Our Community. Olivia Coote of The Fabric Store

Our Community. Olivia Coote of The Fabric Store

by Charli Cox

It is thanks to the generosity of our community, our brands and those who shop with us that we are able to keep uplifting our most marginalised, providing clothing to those who need it. So we were grateful to have received a donation of garments from The Fabric Store—past pattern samples that were made available to purchase through our online store, with 100% of the profits from every garment sold supporting our mission. Here we chat with Olivia Coote, who coordinated it all.

Hello, what is your name, and what is your role at the Fabric Store

My name is Olivia and I work in the marketing team at The Fabric Store.

Clothing can be purchased and replaced very cheaply these days on the high street, so spending six to eight hours on a garment, surely anyone is going to realise the value of clothing?

Yes, there’s certainly no faster way to understand the time and effort that goes into making a garment than by sewing your own. You’ll never be able to look at a $5 t-shirt the same again! Our skilled team can spend anywhere from a few hours to several days on any one garment, from selecting the sewing pattern, fabrics and trims, to cutting, sewing and finishing the piece. There is little comparison to be made between this kind of intentional approach and a fast fashion high street manufacturing process, other than the outcome being a garment. So much care and attention to detail go into the garments we make, and they’re chosen very carefully for specific purposes! Making your own clothing requires time, patience and skill, and we’re grateful to have many sewists in our TFS team who genuinely understand the value of slow fashion and slow sewing.

The garments being sold as part of our collaboration with Koha Apparel are all handmade by various members of our team over the last five years or so. Most of them were made up for a variety of marketing purposes, and we usually house them in our garment archive, as they tell a special story of the flow of fabrics and sewing patterns through the timeline of our brand. 

During the Pandemic /r/sewing grew in popularity, and Google searches for sewing machines increased over 400 per cent. Do you think people have retained their enthusiasm for sewing post-lockdown?

It did indeed! What a wonderful light in a rather dark tunnel that was, to connect with so many people new to sewing. We see many of those people, who took up sewing during the various lockdowns in their countries now coming back into stores or popping up on social, with not only refined sewing skills but also the desire to share what they’re making with others! That period of time seems to have lit a communal spark in favour of the handmade, the unique and the personal, across many methods of making. 

What advice would you give for those looking to sew who might find the material costs prohibitive?

We always recommend sewists start slowly and seek out the best quality fabrics, supplies and patterns that they can find within their budget. Handmade clothes should absolutely be considered as investments, and there is little to be gained from cranking out sewing projects as fast as you can and wasting fabric. Similar to many other forms of making, the more quality you can embed into a garment, the more longevity it is likely to have in your wardrobe. We like to think of slow sewing as slow fashion’s creative sibling! The same family of intent, but slightly different processes behind it all.

The slow fashion and slow sewing movements share similar roots, and thinking carefully about where your fabrics, supplies and tools come from, and how they are made, is a crucial step in the slow sewing journey. If your budget is super limited, there are loads of community sewing groups online, where the sharing of knowledge (as well as fabrics!) takes place frequently. Second-hand fabric sales and swaps pop up from time to time too! Join the community over on social media and start making those connections. Those who are interested might also like to head over to our blog to learn more about slow sewing.

Looking at the future of the garment industry, are you optimistic and/or daunted by what we have ahead of us? What are your priorities as a brand to address these environmental challenges?

There’s no doubt a daunting and ever-growing mountain of issues stemming from the fashion industry, from overconsumption to pollution, waste, exploitative labour, and animal welfare violations. You name it. Despite this, we remain firmly positive about the possibilities of the future! The core idea of community, and what can be achieved collectively, plays a big part. We’re constantly floored by the desire of our customers and followers for knowledge and upskilling, and the sewing world is amplified by a sense of constant interconnectedness. This lends an openness to change, and as a brand, we are dedicated to ensuring our present and future environmental impacts are positive. 

For us as a textiles company, this means ensuring we are not negatively impacting waterways and ecosystems through monitoring the use of water and chemicals in our supply chain and aligning our operations with the New Zealand 2025 Packaging Declaration. We’re also engaging with our suppliers to help them transition to a carbon-zero economy and gain a better understanding of regenerative agriculture to support them develop regenerative systems. We’ve laid out both short and long-term targets across all areas of our environmental impact in our FY 22-24 Sustainability Strategy, and we encourage readers to learn more about these over on our website

What is your vision for the fashion industry: what systemic change would you like to see take place and why?

This is a difficult answer to distil into a paragraph! Being positioned slightly to one side of the fashion industry gives us a unique viewpoint on the system as a whole. In a nutshell, our dream is to encourage as many people into sewing as possible and to provide them with the very best fabrics we can source as ethically as possible. We believe the more hands-on you are with how a garment comes together, the more respect you’ll gain for who and what is involved, and how wide-reaching the impacts are. And inevitably, more people sewing slowly will influence a decrease in the consumption of fast fashion. Our long-term vision for

The Fabric Store centres around encouraging responsible consumer behaviour, mapping and reducing the impacts of our supply chain, and doing our part to foster both circularity and a regenerative economy for textiles in Australasia. We’d love you to join us on our journey! You can stay up to date with our strategic approach to sustainability here.

P.S. We’d like to extend a heartfelt thanks to the team at Koha Apparel for allowing us this unique opportunity to voice our thoughts and to help fundraise for the cause!