Not much I'd suggest - apart from being a few of the latest favourite things of Katie Roberts, the hippie kid-turned fashion designer and buyer-turned environmental scientist-turned stylish sustainability maven. And as a fellow Sunshine Coaster and kindred ethical consumption spirit, Katie and her blog Sustainability in Style are some of our latest favourite finds. And we aren't alone: Katie has racked up a whopping 11.4k followers on Instagram with her to-the-point thoughts on stepping up to preserve the planet - without resorting to hemp pants. Phew! (We especially love this blog on why it's important to use your consumer dollars to preserve traditional craftsmanship. So good!)
Katie took a break from studying and styling to talk philosophy, science and style with us. Enjoy!
How would you describe your style philosophy?
Funnily enough no-one has ever asked me this question before and it has me a little stumped.
I guess from an early age I was incredibly experimental with clothing. My sister and I would stage fashion shows and performances and dress up in scrap material and curtains and do our own makeup. For my poor parents, this usually resulted in having to sit through half an hour of uncoordinated stage show by two small people who looked like deranged clowns wrapped in bed-sheets, but at the time we thought we were fabulous! My folks really let my sister and I be whoever we wanted and wear what we liked. Sadly for teenage me, the 'self-taught-fashion-designer', this resulted in a collection of incredibly bad snapshots of my wonderful punk and hippie sewing creations. All I can say now is thank goodness that there was no social media in those days so all evidence of my cutting edge designs is safely stowed away in a photo box.
My life experience working in the fashion industry, environmental science and now the bloggosphere has cemented the idea put forth by my parents that we should all dress to match who we are on this inside and wear whatever we like. Because... realistically, as much as we don't like to admit it, we all judge others on their appearance. So advertising who you are on the inside on the outside is the easiest way find your tribe. This doesn't mean you have to fit into fashion trends or stereotypes (unless you want to). It's just a case of staying true to who you are. Learning who you are is an ongoing process so your style will evolve over time. I believe the most important thing we can do for others is learn how to be the best version of ourselves. Once we have that bit worked out we can silence that little voice in our brain that worries us all day with judgments and live a more selfless life and invest our time in helping others.
Why is sustainability so important to you?
We have one planet! Just one! There is no planet B that we can move to when we screw this one up.
I read an article the other day that said that February was one of the hottest months EVER. Generally climate scientists don't comment too much about short term weather occurrences as they aren't obvious indicators of long term weather patterns, but they have made the exception for recent our Feb scorcher. There is no denying that we are detrimentally affecting the way our one and only provider of food, water and oxygen operates. It's a critical point in human history and making changes to a more environmentally mindful way of living is essential not a a trendy option.
Personally I'm not perfect. I still live in the suburbs and I am connected to the grid. My goal is solar power and rainwater but until the budget allows it's not yet possible. However we can all work with what we have available to us. A person on a limited budget looking for a better way to consume fashion could choose to shop secondhand rather than new, this would fit perfectly with their circumstances and aid in reducing the demand for virgin resources. Like fashion and style, sustainability is all about working with what you got and making the most out of it.
How does this philosophy translate to other areas of your life?
From my studies in sustainability and behavioural change (I completed a Sustainability major in my undergrad and another major in Sustainability Education in my current Masters Studies) I have come to a current conclusion that environmentally minded living is a slow awakening that happens from deep within. During my undergrad, my lecturer surveyed a class of Sustainability students on their values. All agreed that they were worried about the environment, had a fair understanding of what was happening, and wanted to do something about it. When she then asked a series of questions about how the student got to class many sheepishly admitted to driving by themselves even though they had alternate more environmentally friendly options near their homes.
For a long time, this disconnect between values and actions baffled me. But I now have an inkling that sustainable living is like planting a seed. Firstly one has to want a garden. If you don't want a garden then this seed will never grow because you won't be assed planting it. In eco living terms, these people are the ones that live every day like it's their last, they shop where they want and do what they want. You might see them throwing their trash in the gutter as they aren't interested in sustainability or conservation. If you think you want a garden but aren't too committed there is a good chance you will put a minimal effort in but the seed might not flourish. These 'gardeners' are the ones who might get passionate about recycling one week but not bother then next.
Other gardeners might be a bit doubtful about growing plants but start to really see the benefits when the seed sprouts, then experience a growing passion for gardening as their seedling develops into a plant and flowers. For many of us with a vague interest in sustainability, we might see converting to sustainable living as the equivalent of entering a jungle! A jungle that is dense, confusing and a bit to gigantic to venture into on our own. But if we look at one area of interest and plant that little seed (say for example deciding to shop for organic cotton fair trade t-shirts), then the buzz we get from successfully fostering sustainable growth in one area of our life is infectious. Before we know it our lives are blossoming with feel-good eco living transformations that would have seemed unthinkable to our 'pre-gardening' selves.
For me the decision to start blogging about my eco fashion journey has resulted in some destinations that 'past-Katie' would be shocked by. Embracing things I might have considered to be too 'green', 'weird' or 'impossible' for me', things such as; menstrual cups, deodorant free living, reducing household waste to the point that we pretty much NEVER have to put our wheelie bin out, and cutting out most animal products from my diet. Eco evolution is a personal journey and one that you might find yourself addicted to without even noticing it creep up on you. It should come with a warning label because before you know it you might be the proud owner of a sprawling metaphorical (or literal) garden of blooms.
