| creative women with a conscience | Stephanie Devine, the Australian woman to design the first ever zero waste, compostable bra.
NO WIRES. NO TOXINS. NO WASTE
Can you tell us what motivated you to design the very first zero waste bra and what your ultimate mission is with the brand?
My story starts in 2006 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had one weekend to find a non-wired, cotton-lined bra in my cup size to see me through treatment, and the only available options were maternity or sports bras (I’d just been told I’d never have kids after chemo) and this whole experience left me shocked and devastated. As a woman and as a consumer I felt like I’d disappeared, and as both. This was also a time I was more aware of everything that touched or was ingested by my body, I was desperate for everything to be pure and clean, and it was hard to achieve . When I got to 5 years out I decided I wanted to do something about this, and I started working on Bras Without Wires which launched properly in 2017. Whilst this brand focused on organic cotton, the more I learned about the apparel industry, the more I realized there was a much bigger issue. I had to recalibrate my idea of what was ‘good’. Cotton of any kind takes 20,000 litres of water to grow 1kg and this didn't seem like a sensible use of resources. I became obsessed with the idea of creating something zero-waste, making beautiful organic cotton bras without considering all the other elements didn't feel like enough. ‘The True Cost’ film changes everything of course. I decided to start something new from the ground up, to see if it could be done, and then to see if consumers would really choose this bra.
My mission, should we be lucky enough to get funded, is to create a brand that makes great zero/low waste and recycled basics to give consumers more options, whilst also increasing awareness of the evils of fast, cheap fashion and landfill.
Can you explain to us what makes 'The Very Good Bra' zero waste?
The Very Good Bra was designed so that women don't have to choose every day between style and substance. Materials have been sourced from around the globe, to ensure this bra can be buried in the garden after use, or burned, and it will create no toxic waste. It’s not just ‘biodegradable’ (plastic bags biodegrade) it is fully compostable! We are currently going through Cradle 2 Cradle materials health certification and aiming for Gold standard on this. There is no waste in nature, there is none in The Very Good Bra. Most importantly, it feels soft and silky on the body, and it looks great, in the end that’s what we care about most in the day to day.
When we met in person, you went into detail about the extensive process of sourcing each element for 'The Very Good Bra' - can you list where in the world each piece is sourced, what fabrics/materials these are and why these elements needed to be sourced from these places?
It’s been a truly global sourcing expedition! Our tencel is actually knitted and dyed in Melbourne, from Lenzing fibres sourced from Taiwan and Thailand. Our elastic (grown in FSC rubber plantations in the Philippines and knitted into organic cotton in Austria) costs 100 times more than regular elastic. Regular bra elastic is laminated for a softer handle against the skin, btu we have enclosed ours in soft, silky tencel to achieve this softness. We sew with a C2C gold standard oil-based-polymer thread made in Switzerland, our hooks and eyes are custom made in France using organic cotton, and our labelling is pad-printed in HK using organic inks. We’ve also sourced fully compostable poly bags from Israel to ship the goods from our factory.
Why do you think Australian manufacturing is become less of a popular option for local designers?
I think a lot of great, premium brands still make here, but lingerie is so specialized its almost impossible now with no real onshore factories. We need the deep technical skill that our Chinese factory has to fit and size correctly. In addition, lingerie needs specific machinery which sadly no longer exists in Australia where we don’t have a lingerie manufacturing industry as such.
How did you go about designing a bra that offers support, without the most crucial (to date) element - the wire. How do you achieve support without this?
It's a common misconception that support comes from wires, it actually comes from the band and the straps. Wires are there to separate. We’ve worked long and hard on fit and support and whilst we wouldn't recommend you wear this bra for jogging if you are an E cup, it will happily get you through the day to day of life without embarrassment!
What have been some of the challenges or difficulties in creating this piece and starting this brand?
