BEHIND THE LABEL: CHASING SPRINGTIME
Hi Belinda, could you please introduce yourself and your brand?
I’ve worn plus size clothes for more than 20 years and I always thought I could do a better job at it. I came to fashion after years as an accountant and then in sustainability. I’ve travelled to America to set up an HR system, written the first sustainability report for Australia’s largest university, been arrested protesting with GreenPeace and now I’m raising a young feminist and doing my best to change fashion, because it’s not women who need to change – it’s the industry.
Chasing Springtime provides stylish, ethical and colourful alternatives for women who wear sizes 12 to 26. There’s a real gap in the market for ethical clothing that goes beyond size 16 and also looks amazing. I love working with natural fibres and fabulous prints by indie textile designers. My designs have features plus size women have been crying out for – like sleeves to the elbow; necklines that don’t slip off shoulders; tops that get longer as the sizes increase; and cuts for women without, the industry standard, hourglass figure.
Belinda at her desk.
Where are you based?
I run the business from my home office in Brunswick, about 10 kilometres from where all our production takes place. I’ve been lucky enough to live here for 15 years and I love cycling around to parks and cafes.
When did you start your brand/ label, and why?
I started Chasing Springtime about five years ago, because I believe women should be able to choose clothes they love, and not have to settle for clothes just because they fit.
I want all women to feel more confident in their lives. I know the feeling of practically hiding in meetings because I didn’t like the way my clothes looked or sat on my body that day. The way we think we look and are being judged by others can distract from performance and confidence. I want my customers to be able to focus on shining at whatever they do.
What has been your biggest hurdle so far in your business journey, and why?
Working alone can be hard. My entire career before now has been spent working in teams, and I loved it! I now work with suppliers, manufacturers, and customers, but having someone to bounce ideas off and who understands the industry has been a challenge. A fellow designer and I started the Curvy Design Market a few years ago and meeting fellow designers who work in the plus size fashion sector has been amazing! Now, I have friends and colleagues who really understand what it’s like. We can help each other out with finding suppliers and give each other feedback and encouragement. It took me a while to find this network, because it involved being brave and reaching out to people I didn’t know and I’m more comfortable hiding behind my computer.
Shooting Day - BTS
What has been your brand’s proudest moment so far?
Every time I get a good review, or a customer sends me an email to let me know how pleased they are with their garment, I feel so proud of my designs and I know the struggle and hard work has all been worth it.
Knowing that I’ve helped women who experienced similar pain and disappointment with what large brands and stores have to offer in the plus size fashion space, and who now delight in dressing each day and feel confident and attractive stepping into the world gives me the motivation to continue striving and working hard.
What sets your brand apart?
Quality natural fabrics that last.
Having spent hours making my own clothes, I was always disappointed when the fabric pilled (you know those ugly little balls you have to shave off) or when it shrunk. If you’re making your own clothes you can prewash the fabric to ensure your new top doesn’t shrink, but that’s only possible when you’re cutting one or two garments, not 30 or 50.
So I shrink test and pill test all my fabrics before I commit to using them in the range. If a garment fits and wears well, it will last longer, can be worn longer and is less likely to end up in landfill. Once a garment is made it gets washed; this way my customers are trying on something they know washes well and won’t shrink.
And on a fun note, I name much of the range after female comedians I admire. There’s the Millican Frock, Lucy Layers Dress, Saunders Pinny and French Tunic!
Tell us more about your current collection.
Currently, it’s all about summer frocks, blouses and pants in pure cotton. The website is full of fun bright prints ready for women to wear for work. There are soft cotton lawn dresses with pockets, floral blouses with puff sleeves, some plain linen tops mixed in and our fabulous new Kaling Cuff Pants with an adjustable waist and super comfy stretch cotton.
The model is wearing the feathered friends top.
What’s coming for your label next?/ What are you excited about?
I’m really excited about the Autumn and Winter range this year. Last year, the French Tunic was so popular it sold out and I had to get more made. It’s a stylish chic dress that looks great in sizes 12 to 26, with a symmetrical collar reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn. This year it will come in more colours, as will the Saunders Pinny – a cotton corduroy pinafore in a timeless style.
Tell us more about your products. What inspires you?
Different things inspire me. Sometimes I see fashion that I want to wear and then I design it for a plus size body, for example I might add wider sleeves and a longer bodice, or move the waist line.
