Virtuous fashion

LOCAL fashion label Leo Strange is working with artisans in India to create sustainable fashion using centuries old techniques

Melissa Verdouw and Emily-Louise Newbould met at a beach party in Fremantle in January and quickly discovered they’d both spent time working and living in India.

“I’m from Brisbane and Emily is from the UK,” Verdouw says.

“We connected because we could both see the negative effects of the fashion industry in countries like India.

“The fashion industry is the second biggest polluting industry after oil—we wanted to change that.”

• Banana silk dress.

Just six weeks after meeting, they launched their eco-friendly label.

“We want to help women with their traditional trade,” Verdouw says

“Everything is made in India from growing cotton to dyeing clothes.”

Verdouw, 26, has a background in business, while Newbould, 30, has more than 10 years’ experience in high street fashion.

The duo collaborated on the design of their first collection, which was manufactured by Indigenous Industries, a business that promotes sustainable production processes.

“Through [Indigenous Industries] we work hard to connect rural India to the world,” Verdouw says.

“We constantly aspire to use traditional Indian methods in a way that is more accessible.

“Keeping them in their communities and providing trade to these areas so we can help to alleviate the poverty.”

• Melissa Verdouw

Leo Strange’s garments are made from khadi (a handspun, hand-woven natural fibre cloth), organic cotton and banana silk.

“Banana silk is made from the banana stalk,” says Verdouw.

“This fabric uses waste from banana farming, is completely biodegradable and has a silk-like feeling.”

Verdouw says the use of organic cotton means old farming practises can be resurrected, reducing water usage and avoiding chemicals.

“It also helps Indian farmers alienate themselves from the financial pressures of industry farming,” she says.

“Khadi is a very traditional way of weaving and spinning fabrics that uses little to no energy.”

Verdouw says the Fremantle community has been very supportive.

• Organic cotton top. Photos supplied

“I’m not sure we would be able to do so well if it wasn’t for this place. It’s challenging as a young woman taking a leap.”

The label was featured in this month’s Emirates Woman magazine, beside Burberry and DKNY.

“That was an amazing moment,” Verdouw says.

“To see people love our creative expression and respond so well to everything we are trying to do is so fulfilling.

“It motivated and excited me and reminds me what I am trying to do is the right thing and that we can make a change to the fashion industry.”

by MOLLY SCHMIDT

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