Local Designer On A Mission Towards Sustainable Fashion

Despite a rise in environmental awareness and a growing trend of designers adopting sustainable practices in many industries, the fashion industry remains one the worlds biggest polluters due to the amount of chemicals used and clothes thrown out as waste every year. One Aussie designer is committed to reversing this state of affairs and leading us towards sustainable fashion. Her name is Carley Rose Wolski. Carley fronts Carley Rose The Label and FIB was able to catch up with her to find out all about her upbringing, mission, brand, and unique methods of fashion design.

carley headshot

It’s one thing to be passionate about protecting the environment and making the world a better place, many of us would not hesitate to say we share those ideals. However it is quite another thing to act so decisively and work as hard as this young designer has. It’s still early days for Carley but her steps are becoming larger with each passing day. Recently she has returned from Beijing, China, where she was able to show off her work at the China Graduate Fashion Week on behalf of Raffles College, where she studied. She was also selected as a semi-finalist in the NESCAFE Head Start competition for her sustainable fashion campaign, which extends across her whole label. She admits it wasn’t easy at first to combine her two loves of design and the natural world.

“The more I learnt about the fashion industry the more I realised how far apart my two passions are… My design dream was totally clashing with my devotion to the environment! Both of these passions were necessities in my life and I had to figure out how I could do both, so that’s why I want to create a brand that gives customers the option to make a better choice.”

Figure it out she did, through extreme commitment and innovation Carley has established a framework for her label that all designers should be looking at and doing their best to apply within their own businesses if they are serious about the future of the fashion industry. Continue on to read the full interview below in which we uncover Carley’s origin story, where her passion springs from, the astounding work she’s doing for sustainable fashion, and what her plans are for the future.

Carley's work on the runway in China. Photo courtesy of Carley Rose Wolski.
Carley’s work on the runway in China. Photo courtesy of Carley Rose Wolski

As with every talented individual with the creative arts industry, there is always a beginning where ideas started to blossom and inspiration was formed. Carley grew up in the picturesque but relative quiet of the Southern Highlands in NSW and says she feels blessed to have done so.

“I look back at my hometown Bundanoon and think about just how lucky I really was, the air was fresh and the scenery was just gorgeous. We were always a long way from everything but that’s just the price you pay I guess.”

Subliminally the landscape in which she was raised may have been the catalyst for her commitment to sustainable fashion and this sense of isolation was perhaps part of the reason Carley was able to turn so quickly to creativity, not impeded by the distractions that city life can impose upon children and adults alike.

“As a kid I tried almost every creative avenue out at least once. I learnt to knit and hand sew when I was about 5, I got very interested in drawing and painting and my parents gave me my first tin of Derwent watercolour pencils when I was 7. I went to small schools which meant there weren’t necessarily as many subjects offered at high school, however I made it work for myself by choosing art and drama electives, and in drama I was able to do costume design for my HSC assignment. I also learnt to play guitar, how to crochet, how to embroider, use my sewing machine, use Photoshop, how to sculpt… in the end I think it all counts towards your experience and expands your imagination if you can try out as many different things as possible.”

As a child Carley embraced an interest in fashion quite early although it’s safe to say some her ideas as a youngster fell by the wayside.

“I would try out these weird ideas I had like wearing a neck tie around my leg over my jeans, (which didn’t go down with the public as well as I had anticipated) and making my own tutu skirts and wearing them over leggings like I was channelling my inner Madonna. I think the idea of being able to create wearable art is what interested me the most about fashion design when I was younger. Of course now I’m more interested in asking ‘how can I save our planet with fashion?’”

China Graduation Fashion Week. Photo courtesy of Carley Rose Wolski
China Graduation Fashion Week. Photo courtesy of Carley Rose Wolski

It wasn’t a straight shot into the fashion world for Carley, despite her passion and creativity. As with anyone trying to forge their way in this industry there are always internal doubts and external warnings about the difficulties of undertaking your dream as a career.

“As I grew up I had my mother warning me that if I was really considering this as a career I had to know it could be difficult to get a job in the industry, so for some time I just about gave up on the idea and just kept fashion design as a hobby. Of course then I really had no clue what to do with my life or what career path to follow so I decided to go to art school for a year. The best part was I met a girl who would create these awesome textured fibre artworks, photograph them and turn them into digital prints on fabric which she would then sew into garments. It was so creative, and it was fashion! She got me so excited and inspired once again and I realised I couldn’t run away for my dream, I just had to go for it. So I left art school and enrolled in a fashion design course.”

