In this instalment of Fashion Equipped’s Q&A interview series ‘Behind The Label’, we caught up with Allie Cameron, founder of ethical bamboo underwear brand HARA The Label.
Allie is passionate about creating environmentally-conscious clothing, with her luxurious bamboo basics utilising natural dyes, ethical fibres and transparent manufacturing. We asked her to share her journey with us.
1. Share a little bit about YOU, the business owner – your background, your passion.
I have five sisters, and growing up my dad would consistently remind us that we were powerful women who shouldn’t accept the world’s ‘limitations’. He told me I could take on the world, and I truly adopted this mindset growing up. I decided early on in my life that I was not going to let my gender be a challenge for me.
“I’ve always been a big dreamer, and I only have to envision something to know it’s possible.”
At 17, I had a small business called Fashion Alley. I would buy second-hand clothing and re-sell online. Looking back, this was a really important experience in my life. I learnt so many lessons and skills that would not take fruition until years later when I’d go on to start HARA.
My dad helped me create a website, I photographed my friends after school and would spend my weekends searching through op shops and online for pieces to sell. It was an amazing time for me. I loved the feeling of working on something meaningful and creating something from my heart. I’ve always been a big dreamer, and I only have to envision something to know it’s possible.
Sometimes I found it hard to keep my head in the day-to-day and take the small but steady steps required to scale the business up. I was often caught up dreaming so big that I was actually holding my business back. That was the biggest lesson I took out of this experience; to keep things simple and take it one step at a time.
When I started HARA, I put a lot of focus on growing a solid foundation that would be ready for all the building blocks – something I missed with Fashion Alley. I’m grateful that as a female entrepreneur in Australia, I have choices. I can speak and be heard and move in any way my heart desires with no resistance.
But it’s not like this for everyone. I’ve come face-to-face with women who don’t have a choice. Women who have become mute, are tired of conflict, tired of fighting, and have come to a point of suppression. I hold these women’s struggles closely as if they were my own, and it drives me to continue fighting for a better industry and a better world.
2. What inspired you to start HARA The Label?
The human rights issue. The fact that there are people living in places with no clean water because of the fashion industry. That there are people unable to feed their families because they are getting exploited, underpaid and undervalued. The turning point for me was realising there are solutions to break this cycle and offer these people a better life.
There are so many things consumers and clothing labels can do to help. I wanted HARA to give these communities back their power to say ‘we understand what has happened to you and we want to help you.’ One of the first steps I will take is going to places heavily affected by these issues and be able to really understand how change can be made, how we can bring back power to the people and change lives for the better.
“Bamboo needs no pesticides to grow, hardly any water, purifies the air in which it’s grown and needs little space to thrive.”
There is also the environmental issue. The nature surrounding us is our home, so it should be our top priority. I feel this so deeply, and I couldn’t just sit back after seeing the destruction caused by the mass production of clothing.
For example, there is a huge issue with water becoming scarce due to high volumes being used to feed cotton crops. There’s also water contamination from chemicals and the use of harsh pesticides. That is a big reason why we use bamboo to create our fabric. Bamboo needs no pesticides to grow, hardly any water, purifies the air in which it’s grown and needs little space to thrive.
3. Why did you decide that Eco Intimates was your ideal product?
I appreciate feeling comfortable in the clothing I wear. I have always struggled finding bras that didn’t make me feel restricted or uncomfortable. When I went on the journey to create a sustainable clothing label, it was a natural choice for me to combine sustainability with comfortable underwear. I couldn’t find it in the market, so I decided to create it. ?
4. When and how did you launch your label? Online only, wholesale, combined?
We launched as an online-only store in January 2017. Instagram was the only platform we were on and it enabled us to reach a large audience without needing physical stores. Over time, our dependence on Instagram has changed and we’re now pushing to be in physical stores as well as online.
5. What challenges did you encounter during the start-up phase? How did you overcome them?
So many! Firstly, I had no experience in the fashion industry, so everything was new. We first started producing in Bali, and we experienced massive language barriers there. The biggest issue was getting the design correct and quality maintained as our production quantities increased, and moving manufacturing to Australia has helped with this.
6. You use eco fabrics that are certified. Where do you source these from and was finding the ideal fabrics a challenge for you?
We source our fabric from China. The type of bamboo fabric we use (Lyocell), has a specific process to ensure it’s environmentally friendly. It took awhile to find a supplier that could guarantee the right quality and manufacturing processes, but it’s worth the time to research and find the right fabric.
7. Where are you manufacturing your label and why?
All our products are dyed, cut, sewn and packaged in Melbourne, Australia. Our vision is to have our whole supply chain in one country and one location. We believe in the importance of transparent supply chains, ethical practices and supporting local economies.
“All our products are dyed, cut, sewn and packaged in Melbourne, Australia. Our vision is to have our whole supply chain in one country and one location.”
All employees work under the Australian Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries Award 2010, which entitles them to a living wage and ensures wages for a normal work week, not including overtime, shall always meet at least legal or industry minimum standards.
Ensuring our workplace is safe is one of our top priorities. By manufacturing ourselves and owning our supply chain, we’re able to reduce shipping miles (reducing our dependence on fossil fuels), reduce air pollution and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, create in-house recycling systems and have full transparency in the whole supply chain. These benefits are integral to our business’ core values.
8. How have you found the experience of selling online? What has been your biggest challenge?
Selling online has been amazing for us. We’ve been able to go global fast. The biggest challenge we’ve found is shipping issues. 50% of our online orders are international and orders can sometimes take up to a month to arrive due to customs (or packages just getting lost!). This is something we’re working to resolve.
The shift has happened where people are now more inclined to buy online than in a physical store. I’ve talked to a lot of people who use physical stores to try the sizing and then purchase online.
9. How have you grown awareness of your brand? Have you used influencers and stylists? If so, how did you connect with them and budget for this?
“Engaging content is the number one way to grow fast. Yes, influencers will help you get there, but the content is everything.People want to see new content every day and they expect it to be amazing every time. There’s little room on Instagram for average posts, so the bar is set high. This challenge pushes us to always be questioning how we can engage our online community more effectively.
“Engaging content is the number one way to grow fast. Yes, influencers will help you get there, but the content is everything.”
I’d rather collaborate with people with interesting, fresh and relevant content over people with a lot of followers. We exchange product for content.
10. Tell us about your biggest highlight moment since launching your business.
Going to New York for Fashion Week was an amazing experience! Being able to see our creations on the runway was overwhelming. I’ll remember that trip for a long time.
11. Where do you see your business in one year from now? What goals do you have?
I visualise HARA to be be stocked in every major city in the world and the largest online store for sustainable fashion.
12. Please share any words of wisdom you would like to pass on to other start up businesses!
Don’t be afraid to do what has yet to be done. Trust and believe in yourself enough to make your vision a reality.
Make sure you check out the beautiful products from HARA The Label here.