| creative women with a conscience | Rachel Rutt one part of the 'Heart People' duo, vocalist, model, weaver, mender and knitter'.
Rachel Rutt really changed the modelling scene here in Australia, when she started out at the age of 17. With her Singaporean and Japanese background, she challenged traditional beauty stereotypes and brought the issues of ethnic diversity in Australian culture to the forefront both in mainstream media and on the runway. We've needed a female pioneer and role model leading the way in this arena for so long now and Rachel has tackled this issue with grace and humility. In 2009 and 2011 she was the most sought after model for Australian Fashion week, but there's more than meets the eye with Rachel. With an infectious creative energy, wisdom beyond her years and a quiet confidence, Rachel can also add weaver, knitter, mender and vocalist to her list of creative endeavours. She's part of the music duo 'Heart People', who recently released their EP Homecoming when we chatted back in June this year. Rachel now focuses her days on using her voice as her instrument and continues to weave and mend as daily meditative practices.
We chat to Rachel about ethical and sustainable fashion, slow living, the artisanal form of weaving and kitting, how she practices mending as a metaphor and that with her music she wants to create a space for community, connection and deeper consciousness through, movement and dance.
Photos: Rachel Rutt Instagram @bbqriblet
One of the most important things that we want to provide women with tommie, is a platform for collaboration, community, connection and consciousness – an inclusive space that showcases the positive messages that women are contributing to, through their work and creativity.
A lot of the women I speak with, talk about having a strong moral compass, which is derived from a value system that promotes love, fairness and equality. I feel as though your approach with everything you do is to create a space of inclusivity and love.
Your band is called Heart People, can you tell me a little bit more about what that name means to you? And what is one message you really want to get out there through your music?
Heart People has been an exploration between community and unity, and how we can expand upon a community. ‘People’ is an inclusive word and we wanted to represent that through our music. You can’t make great things happen alone; it’s through collaboration where your message travels a lot further, and reaches more people. For us it’s about growing an idea, communicating it visually and collaborating with other artists’ and letting them translate our ideas too. Some times things are not within your own personal capacity, so it’s nice to welcome others in and share your original idea to see it come to fruition in a different way or have the help from others with their skill set and talent on areas, that you personally may not know much about or have thought about.
‘Heart People’ as a title for the project has always been to highlight the response of your heart over your head. And that message isn’t just for us, it’s for everyone, whether its our collaborators or our listeners. It’s an inclusive, open, travelling environment that we set out to create.
On the other end, we want to look at dance, and how music transports everybody into their most intuitive, universal state, which is through movement. We want to be dance artists’ as we want to make people dance, in an unconscious, natural way. We seem to have forgotten how to do that in this day and age, because as a society we’ve become so self conscious about the way things look. So we really want to tap into that intuitive movement inside of us to create a sense of freedom through music.
For those that don’t know, you’re an iconic fashion model and have landed on the pages of almost every popular fashion magazine. The fashion industry can be quite competitive, is this something you struggle with personally in relation to the Heart People project and the music industry in general?
Competitiveness is a natural and important part of life, no matter what industry, because it actually pushes us to move forward. We need to move past those instinctual, feelings to get to a better place - to access our unconscious self. This is true of the ‘Heart People’ project in particular - you’ve just got to go for it and say what it is you’re passionate about, even if other people are doing the same thing - because if you don’t say, it someone else is going to. It doesn’t matter if other people are doing similar things, we’re all going about it from different approaches and we’re all unique in the way we address things – no one will ever be able to do what I do, and I won’t ever be able to do what someone else does. We’re living in a unified space, so we need to create more opportunities to access this. Women are not perfect, and I think when it comes to this competitiveness, we are partially the reason we are oppressed. We as we women have a lot to work on when it comes to our relationships with one another.
With this slow living movement it can be quite tricky to shop consciously and tick all the boxes of ethical, sustainable, fair trade, gender equality, vegan etc.... It’s become apparent from the conversations we’ve had with other women, that it’s best to focus on one value, instead of trying to tick all the boxes so to speak. What advice would you give to women who are struggling with trying to do it all?
You can’t demonise yourself because that’s really negative, you have to work on it, you’ve got to do it slowly and you’ve got to give yourself time because we’re always evolving, but the most important thing is to be open to the idea that what you’re doing right now might not be the right thing for you and the world, and you have to change it.