Everything has been a challenge! Having to source and in some cases, custom make components which have never been made before, has been an enormous challenge. The Hooks and Eyes have almost broken me. But eventually I worked out that in this case, we needed to return to older, European artisanal production to create the sort of hooks and eyes, that appeared on bras in the 50s, pre-lamination. Despite the challenges, the wonderful thing has been people’s willingness, the world over, to help and get involved and have a crack at creating something new and different and pure. I have had incredible support from suppliers, manufacturers, influencers, and also creatives and even my lawyer. People have been amazingly generous with their time and energy which inspires me to keep going.
Why is sustainability important to you?
The statistics are shocking, 85% of clothing goes into landfill in Australia, over 50% of that clothing is made from polyester which takes over 200 years to break down. I could go on and on as you will know. For me personally, this product is an opportunity to raise awareness and consciousness with my passion – wire-free bras. Personally, I am lucky enough to live at Bondi Beach, and it devastates me to see the seagulls picking at plastic and polystyrene balls every morning. We have to do better.
In what other areas of your life do you practise sustainability and how do you carry this out day-to-day?
It's certainly a journey, but when you start on this track you end up questioning everything. I love Bondi Wash for botanical cleaning products, I love my keep-cup, my beeswax food wraps and I’ve ordered a keep-straw from another great kickstarter campaign – FinalStraw. I’ve always been a ‘buy less buy better’ sort of person, so I tend to have accumulated (hoarded depending on your perspective!) lots of good stuff over the years that I ‘rest’ for a while then dig out years later.
What is your advice about shopping more consciously? How do you shop for clothing?
Right now I find it hard to shop. It used to be a pastime, particularly when travelling, but now all I smell is chemicals and all I see is potential landfill. And to be honest, my cupboards are so full of great clothes I can hardly close the drawers, so I can’t justify buying more, I will wear what I have. Occasionally I will splurge on Jac + Jack or Bassike, local labels that I trust and where I know what I buy will stand the test of time.
What advice and wisdom can you give to other women who are also considering starting a sustainable brand? What are some things you learnt along the way as an entrepreneur?
I think the key difference in this space is finding your tribe. One you find your tribe, they are so committed to this cause that they will help with contacts, recommendations, ideas and support so I’d recommend reaching out and asking for help. Other than that it is very hard work. So many I know in this space have a day job and pursue sustainability as an extra-curricular, which is hard going. I’ve worked almost every day for the last 6 years, recently I stopped and ended up with pneumonia which shows how much we operate on adrenaline when pursuing our passions.
Why is it so important to our health and skin, that we wear chemical free intimates?
For me, I only want something that I understand and trust next to my skin, be it a cosmetic or a garment. I don’t believe there is a proven link between illness and synthetics, it just makes sense to me not to trust everything, particularly in a post-cancer world. Beyond that, the bigger picture is where will the micro-plastics from this garment end up and what damage will they do? And also what will become of this garment at end of life, will it take 200 years in landfill to break down?
When we shop, why is it important that we make purchasing decisions that don't negatively affect the environment?
There are rafts of statistics about the pollution in developing nations to create fast-fashion for us, garments that will be worn once or twice only at enormous environmental cost to communities and the environment (30% of global pesticide use is in the textile industry), but for me this goes back to waste and landfill. China has stopped importing Australia’s waste this year, and so we are stuck with it. We will make our bed and lie in it going forward.
Why do you think we've lost our connection with the land and nature?
I heard a lot about this in a recent conference in HK. Post war, the push was on to find cheap and fast substitutes for natural fibres and foods and people were, naturally, desperate for both. This propelled us into a world of fast-food and convenience products when the planet’s resources seemed endless. Now we are in a world where, according to Dame Ellen Macarthur, there are only 17 years’ supply of silver left, we’ve blown it! The good news is that in a post GFC world, our current world, people feel that growth at any cost has served them badly, and they are prepared to mobilise to take back their power from the massive corporations, and to put purpose before profit.