Meet The Designer: Esther Kirwan of Theo The Label

Meet The Designer: Esther Kirwan of Theo The Label

A bit about yourself

  • Where did you grow up?

  • I grew up in Melbourne and have lived in the same 3 km radius in the burbs since my family moved from Malaysia in 1990! I’ve obviously been hugely influenced by Western culture, but I’m also thankful that I’ve inherited many values and perspectives from my parents as first generation migrants. They made the best of what they had, appreciated the freedom and beautiful surrounds that Australia offers and had the courage to pursue a life that was different from what was expected in their family.

    Theo the

  • Favourite place in the world?

  • I don’t have a favourite place in the world, each place is much too unique to compare to another and for too many different purposes! I do love Melbourne of course, and not just because I love coffee! It’s diverse and full of life, but sometimes I feel like the more it becomes ‘the big smoke’ the less I enjoy it. I’m starting to own the fact that I’m a full blown modern-day hippie, where the idea of slowing down, being in nature and spreading the love is truly at the forefront of my mind!

      

  • Who inspires you?
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    As part of a sustainability subject in fashion school I watched the documentary ‘China Blue’ (think ‘The True Cost’ of the 90’s) and decided then and there to shop my values and know exactly who was making my clothing. It wasn’t long before I found most ethical clothing brands to be outside of my budget, not to my taste or just same-same with every other label out there (this was around 2014), and so I started my own! I do all the pattern-making and sampling myself, then I head over to Bali Indonesia to meet with the makers, do handovers of new collections and sourcing of textiles.

    The the Label Sustainable Ethical Fashion Ethi Collective

    About the brand


    Why and when did Theo start?

    I always joke that I’m actually a terrible designer and that I would much rather say Theo is a small business than a fashion label! It’s not that I don’t appreciate fashion, it’s more that what we refer to as fashion today (what we see in shopping centres or on Instagram) isn’t really fashion at all, it’s marketing and business. Fast fashion is spitting out garments at such speed that every second person on the train is wearing the same thing and to me, that’s not fashion at all! I think of fashion as an art form, it’s something that’s practiced or performed with a true desire to push the boundaries, to explore elements and resolve limitations creatively and with true inspiration. Is it just me or does it seem like every fashion designer today is inspired by travel?! So having said that, I don’t design Theo collections through inspiration, I design through practicality and necessity. What sort of styles will never go out style and will pair easily with other pieces I have released? What fibres will be comfortable and what colours will work in a capsule so that I don’t have to spend hours on picking an outfit?

    • What inspired your latest collection?  

    Having studied fashion technology I have a detailed understanding of what really goes into producing a garment and therefore that’s where my focus has been since the very beginning. Literally anyone with access to the internet could launch a fashion business today, and know nothing about pattern making or fibre properties. You can learn these things without formal training of course, my point is that people aren’t interested in knowing these essential processes and therefore don’t value them.

    The the Label Sustainable Ethical Fashion Ethi Collective

  • Why have you chosen to work directly with makers instead of factories?

  • I work directly with my makers in Bali because there’s no other way of knowing they are being paid fairly and treated well. There are no large factories in Bali and therefore no codes of conduct or auditing processes. Factories in Bali are hidden in homes, behind villas and in rural villages. They’re often managed by foreigners who take advantage of the low wages and their position of power (the demand for overseas clients who want garments made cheaply) leaving local garment makers with no choice but to work for them at the price management dictates. It’s a sad reality, and the reason why I don't work with agents or middlemen.

    The the Label Sustainable Ethical Fashion Ethi Collective

  • Why should more brands in the design space look into being more sustainable and ethical?

  • A lot of my friends and family would say that I’m very blunt, and I feel like this answer is going to reveal that in a big way! Brands, or should I say businesses, should be more sustainable and ethical
    because it’s the right thing to do!
    One of my favourite quotes is ‘all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’. If we agree that sweatshops are bad - that people are being underpaid and overworked in factories that are churning out cheap clothing - then we must do something about it.

     

    The the Label Sustainable Ethical Fashion Ethi Collective

    What’s next for Theo?

    While I love dreaming up plans for Theo’s future I have yet to decide exactly what it should entail (or be publicised!). Personally, I’m slowing down more and more, in the sense that I’m becoming very intentional about where my time is spent and the story my life is telling, and I want each day to reflect my values. My faith in Jesus is the compass for my life and my role is to be in tune and ready for what He reveals over time. It’s very exciting and liberating to be led by a higher calling rather than fixated on what I can achieve on my own so I’m really looking forward to what’s next for Theo!

    Shop Theo's full collection here!

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