An Interview with Sustainable Designer Lois Hazel
Lois Hazel is living proof that you don't have to be cutthroat to be a leader in an industry.
I met Lois when she walked into the Abbie James boutique to personally deliver our store's order of her locally made luxury clothing range. We are practically neighbours! One of the most transparent and down to earth people I have met in the industry She is leading the march in sustainable fashion and she has been doing so for quite some time.
Lois Hazel launched in 2015. Can you go through the journey of how you got to where you are now?
It has been a journey, lots of ups and downs, mistakes made and a lot of hard work but also so many rewards, wonderful moments with customers and growth in the business. When I launched back in 2015, I was certain on one thing, and that was creating a brand that was honest and dedicated to trying do the best that it could in terms of sustainable and ethical practices. Over time I have been able to introduce better practices into the business, such as committing to only using organic cotton or working with suppliers who I wouldn’t have been able to work with when I started because I was too small. I think one thing that has really allowed the brand to succeed is taking it slowly. I started with the goal of being able to say who made my clothes and confidently know that they were being paid fairly and looked after and as I have grown, I’ve been able to introduce new goals, or I guess brand values. I think otherwise it would have been extremely overwhelming trying to tick all these boxes at the beginning. Even connecting with my incredible wholesale agency, I feel like that came at the right time and allowed the brand to then grow into the next stage.
You studied at RMIT and you have interned at some amazing international houses such as Marchesa and Iris Van Herpen to name a few. I would love to know some of the things you learned from your experience there.
I think the main thing that I learned through all these experiences was confidence. I still have a long way to go in being more confident in myself as a designer and business owner but when I was interning it really showed me that I knew what I was doing, and I had skills that were valid in this industry. Through interning I also learned what I did and didn’t like about the industry, it showed me that I could run my own brand and allowed me to figure out some of the values that are integral to LH today. My time at RMIT was also super important in helping me figure out my values as a designer/business owner. I was able to really understand the full extent involved in creating a garment, and it was through this experience that I started to understand why this industry needed to change. I just couldn’t come to terms with knowing that there are people out in the world making clothes every day who are getting exploited, yet I was getting praised for wearing something that I made. Making clothes is such a craft and we can’t ignore those that are getting overlooked, underpaid, and completely taken advantage of anymore because without them this industry wouldn’t be able to exist.
Did you find there is a great difference in how the Australian fashion industry works and how our overseas counterparts work?
Yes and no, but I guess the major difference was the history and opportunities but also, I did feel the designers I interned/met while abroad also were more willing to take risks compared to here in Australia. During my time abroad I did get a bigger sense that brands were starting to really look at sustainability and ethical practices and really investing in the research, compared to when I returned. Unfortunately, Australia is so far away from everything, that we do sometimes get left behind a bit and it is harder for us to engage with new technology. Whereas places like Europe can access it a lot easier and are able to really engage and adapt their brands to work with these new ways.
You studied at RMIT in Melbourne. Have you always had a love of fashion? Where did this stem from?
I’ve always been a creative but wouldn’t say I’ve always been obsessed with fashion. I’ve always enjoyed it but never really saw myself working in this industry until year 12, and even then, I wasn’t 100% sure. It was one of my good friends who wanted to pursue fashion and she convinced me to do a clothing production course with her in year 10. It was through this that I started to realise my interest in fashion and where I learnt to sew. I realised I really enjoyed the design process and the process of making these designs come to life, so when it came time to start thinking about what I wanted to do after year 12 I decided to apply for fashion design and luckily, I got into RMIT.
A lot of businesses choose not to release their private information, but you happily do so. You include your manufacturer's details, even your thread supplier on your website. In an industry where this is so uncommon, why did you choose to do this?
There were a few reasons why I chose to do this. When I started, I wanted to
be honest, I wanted to be held accountable for my actions and through having
everything out in the open it was the best way to do that, I guess. But I also wanted to find a way to educate people. Through my studies I learn the ins and outs of this industry, I learnt to sew, pattern make, how to cost, grade etc, it really broke down all the walls and made me realise that it wasn’t that great. So, I wanted to try and find a way to show people what really was involved in making a garment. I think we are so disconnected to the supply chain, especially as consumers, so unaware of all the tiny steps that are needed to get a garment into a wardrobe. And each of these steps involve a pair of hands and often these hands are not treated well. So, by being honest and transparent I guess I hope that people can start to see all the different businesses, all the different hands, that each part of the garment goes through and how we need to make a commitment to ensure these hands are looked after. We also have to make sure these hands are looking after the planet and by me sharing this much information it gives consumers the opportunity to learn, do their own research and hopefully become more informed in how they are making better choices and ensure that we as an industry we are being better.
Have you come up against backlash for going against the norm or have people celebrated your transparency?
When I started, I had a few people question why I was being so transparent and warned me that it could be detrimental, but I’ve never really had any negative experiences, or anything go wrong. Rather I’ve had people use my website to find better ways of doing things, find new suppliers who meet their values and connect businesses together. I think if we want to see change happen in this industry we need to work collaboratively, we need to champion those who are helping designers and brands be better. If I find a supplier who is offering an incredible product that will end up improving this industry, I want to be able to support them through my business but also get others to do the same so that they can keep doing the great things they are doing. Also, the more people who start changing their ways the easier it becomes it will allow things to become more accessible and hopefully phase old the old ways that were detrimental to both people and the planet.
We chose to stock Lois Hazel in the Abbie James boutique, not only for your designs but for your sustainability practices and your use of deadstock fabrics. Do you find that using these fabrics poses a challenge for a designer?
Not really, I find working within a strict framework pushes me to be more creative. If I’m only able to access a small pool of suppliers I feel I push myself to find exciting ways to use what I have, rather than being spoilt for choice. I mean sometimes it can be hard when I am looking for something super specific but then often, I’ll surprise myself with how I adapt a design to meet what I had access to and most of the time I’m happier with the outcome than my original idea.
I'm interested in your design process, where do you find your inspiration?
Like a lot of designers, I’m really drawn to fabric so often I’ll start my design process throughgoing to my suppliers and seeing what’s available and finding inspiration in the cloth. I also love to come up with a story/concept, what is this person doing when they wear these designs, who am I designing for, are they going on a holiday, staying at home, what lifestyle do they live, what lifestyle do they want to live. It’s an exciting process, it can be overwhelming at the start but once everything starts to come together it’s super rewarding and inspiring.
Have you got a game-changing book that has helped you get to where you are now?
Not really, I’m not much of a reader, only just getting started on the Harry
Potter series haha but one book that I am reading now, CONSUMED by Aja Barber has been super insightful. I’m reading it slowly and still only at the start but it’s really helping me figure out where I want to take LH and addressing some incredibly important issues within this industry, I highly recommend it.
What is something that most people don't know about you?
I use to compete in trampolining when I was in high school and when I was little I won a newspaper competition to perform in a circus and ended up being the main act on the trapeze and in the gymnastic routine.
Connect with Lois through her Instagram @loishazel Shop the Abbie James curation of Lois Hazel here.