If you’re able to accept those flaws about yourself, you’re more likely to understand those of others – empathy is a huge point of change. Whilst we can’t do everything, I think it is important to acknowledge our every day actions and behaviours.
What kind of practices do you engage in? Any rituals?
I’ve been practicing yoga a lot more. Also singing has been a new mindful practice for me. With singing, you learn to use your body as a wind instrument; a lot of the practice for singing is very similar to the breathing techniques in yoga. Singing is kind of a combo of yoga and weaving for me. When I do my singing warm ups - which take about an hour - it allows for better expression. I really enjoy it because you get to this point with the warm ups where you can’t be doing anything else but that. You can’t even think about other stuff. And it is super meditative and I always recommend it - like I do weaving - for the practice in itself. It’s so refreshing because you literally have to turn off your brain to focus. I feel as though my health has really improved by singing and practicing these breathing techniques, which is really nice. You know in yoga when you take a deep breathe out, and its kind of like expelling things, well singing is kind of like that for me…
Slow fashion is something we’re super passionate about here at tommie, and we want to educate people on how to be more mindful, conscious consumers. Weaving and knitting are things that take time, and is quite a slow practice; in a very fast moving society, was this an intentional decision to move to a ritual that needs diligence and care without instant results and gratification?
From a textile point of view, a huge part of what got me to look at this kind of stuff [ethical and sustainable fashion] is that through knitting you are forced to work slowly, so yes it definitely was one of the reasons. But also, if we’re talking about ethical and sustainable industries, look at the wool community, they are very transparent, more than any other kind of fibre industry out there, and this is why companies like Woolmark exist because of their ethical outlook. So I think it’s wonderful that people are getting out there and trying the craft as a whole, and it's actually challenging people to go and do it for therapy and meditation as well, so putting this slow living idea into practice; for me they’re the most important reasons. This is true of weaving for me, too. Did you know, Ghandi was a weaver?!
No, I didn’t actually! That’s gotta’ tell you something about practicing mindfulness and meditation in movement!
Exactly! For me I find it gives me [weaving] the space to work out my problems, I’ll spend the whole day alone or listening to music quietly in a beautiful sunlight room, (because I need to find somewhere with light) and you’re essentially in a pretty methodical moment for hours and you get stuck into that, where you’re actually not thinking at all, which is meditation for working out some of the issues. And it actually doesn’t matter what the end result is, it’s all about the process.
I think it’s really admirable that these are practices that you’re carrying out, because I think there can be such a stigma with our youth culture that these practices and rituals, which have been around for years and years, can be perceived as not ‘trendy’ or ‘cool’. And they can often get a label of being ‘spiritual’. But I think this is slowly changing because of role models like your self..
It’s so true because these artisanal art forms of weaving used to be taught at tafe, and now they’re not available anymore. I studied at the ‘Hand Weavers and Spinners Guild of NSW’ and they were so happy to see someone young! When I started, there were a few people my age, but by the end of the course I was the only person under 45. They were excited to have young people join them and have some one in there 20’s, because it’s completely skipped a generation. There are women out there who are artisans and crafts people who are a dying breed, and they don’t do it for the recognition, but for the love of the craft, and I think it’s sad that those crafts could potentially be forgotten and become obsolete.
You started knitting when you were modelling because you had a lot of down time in between shows, what ‘s the difference between knitting and weaving?
The process of knitting is very different to weaving, on the one hand knitting is very flexible, you can make a mistake and you can fix it way later in the process, whereas with weaving, even though you can fix mistakes, you can only do so to a degree – weaving is very methodical and there is a certain point you can get to in the process where you can break it down and it doesn’t have to be the way you started it out, but you have to learn how to do all the steps, otherwise you’re not doing the craft of weaving justice.
Deconstructing and constructing wool again, makes you think about fabric in a different way, I didn’t think about this kind stuff before I was a knitter. You learn so much more about it when you do the action with your hands.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the fashion industry? What do you think about fast fashion?
I think sometimes in the fast fashion industry, it’s not only the actual product that is harmful, but also the messaging and communication [marketing] behind the clothes that are made. The labelling of trends; forcing people to find a category that aligns with how they want to perceive themselves, or how they want to be perceived and you become that ‘nomad’ or ‘bohemian’ to find your identity and categorise yourself. It’s another way of numbing out self-discovery.
We’re told consuming and acquiring things and this capitalist mentality is the only way, and that consumption is what defines us.
How can we move away from this fast, fashion mentality and look to slow fashion and ethical and sustainable alternatives?
