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Meet the Australian designer taking the fashion industry to task

November 24, 2021
April 24, 2018
Melbourne-based designer, Courtney Holm, hopes her sustainably-minded label can offer a stylish, affordable alternative to the unethical practices of fashion's biggest players.

In 2017, Courtney Holm set out to solve a problem. A big problem.

The Melbourne-based designer saw the negative impact the fashion industry was (and is) having on the environment, the “obscene wastage” it creates, and the various human rights abuses perpetrated by brands big and small. She decided she wanted to offer an alternative.

And so A.BCH (Article by Courtney Holm), her sustainability-focused designer basics label, was born.

The brand, now in its second year, operates out of a studio in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and focuses on sustainability from start to finish. Every aspect of how a garment is produced and sold is thoughtfully managed to ensure not only minimal environmental impact but also that every single person involved in every aspect of the supply chain is getting a fair deal.

We caught up with Courtney to talk fashion, sustainability, and the subtle art of making a difference.

Bank Australia: Hello Courtney! Talk us through the inspiration behind A.BCH…

Courtney Holm: Really, I just found that there weren't many brands out there that were addressing the whole picture of what's wrong with the fashion industry. I wasn't really happy with what I was seeing and experiencing. And being passionate about design, design that lasts, and clothes that people want to wear every day, I didn't think that sustainable fashion or ‘eco-fashion’ was nailing the type of clothing people really want to wear. So it was just a matter of incorporating all of these principles into a fashion label.

What does all of this entail from a practical point of view?

We look at a few key areas with A.BCH. There's the human aspect of it – we try to ensure that everyone in the supply chain has access to all the things we take for granted in Australia. I want to make sure that someone working in my supply chain has a chance to not just make a living, but to pursue their dreams. We take care to ensure people are being paid fairly and that they have access to a union.

Then there's the customer aspect – we try to educate our customers, show them how to care for their clothes, and provide them with workshops to show them how to mend their clothes. And then there’s the environmental aspect. We use materials that are renewable, and all of our clothes can be completely recycled, so there’s no waste.

In what other ways is A.BCH different?

We don’t do the seasonal collections thing like other labels. We release one piece at a time and make each piece really special. If people like them, we keep them around. It's more about slowing the whole process down and taking the time to consider not only the products that we’re putting out into the world but the whole process behind creating those products. There’s intent to everything we do.

Do you envision a world in which sustainable, ethical clothing will become the norm?

I hate to sound really extreme, but there's going to come a point – maybe not in the peak of my career, but maybe my children's – where resources will run out. I really, truly believe that there will eventually be no other option than for people to become a part of the circular economy, which begins and ends with recycling. Companies tend to think in the short-term – they want the money, they want the immediacy of success, but I think things are shifting. And I do think that's going to have to change.

What advice do you have for people who want to start making some better, more sustainable fashion choices?

It's really hard to give a one-size-fits-all approach. If you’re a minimalist at heart, I would encourage you to look at their current wardrobe, to establish what your core wardrobe is, and then if you want to get rid of anything, donate it to a charity or an op-shop. If you are a maximalist, and you like to rotate your items frequently, I would look into clothing rental. It's the next big thing and the perfect solution for that kind of consumer.

Another great way to lower your impact is to avoid buying items new – shop in op-shops. I mean, I make new clothes so that doesn't help me [laughs] but it’s for the greater good, and I am all about that. With high turnover items like children's wear and formal wear, I’d suggest using resellers like eBay.

What advice do you have for people who might not appreciate the difference even one small change in their lives can make from a sustainability perspective?

Shifting towards a more sustainable life is hard, it challenges you. But there are some really easy places to start. I used to drink a lot of coffee, for example, and I loved the taste of coffee in a paper cup. But now, if I don't have my KeepCup with me, I either don't have a coffee that day or I sit in the cafe and I drink it from a cup. I just got to a point where it felt wrong.

It’s just about taking those small steps. And I know one person using a KeepCup isn’t going to change the whole world, but if you talk to your friend, and then your friend gets one, it becomes a little chain reaction. You can't discount those small actions, because they add up.

What are your thoughts on the accessibility of sustainable fashion? Traditionally, it’s been quite expensive.

Yeah, definitely. That’s a conversation that happens frequently – how so much of it is only accessible to wealthy consumers, and that there's not a lot there for people who might not have as much money. It is for that reason that with our brand, we sell everything at wholesale prices to customers. We don't want to be an elitist brand. We want to be a label that is accessible to everyone.  And I do feel like that’s shifting.

Find out more about Courtney’s work and the A.BCH brand on the A.BCH website.

Image courtesy of A.BCH.