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Slow fashion for a sustainable future

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Slow fashion for a sustainable future

words Heidi HELBIG
PHOTOGRAPHY sam kroepsch
>> Nicole & Tracy Draper of The Terra Collective.

It’s Friday afternoon and mother-and-daughter business partners, Tracy and Nicole Draper have just dispatched their latest collection of sustainable handmade clothing for an Adelaide fashion show fitting.

Nicole laughs as she relives the offer from the PR company that put these artisan creatives amongst South Australia’s fashion designers.

“I rang mum and said ‘are you sitting down?’ says the 26-year-old.

“We had three weeks’ notice – we quickly whipped together half a new collection in the last week.

“We thought ‘it’s going to be stressful but let’s lean into it’; this morning I was finishing sewing on the tags!”

No-one is more surprised than Tracey and Nicole – Nicki to her mum – to find their Tanunda start-up in such high demand just 12 months after launch.

The Terra Collective – which pays homage to earth and inclusivity – is attracting attention not only for its designs, but for its sustainable ethos across every stage of the manufacturing process.

The carefully-curated clothing range is made in the Barossa from quality, sustainably sourced materials, with five per cent of profits donated to environmental charities.

From the outset Tracy and Nicole committed to “beautiful products that are made with love and don’t hurt the Earth.”

“It started with our frustration with plastic pollution,” says Nicole.

“We thought, how can we make it easier and bring it more local and online, help people be more conscious about the impact of their decisions.

“We’re not perfect but we just want to give back to the world in whatever way we can.”

Launching with bamboo straws and lifestyle pieces such as candles and textiles sourced from like-minded companies, they quickly and organically branched into clothing and accessories for women and children.

While their price point in the market reflects the origin of their materials, Tracy points out being sustainable also means shopping sparingly.

“Don’t go and buy a whole new sustainable wardrobe – buy a few key pieces, and don’t be afraid to outfit repeat,” she says.

“If you’re buying quality and sustainably, it should last years.”

“People say don’t go into business with family or friends but it has worked and it actually always balances out. It organically flows – we’ve been lucky with that.”

- nicole draper

Tracy and Nicole are the first to admit committing to slow fashion hasn’t been easy.

They had to look as far as Spain for elastic made from natural rubber and organic cotton, while their buttons are mostly vintage wood, usually re-purposed from op-shops.

Even their new range of shoes is made with the responsible use of natural materials, combining organic canvas, natural rubber and water-based glue.

Of expanding the production of their clothing range, Nicole says: “It’s cheaper to go offshore but we won’t do it – and we’re stubborn!”

The business clearly plays to both of their strengths as Tracy, a self-taught seamstress, brings to life Nicole’s eye for design.

Classic pieces combine comfort, luxury and Nicole’s own personal style, which is influenced by her sense of “feeling more comfortable in my own skin”.

While the design and execution is seamless, the same can’t always be said for the creative process.

“We often have designs taped together and notes written over everything.

“We had rolls and rolls of butcher’s paper – we’ve now graduated to brown craft paper,” laughs Nicole.

“People say don’t go into business with family or friends but it has worked and it actually always balances out. It organically flows – we’ve been lucky with that.”

While their immediate goal is to transition beyond a start-up to a viable and profitable enterprise, they also aim to grow their made-to-order service so that nothing is wasted.

“It would be nice if people got on board with made-to-order so we only make things that people want, so there’s no wastage and no stock we can’t sell,” says Tracy.

Despite their success – they have an online store, a retail presence in Alabaster Store and a regular spot at Adelaide market, Gillies at the Grounds – Nicole still isn’t entirely comfortable with being labelled a designer. 

“I always loved clothes but I never thought in any way that I was fashionable,” she says.

“I guess it’s that feeling of imposter syndrome because neither of us has ever worked in fashion or retail.

“We can’t quite believe people love the things we’ve come up with ourselves and made ourselves.

“It’s a very lovely feeling, but it’s also a ‘pinch me’ thing.”

It’s also been a very personal journey that has taken Nicole away from marketing at the family business, Homburg Real Estate, to find meaning in what she does.

“I always wanted to work and do something that I love and enjoy. I understand why people can’t or don’t, but if I have the choice, why wouldn’t I do something that can give back and have an impact?”