It’s a good thing she did, with her time at Raffles College culminating in a stunning collection for her major work that celebrates sustainable fashion.

“When I designed for my major work collection I looked at the Art Nouveau period because of the way it was used to honour natural forms, and I looked at our Great Barrier Reef because I was inspired by its beauty but also wanted to tell the story of how it’s now dying. My major work encompassed both of my passions, fashion design and looking after our environment, into one collection and I am so proud of my work. I know how much time went into researching natural fabric dyes, so that I could do something different that was less damaging to the earth than a regular dyeing process. I remember the hours and hours I spent embroidering my womenswear so that it was done by me and not someone who would have been paid very little in India. I gave myself a lot of extra work but it was worth it. To then see it showcased abroad was really an honour.”

From Carley's graduation collection. Photo courtesy of Carley Rose Wolski
From Carley’s graduation collection. Photo courtesy of Carley Rose Wolski

Speaking of the natural dyes, one of the most fascinating aspects to Carley’s work is the way she uses organic resources to derive colour for her designs.

“The dyeing process I’ve been researching at the moment basically involves taking different fruits, vegetables or other parts of plants, boiling them in water to extract the colour and then taking that coloured water and soaking my fabrics in it. It’s quite a simple process but it’s the research and preparation I have to do that takes time. Part of the process includes finding the right colours, testing them on different types of fibres, finding the ideal temperature to dye the fabrics in each particular colour, testing the colourfastness and making sure I’ve documented it all. The natural dyeing means that I’m not adding nasty chemicals to the water I’m using so it can be used as grey water, plus the dyestuffs can be composted.”

Carley is already doing more for sustainable fashion now than some major labels but it’s only the beginning for her, although she admits it could still be some time before everyone is on board.

“The issue is that not everybody has the same ideals as I do, people are never going to agree 100% but I think we are starting to see a positive change in how the general public see our natural environment, the problems we’ve created and what needs to be done. However, many businesses and industries have someone at the top of the chain who is just so money hungry that they don’t care about the damage they’re causing. I think that at the moment sustainable fashion is definitely a niche market.

The choices I have made so far to be more sustainable include choosing natural fibres for my fabrics and of course the natural dyeing. Using natural fibres like silk, cotton, viscose and wool means that they can be sustainably reproduced and they’re not going to take as long to break down in landfill as polyester for example. This is really just a starting point for me and I know I still have a long way to go.”

Photo courtesy of Carley Rose Wolski
Photo courtesy of Carley Rose Wolski

It’s this type of forward thinking we only wish more creatives would employ but with every Carley the world moves towards positive change, not only in regards to sustainable fashion but human ethics as well. As important as it is to be implemented from inside the industry it’s just as vital for consumers to make educated choices about what they’re buying, where it’s coming from and how it’s being produced. Carley stresses that it’s the customers that can really drive awareness and transform the industry.

“It takes a variety of approaches to get people excited about protecting our planet. For me I think seeing images of deforestation or the bleached coral reefs and being told that its humanity’s fault, and how everything has an impact on everything else and our actions matter… that kind of thing speaks to me.  Businesses can’t exist without their customers, so if enough of their customers are saying ‘hey, I don’t want to be buying clothes made by people who are enslaved’ then they will listen. It’s a great idea to write to companies too, they will take notice and organisations like change.org and fashionrevolution.com have been able to give people the gateway they need to communicate with these companies and make a difference.”

In the meantime, Carley will continue her own mission towards sustainable fashion. When she’s not working it’s almost like she is because her love for creation and the natural world shine so strong.

“When I get free time I mostly love spending time with my ever-growing family. I’m also obsessed with The Food Network and I love trying out new recipes. Otherwise I’ll be in my garden planting something new either to eat or to dye with, or getting my granny on, crocheting or knitting.”

Professionally it’s onwards and upwards.

“The next step for me is going to be creating my first ready-to-wear collection and so when I make the decisions for that I will be looking at implementing ideas like using organic cotton, using decomposable or recyclable packaging, only using ethical factories or studios to have the garments made, creating awareness about the issues the fashion industry is creating and promoting slow fashion.”

If you want to know more about Carley Rose The Label and sustainable fashion visit her at the following:

However, if you simply can’t wait to know what she’d be if she were an animal, she tells all now.

“Perhaps a sea otter, because they get the option of living on land or in the sea depending on how they feel, plus they sleep holding hands with their companion and I think that’s just adorable.”

Backstage at China Graduate Fashion Week. Courtesy of Carley Rose Wolski
Backstage at China Graduate Fashion Week. Courtesy of Carley Rose Wolski