Feature

Style with substance

Green Lifestyle

Sustainable fashion expert Lisa Heinze finds out what makes recent Green Lifestyle Award winner, Carlie Ballard, tick.

Carlie

Carlie Ballard is a designer of sustainable clothing, and the co-founding director of the Clean Cut Fashion Council.

Credit: Alicia Fox

Ikat traveller pants

A model wears Carlie Ballard's trademark woven Ikat traveller pants ($99).

Credit: Alicia Fox

Carlie-shirt

A model with one of Carlie Ballard's ethically-made shirts.

Credit: Alicia Fox

- Advertisement -

Carlie Ballard is the fashion designer behind the unique and stylish fashion collection by the same name.

I first met Ballard in 2012, and her passion and excitement for transforming the fashion industry was immediately apparent (and slightly contagious). It is this passion, particularly for the work of global artisans, that make Ballard’s label stand out from the crowd, and helped her win the 2014 Green Lifestyle Award for Best Fashion Company.

Today when I meet Ballard she arrives wearing her trademark woven Ikat traveller pants (I also have a beloved pair), worn with a simple white tee and ballet flats – she is warm and exuberant, the epitome of her lovely and carefree fashion range.

As we discuss her inaugural collection, designed “for the adventurers and dreamers”, Ballard reflects on her moment of transformation that inspired this fashion label. While trekking in Nepal in 2008, Ballard was moved by the many “beautiful, yet marginalised people” she met along her journey. It quickly became Ballard’s dream to help people in developing worlds “use their amazing skills to benefit from the money the western world spends on fashion.”

Ballard is also passionate about harnessing artisan crafts; “I love the beauty of fabric, and embroidery and different techniques, and I wanted to make them relevant to a modern day woman.”

All of Ballard’s pieces, including her highly coveted woven Ikat traveller pants, dresses and skirts, and her certified organic cotton shirts, are created in an ethical workshop in Lucknow, India. There, tailors and embroiderers work on Ballard’s designs alongside a handful of other emerging labels. The workshop provides clean, safe and respectful employment. Not unlike workplaces here in Australia, workers have also been known to gossip, eat cake, drink chai and listen to the radio – all part of a day’s work.

Ballard spent time in the workshop last year, which she describes as a priceless opportunity. “I know the person who’s making [my garments], and I know how many they can make in a day. And I know that one tailor makes that whole garment. Being able to meet them and understand their personalities helps in communicating with them as well; getting what you want, but going about it in the right way.”

Her sense of joy and pride in working with ‘Team India’ – as Ballard affectionately refers to the workshop – is visibly apparent. Her face lights up whenever she speaks about the team, like when she tells me about the myriad of emails and Skype calls that help bridge the distance between Australia and India.

Team India are provided training and up-skilling thanks to the workshop’s founder, Penny Cantle, the visionary behind the facility. Ballard is extremely proud that the sole female tailor at the workshop makes all pieces in the Carlie Ballard range. “A lot of the women start as embroiderers, and tailors are predominately men – it’s in their culture to get married, have children and stop working… but Kiran was interested so the workshop gave her training.”

Understanding and respecting the workshop employees’ culture have offered unique challenges, including understanding and respecting that the embroiderers don’t want to work like Australians. For example, instead of sitting at tables and chairs, the Lucknow embroiderers prefer “to sit on the concrete floors on their Sari throws. That’s how they want to do it… we have to work with their culture.”

Ballard’s dedication and respect toward the artisans has resulted in a stunning first collection; her second collection will be released February 2015. But far from reaping the rewards herself, Ballard credits the entire team for the beautiful results: “It’s such a team effort. The women who manage the workshop, Penny, and the weavers all work together very well… It’s wonderful how they manage. It’s not me, it’s my workshop, communicating to the weavers, making sure everything is perfect.”

-------------
In addition to her self-titled clothing label – Carlie Ballard – Ballard owns the online sustainable fashion store Indigo Bazaar, and is cofounding director of the Clean Cut Fashion Council.

Lisa Heinze is a sustainable fashion researcher and author of the e-book and printed paperback, Sustainability with Style. Follow her at: @lisa_heinze