I think it’s a combination of manufactures taking stances, introducing options and offering alternative products, and for consumers to look at these products as the best options. Also, we need to look at luxury goods and how this relates to quality. Another way to look at luxury, and this is how I’ve been teaching my partner how to purchase things; is, look at the country the product is made in – of course look at the fibre, too - but if you’re getting it online, which is a huge way of buying, (I buy most of my clothes that aren’t second hand, online, because I don’t like going into shops) if it is made well it will be listed and if it isn’t made well, it won’t be listed. If there is quality behind it, they will show it, and if there isn’t they will hide it. That is a really easy way to look at it.
If you’re looking at leather, if it's made in Spain, amazing, you’re almost guaranteed that it's going to be an amazing leather good; you can educate yourself on these small cues. And even just calling companies; I’ve started calling people just to see if they’re not being transparent.
I called Ralph Lauren once to find out about a wallet I wanted to buy, and they didn’t have the information online; and I found out that it was made in China and they were offering an alternative product for a similar price that was made in England. Something that is made in China isn’t going to last as long as something made in England, so I bought that instead.
It’s taking those tiny steps, just like bringing reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, instead of using plastic bags that makes change. In the beginning it’s annoying, but it does become second nature! You’ve just to reassess your habits.
Not only are you a model, weaver, knitter and vocalist; you’re also known for your mending and sewing abilities. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
I’ve been practicing sewing my whole life because the women I have lived with taught me how to mend and sew, because that’s how they’ve grown up. It’s not because I needed to learn a tactile craft; it was either therapy or choose to learn to mend; so putting into practice that whole idea of ‘mending as a metaphor’. I took all of this stuff for granted, because it was just normal, because the women I have grown up with, whether it was my mother, or other women, always showed me – I realise now, that I would have treasured it more now that I know the value as an adult. With textiles, I honestly think it’s about making people aware how things are done, the technique and process, and that you don’t have to throw your clothes away. I want to make this kind of stuff known, and I think through awareness is the way to do it. You can invest $150 on a sewing machine that you will have for years, or you can spend $150 on new items, more frequently. Even when it comes to fixing buttons; people don’t know how to do that – I want to make that normal. People shouldn’t think that if one or all the buttons fall off, its time to throw this garment out – buttons are the easiest thing to change! And I actually think sewing with children is really important, too.
How do think mending, repair, care and maintenance in clothing all relate to storytelling?
It’s a new thing that the garment undergoes, it now has history, the longer you have it and the more things happen to it, the less you’re likely to throw it away because of all the memories attached to it.
We spoke a lot about individuality in our conversation and challenging traditional and conventional formulas of living; we shared all the same viewpoints, but that’s its not always easy to be ‘different’. Can you talk a little bit about your upbringing and your feelings surrounding individuality?
We’re told consuming and acquiring things and this capitalist mentality is the only way. You leave home, you get a job, and you find a way to get enough money to get your little piece of the pie and its yours and you protect it, and your whole life is spent saving it, and the little circle you’ve created is all that matter. But the trouble is, we often don’t look outward past this group or circle or constructs of the family unit you’ve created.
When I was growing up you had interactions with different people, with so many different age groups and you didn’t look at them for age value. You were able to having friendships with people who were your parents’ age, but you didn’t look at them that way, like ‘Oh that’s dads friend’. You’re looking at them like you would a friend, some you can confide in. But, in this modern world that we live in, the constructs don’t exist for that to happen, we have such an ageist perspective about whom we interact with. It’s a very limiting and narrowed way of thinking.
But sometimes when you’re taking a stand on your own, to challenge these ways of life, the idea of that at times is more isolating than any interaction with a person. And you can’t say, now I know and therefore I will change [how I feel] – the knowing isn’t enough. Once you figure out where something is coming from, it doesn’t mean it changes; you have to proactively look at it.
All you can do is focus on ‘undoing’ yourself, being open, free, be true to who you are and come from love.
With this ‘Heart People’ project, I’ve had to have the most faith I’ve ever had to invest in it, and in some ways, it’s the most liberating thought, because I’ve never been here before and I don’t know what the result is going to be, and if you still believe, the same way as you did from day one to today, then you’ve got something there…….
Rachel Rutt at her recent mending worksop in support of National Op Shop run by The Salvation Army, curated by Faye De Lanty and Clare Press.
Photo: Natalie Shehata