definitely not as convenient...but we are adaptable, we can do this. We just have to want to," says Bianca.
A note on our MUSIC: it is by our friend Montaigne, who sang a special acoustic version of "Because I love You" just for us. It's from her album Glorious Heights.
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