Other times, I take a problem and solve it. I think my ‘very mild superpower’ is actually problem solving. For example, I design pants for women with curvy bums - trousers that fit at the hips, but then aren’t too large around the waist. This was a problem I had for years and tried to solve it by adding hand sewn darts to store bought trousers or rolling the waist up at the front. Turns out, it wasn’t just me with this problem and the Curvy Bum range of pants has proved very popular.
How do you source your fabrics?
I use various suppliers and I’m always on the look out for high quality. Using deadstock fabrics is great for reducing waste, but if you have an ongoing product (e.g. a tee-shirt) then deadstock is not always the answer because sourcing and testing those fabrics is very time consuming. In those cases, I seek Australian made fabrics, for example any stretch jersey fabrics I use are made locally in Melbourne, and then I look for wearability. Fabrics that my customers will be able to enjoy wearing for years to come.
When I source prints, I usually end up having them printed especially for my range so I can change the scale of the patterns. Some prints are almost upholstery size, and this doesn’t always work for my garment designs and pattern placement can be tricky too. A non-directional print is always a favourite because if I don’t have to worry about getting any of the print upside down on a garment, I can use the fabric more efficiently. I love it when textile designers understand this and create patterns, that when cut, create less waste.
Prototype in the making.
How do you ensure your production is ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly?
I have a master’s degree in environmental science, and it’s been great to bring my values and work experience in the sustainability sector into fashion with these initiatives:
- manufacturing in Australia;
- Only using quality fabrics that can be worn year-after-year;
- Independently pill testing and shrink testing fabrics;
- Using filtered rainwater from our 7000 litre tank to prewash fabrics and garments;
- Never using fabrics that require dry cleaning – in fact we recommend all our products are washed in cold water and line dried;
- Where practicable, purchasing dead stock fabric for garment production;
- Purchasing Australian made fabrics;
- Recycling all fabric scraps with Upparel in Melbourne;
- Using compostable bags for shipping; and
- Donating $5 for each customer review to improve gender and racial equality
I also run a solar powered office. I work from home and our house has a solar array on the roof. It was our wedding present and I’m grateful our guests were overwhelmingly supportive of this idea. It really is the gift that keeps on giving!
Do you give some of your profit to charity? Which one(s)? Why and why this one?
For every customer review we donate $5 to charity. The charities varies but preference is given to those that promote gender and racial equality. Recently donations have been made to: Black Rainbow (they invest in the futures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQA+SB community), Fitted for Work (helping Australian women experiencing disadvantage get work, keep work and strive at work) and the International Women’s Development Agency (the leading Australian agency entirely focussed on women's rights and gender equality in Asia Pacific).
What are your predictions for the future of ethical and sustainable fashion?
There are numerous studies and articles demonstrating that consumers want to purchase ethically manufactured goods and fashion, but don’t want to pay the extra costs. Or they like the idea of shopping sustainably, but ultimately price is the main factor driving decision making. Let’s face it, we all have limited finances (except for Jeff, Bill and Elon) and we’ve got pretty used to cheap clothing over past 30 years or so.
Therefore, I expect only exponential growth in the ethical and sustainable fashion sector when governments require manufacturers to comply to these requirements. Governmental leadership in this area is lacking and that’s why it’s great to see marketplaces like Local Threads supporting and promoting designers and manufacturers who do the right thing.
I’m also grateful to those people who do purchase according to their values, and they are to be highly commended. I know a lot of my customers are like this. They are intelligent women who understand the true value of fashion that does not harm others in the manufacturing process and that lasts.
But even without governments stepping in, I think new designers will constantly emerge who value sustainability and ethical manufacturing because it feels right. Slow fashion made locally is a perfect match for emerging designers, and we’ve seen how much more reliable the supply chain is when it doesn’t rely constantly on international shipping and manufacturing.
Belinda - at work.
What advice would you give to any Australian entrepreneur/ designer who wants to start their own label now?
There’s no right or wrong way to have a successful label and one person’s definition of successful is not the same as someone else’s. For some it may be wealth and a fast car, for others it might be a reliable income and working with creative people. Start, experiment and do what you need to to maintain your creativity. And never lose sight of your ‘Why’.
Thank you so much for your time Belinda, that was truely inspiring.