Sisterly love creates beautiful things, including beautiful fashion! I recently had the pleasure of talking with Laurice, Jan, and Christine, the creators of Australian-based brand Huudaverti, three sisters whose belief in quality, ethics, and sustainability comes to life in every single one of their bold, vibrant collections. Read on to learn more about how these innovative women have truly helped to change the world.
EM: How did you come up with the name “Huudaverti” and what are its main points of difference?
Sisters: The name was inspired by a family friend; a woman we admired as young girls who had great style. It is a variation on the spelling of her surname, so it does not mean anything; it works for us in that it is evocative, slightly exotic, but not restricted to an absolute meaning.
One thing that sets us apart is that everything we make is on elastic so our sizing spans two traditional size ranges. For example; our Small is equivalent to 12-14 and Large is equivalent 20-22. Production on the Summer collection for Southern Hemisphere will be starting very soon and we’ll be refining our looks for Northern Hemisphere Winter. It’s all very exciting!
EM: Why did you create Huudaverti and what challenges did you face?
Sisters: There are a few reasons: virtually every day while wearing our homemade clothes one of us would be complimented. That was a huge motivation to recreate our look on a bigger scale. We are not skinny (nor do we want to be). We are happy and comfortable with our sizes. We started our business at a time when there were limited options for plus size in the shops. I think everyone knows that feeling of going to buy something for a special occasions, or just for everyday, and feeling frustrated with the lack of choices available. We like sparkles, sequins, and bold colors and we could not find those looks in the shops in Australia.
The challenges we faced are those that all small businesses face: financing the next production line, finding fabrics that fit into our ethics of sustainability, and producing a line that does not buy into the “Fast Fashion ethos” that we do not want to be part of. The challenge then is to show that really beautiful clothes will last more than a few wears – and do cost a little more to produce and sell. That is tough in a market that is being swamped by the big box brands that deliver “fashionable” clothes that are cheap and not designed to last. We believe that it is best to spend a bit more and invest in how you look- quality shows, and keeps.
EM: Who were your biggest supporters when you launched Huudaverti?
Sisters: Our friends, family, and bloggers such as The Curvy Fashionista, Lily Pascuzzi, and The Runway Plus. People are very excited by the looks we create. Fiji Fashion Week has also been a great supporter by being one of the only Fashion Weeks that showcases plus sizes fashions and has done so for the last seven years.
EM: How do you feel that the combination of your educations from FIT, Queensland College of Art, and The Canberra Institute of Technology in Australia help make Huudaverti a success?
Sisters: Well, those places provide an academic slant on things, something that we needed to learn. Mostly though, we have learned through watching our mother and grandmother – both amazing seamstresses and pattern-makers. We always said that their clothing deserved to be on the runway, as they were so talented. They made clothing that was both well made and beautiful.
EM: What is your favorite piece in the current collection and why?
Sisters: I think we all probably have a different response to this one. We design collaboratively using a grid where we allocate spaces to each person. We discuss, critique, and develop each of the looks. It is a fascinating process seeing each garment come to life: seeing each other’s vision realized. In the current collection, I (Christine) love the gold cross top jumpsuit, the heart shorts, and the long splits dress – it is so easy to wear and a bit daring depending on how you wear it.
EM: I love that you use your off cuts as part of your packaging! What else do you do to minimize waste and be sustainable?
Sisters: One of our first goals was to donate to Water-Aid in Australia (where our business is registered). The fashion industry can be hard on the environment; both natural fibers and man- made fabrics use resources, so we use our off-cuts for packaging and we will use fabrics that we have in stock – in new and exciting ways. We strongly believe in recycling wherever we can, be it in our hand-made accessories or our use of fabrics. One thing that we have learned: like buying organic food, buying the most sustainable fabrics costs more.
Looking beyond the fabrics, we are also really strong supporters of developing sustainable livelihoods. To start, we pay our staff a living wage: this has enormous impact on the quality of their lives and that of their families. We also collaborate with small scale producers. For example, the crochet in the Summer 14 collection will be done by a women’s social development group in Fiji. The hats in the Fiji Fashion Week Resort Show were custom-made by a weaver in a small village called Urata in Vanua Levu (a beautiful island in Fiji). We continue to research where there are opportunities to collaborate.
EM: What would you say to critics who claim that encouraging women to accept their bodies as they are will only add to the obesity epidemic?
Sisters: Answering that depends on where you stand. For example, in the Pacific, there are big women; genetically big – so body acceptance isn’t an issue because size has never been an issue. What is the problem is the way that for so long the dominant look in Europe, America, and most of the rest of the world, has centered upon being thin and now ultra-thin, so anyone who is not a size 0 looks “fat”. That scale needs to shift back to seeing that bodies come in all shapes and sizes – just like flowers do – and that the size you are is the right one for you. That’s having a positive body image. But in saying that, we need to look at whether the size you are is actually a healthy size and if it is unhealthy what is causing it. Is it bad food supply – bad for you foods are way cheaper than healthy foods, lack of exercise (and we encourage all women to take an active role in keeping fit no matter what body type you are) or hereditary factors.
EM: I’m wonderful that Huudaverti was part of Fiji Fashion Week recently. What was that like?
Sisters: It was quite a ride! There is such a thrill in watching it all come together. Creating designs, finding the fabric, watching our talented production team create, like magic, the clothes that you see on the runway.
Our inspiration for this year was the Bowerbird, a bird native to Australia, Papua, New Guinea, and Indonesia; it is a special bird in that it builds these intricate architectural nests and then collects monochromatic objects like shells, seeds, and unfortunately, blue plastic bottle tops to decorate the nest. The summer collection is looking at elements of habitat – textures and colors. We have some fun pieces featuring forestscapes and other brilliantly colored or sequined pieces representing the colors used to decorate the nests.
We also launched our resort line, called Sand, at this year’s Fiji Fashion Week. And the finale looks for each show hinted at bridal – but in a very non-traditional way.
Like our other shows, the jewelry for this collection was handmade and we used coconut husk, rocks, semi-precious stones, and bright colored beads.
EM: Do you think Huudaverti would be successful in the US? Why or why not?
Sisters: We want Huudaverti to be successful anywhere that women appreciate beautiful clothing. The US market is so large and multi-faceted and it is a market that has space for a brand like ours; stylish, well-made clothes that are made to last and designed to be versatile and wearable. While also being different from the ordinary: fashionable, but not concerned with being “what’s in this season”, we have a broader picture in mind, when it comes to how we design clothes – we want them to become part of your long term wardrobe, that piece of clothing that becomes like a good friend- you know that you can rely upon to feel and look good. Our reception at Full Figured Fashion Week in 2013 was positive and people found our look new and refreshing.
EM: What are your hopes for Huudaverti and yourselves over the next 5 years?
Sisters: We are aiming for slow and careful growth. We do have dreams that will take awhile to accomplish: we have a third line in concept and we are thinking about a broader range of accessories; bags, jewelry, shoes, and even a very select line of home decor items. We will continue to do what we can for the environment and social development and hope that as the label builds so does our impact. But for today, we are appreciating where we are, what we have learned and hope that what we have achieved so far will lay a solid foundation for our future.
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