Hannah Culshaw's debut sustainable collection, Aura.
Hannah Culshaw is an emerging conscious designer based in Sydney. From completing her Honours in Fashion and Textiles at the University of Technology Sydney, she released her AURA collection. Hannah specialises in patternmaking, natural dyeing and silverwork. Her designs are influenced by shape and placement and her values influence the way she executes the garments.
Living in the mountains of BC, Canada, for a few years, Hannah rapidly grew her appreciation for nature. With her strong values in reducing waste she ensures her practice and process involves conscious and thoughtful design. From research into craftsmanship and value she can see an opportunity to re-establish the loss of connection to garments that once existed. This is achieved through her intricate craftsmanship of natural dye, silver work and patternmaking. Hannah wants to be a part of changing the mentality towards fashion and re-establishing the loss of connection to a garment, in order to reduce waste.
Aura seemed a very personal collection and ode to progress the fashion industry against unsustainable fast fashion. In what ways were these pieces sustainable?
Aura is a personal collection as it entirely represents my values and aesthetic. The concept for the collection revolved around my strong value of reducing waste, through the use of natural dyes, conscious fabrics, silverwork and the use of deadstock fabrics.
I loved working with hemp fabrics, as they use 6% of the water it takes for cotton to be produced. Further, I incorporated dead stock denim, sourced from various Australian denim manufacturers. With the decrease in demand for onshore manufacturing, there are many fabrics that have been sitting in studios for over a decade. I love being able to give a new life to fabrics where their initial purpose had fallen through.
Through research into Craftsmanship I can appreciate the care and precision needed in the slower processes of natural dying. I chose natural dyes such as Indigo, Fustic, Pomegranate, Logwood, Gallnut and Madder root. The dye technique applied conveys a harmonious mood of natural dye tones flowing into various shapes, curves and geometry. Through implementing craft, I aim to re-establish the loss of connection towards clothing and to re-introduce value towards garments, in order to reduce waste.
I made closures for the garments from hand crafting silver, this eliminated the need for plastic buttons and nylon zippers. The silver can be melted down and recycled, meaning the whole garment can be recycled. This relates to one of my philosophies that, sustainable design should be implemented at all stages of the lifecycle of a garment, as it is important to consider its impact on the environment throughout each stage.
Following that questions, the designs visually are quite calm and rooted from a vernacular or as you described in your artist statement “Zen-like.” I was wondering if this was a conscious creative choice in further employing your sustainable cause, symbolising the potential appeal of simplicity in a chaotic and unsustainable industry?
That is a nice way of stating it! There is definitely a lot of noise in the industry and controversy surrounding different company’s ethics and sustainability, however I didn’t intentionally design that way perhaps it is in my nature and I generally seek for calm and clarity. The outcome of my designs is simply my aesthetic, I strive for intricate minimalism, somehow, they are always calm and ordered and it comes from within.
What was the creative process for developing the designs for Aura?
Experimentation. Initially there is a great deal of experimentation, through drape, sketching, collaging and patternmaking. Once I feel there is a clear technique that is successful then it is more experimenting. For design, I work in between flat patternmaking and draping on the mannequin to realise the silhouette. For the textile, again I did various test and created many swatches of different natural dyes until I found the right ones. Each piece of each garment is individually dyed, and the tonal lines are achieved through placement dye. Definitely the more experimenting, the more the ideas flow and then the best ones are considered.
Finishing your graduation show, what are your plans now?
For now, I am seeing where this collection takes me and sharing my knowledge with others about my collection. I will definitely continue dyeing, designing and perhaps collaborating with other artists. Not sure where I’ll be in a year or five but I know I will be sticking to my values and contributing to the shift towards sustainable and conscious clothing.
What are you biggest fears joining the fashion industry?
I can see the thriving industry is challenging and you really have to be passionate and entirely committed to before stepping into it. I think for many it is the unknown, but to get through I know if just stick to what I am designing and be true to my design and ethos.
What are some sustainable clothing brands everyone should have their eye on?
There are many sustainable brands popping up in Sydney which is exciting! There are some great pop ups such as The Sustainable Wardrobe where you can find a curated range of amazing local designers. Specifically Spirit Natural Clothing have some delightful textures and fabrics that draw you in.
Further, I can highly recommend Designs by Jude, which is handmade in Melbourne. Jude has a really refined aesthetic, and an extremely high level of design, which is evident in his interesting patternmaking of each garment.
For inspiration, Designer Paul Castro has some amazing work which involves retrieving dead stock from brands and creating unique pieces. He has a beautiful interpretation of the garments where their purpose had fallen through.
Unfortunately, buying sustainable designers is expensive, and understandably so. What advice or recommendations do you have for building a sustainable wardrobe that is stylish, sustainable and affordable?
I believe the first step for building a successful sustainable wardrobe it to simplify and really know what you have. I think many of us are drawn to similar items so it is really important to remember your garments so there is not a double up.
Next, I would encourage conducting research into pieces, what they are made of, the level of quality, where the brand is based, what the values and ethics of the company. Additionaly, it is a good idea to consider all elements of the pieces which will clarify the way each element is added to the value. Finding designers who align with your views/values or who inform you can really make the process special and establish a connection towards the garment, it is also clearer what you are investing in. There are many ethical and sustainable designers popping up in Sydney, so keep your eye out!
Another aspect is to avoid trends and go for good design. Well-designed and unique garments will hold longevity in your wardrobe. A sustainable wardrobe isn’t always about buying new, it could involve mending and problem solving. If a top has a tear, it is good to question could this be quickly stitched or somehow mended maybe with the help of a friend. Longevity can really make a difference in reducing waste in the fashion industry.