Did you have a particular aha! that you can recall that made you want to live "differently"?
My 'aha' moment was brought about by a bra-hanger. When I was working as a retail buyer and department-store lingerie department manager I was instructed by my 'big-boss' (who was remarkably similar to Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada) to take the high performance sports bras off their fancy purpose built hangers and put them on our store regulation hangers.
As I stood there and sadly removed these incredible hard plastic sleek hangers off the bras and threw them in the trash (they weren't recyclable) I thought about all the effort that went into making them. The designer who drafted them, the miners who extracted the virgin resources for the plastic, the factory who carefully made the hanger, the garment workers in the production line whose job was to hang the bras, the pick and pack staff that packed my order, and all the people who transported the garments and resources from destination to destination. After their long journey and all the love, hands, and resources that brought them to me, the hangers didn't even get to fulfil their destiny of making the product look good! They were landfill fodder.
As a woman who was raised on a (close-to) self sufficient farm by a couple of grass-roots lifestyle parents I felt something was horribly wrong with the fashion industry and I wanted out. This moment was the catalyst for my career switch from fashion to sustainability and environmental science.
Why is sharing the message of sustainability so important to you?
We all need to believe that we can play a key role in leaving an inhabitable world for the next generation. If you pick your passion and get vocal about it you can inspire others. I've chose fashion as my platform for sharing my experiences as individual with hope to inspire others, as it is something I know inside and out and it is a key industry for environmental and ethical damage and exploitation. If you feel passionate about something then learn more and share. It doesn't matter if your message is something as small as encouraging others in your workplace to car pool in order to save money or and fuel emissions, or you join Greenpeace and head out to sea to save the sharks and whales! There is always a better way to approach a problem and the more heads we have thinking about it and contributing to a global discussion the closer we will get to sustainable solutions.
Do you see sustainable living as a sub-culture or is it something we all have a responsibility to aspire to and work towards?
As much as those who operate in sustainability circles like to think we are moving forward towards a unified global appreciation of environmentally aware living, we are just not there yet! It's still a bit of a subculture. This isn't due to a lack of interest or concern, it's more that media and marketing have kind of stolen and mutated the terms 'eco', and 'sustainable' and bastardized them to the point that many don't understand (or care) what the concepts are about. Some companies will slap the terms on their products despite having no, or very little environmental or ethical credentials making it difficult for people who are well versed-sustainability-enthusiasts to really understand the implications of their purchasing decisions.
People get compassion fatigue when they are constantly bombarded with doom and gloom messages and a variety of products that make claims they don't really understand. It all seems too hard. Once people have been made aware of the real good they can do as an individual with their purchasing decisions and actions they can start to grow their own sustainable lifestyle. They may end up with just a few 'flowers' of sustainable living interests, or it could result in in a blossoming garden that changes their whole life.
Either way there is no denying that the world is experiencing a global eco awakening (heck... Leo's Climate Change Oscars speech was a great example of eco-gone-mainstream) but we need to foster the eco-evolution of every individual to make big changes. This will be have to be addressed from top-down (governments and corporations), and bottom up (individuals, peer groups, community) in order to mitigate the rapid and possibly irreversible impacts our 'growth at any cost' economic model is having.
What are some of the most basic first steps people can take if they want to begin the journey of becoming more sustainable?
This is a bit left field but I'm going to say the most important thing a person can do to be more sustainable is to take time to get to know themselves. Many of us are consuming out of habit or a desire to fill a void or meet an ideal that we don't think we match.
When I first started my year long clothing shopping ban (which was conducted to clear all the 'uniform clothing' clutter that had accumulated in my closet when I was forced back into the fast fashion world when our plant science funding ran out and I needed to pay bills) I felt vapid and self indulgent to be spending so much time working out who I was through my style identity. Several years on and a sustainability education major under my belt and I can proudly announce that my year of 'me' actually helped me contribute a body of experiential knowledge to the world that, from the feedback I receive, has aided others in their sustainable living journeys.
It's like they say in the safety induction on an aircraft 'be sure to secure your own mask before assisting others'. If you have no clue about what you are doing in life or what you are really passionate about then you aren't going to aid others in pursuing theirs. Get to know yourself, your passions, and your limitations and work with these towards positive outcomes. This sentiment is the same regardless of whether you are dressing to be your true self or embarking on a sustainable living journey.
Speaking of journeys - what is your favourite holiday destination?
I've taken to 'local' holidays to avoid excessive carbon miles (and because it suits the student budget), my Mr. and I went to Lamington National Park recently and it was INCREDIBLE. However, growing up my fave destination for adventures was Wilson's Prom in Victoria. Such an amazing place with so much natural beauty. An overseas travel highlight would be cycling through Cambodia on an OXFAM fundraising trip and visiting one of the village silk weaving business OXFAM had helped set up. My dream holiday list would include a road trip down Route 66, a visit to the Peanut Butter & Co store in New York, the Hang Son Doong cave system in Vietnam, Morocco (marketplaces and jewels OH MY), and a trek to Machu Picchu (just to name a few).