The Inspiring Journey of The Very Good Bra, the world's first Circular Economy bra

In February, eBay Australia supported by the Australian Fashion Council, proudly announced The Very Good Bra as a runner up of eBay’s 2024 Circular Fashion Fund, marking a significant leap forward in advancing circular fashion within Australia.

Stephanie Devine's journey from battling breast cancer to revolutionising the fashion industry with The Very Good Bra is nothing short of inspirational.

Faced with the daunting reality of a limited selection of non-wired bras made from natural fibres during her treatment, Stephanie saw an opportunity to fill a crucial gap in the market. In 2016, amidst global turmoil and tragedy, she embarked on a mission to create the world's first Circular Economy bra—a garment that not only provided comfort but also left no trace when disposed of.

We had the privilege of speaking with Stephanie about her ambitious plans for the future, including the development of organic cotton knits and pioneering compostable textiles, as well as the inspiration behind starting The Very Good Bra.

Tell us a bit about your background and why you started the Very Good Bra?

I have a background in financial services both in London and Australia, but in 2006 a devastating diagnosis of breast cancer completely derailed my life. I was unable to find a non-wired bra made in a natural fibre to get me through 7 months of treatment and beyond. 

The only bras available were maternity ones, a stark reminder of the devastating news I received that after chemotherapy, I would never conceive. I knew before chemo and my search for non wired cotton bras, that my fertility was over.

The weight of that realisation lingered heavily. Five years later, spurred by a desire for change, I took action. In 2016, amidst the backdrop of Trump's election and women symbolically burning their bras, it was the burning that was key here, as it generated toxic fumes. Coinciding with the tragic deaths of Delhi's impoverished from toxic fumes emitted by their desperate attempts to stay warm, I resolved to pioneer the world's first Circular Economy bra.

My bra had to leave no trace at the end of life whether buried or burnt, and after 2 years scouring the world to source plastic-free materials, I launched The Very Good Bra via Kickstarter in 2018.

Can you tell us a bit about your business model?

The Kickstarter model proved to be immensely successful as it enabled me to secure funding without relying on external financial backing from investors, a factor that had previously led to the failure of my two prior attempts at bra manufacturing. Opting to continue operating through pre-sales, I offered customers a limited-time discount approximately two months prior to delivery.

This approach not only facilitated funding but also provided valuable insights into the most popular sizes. In a business offering up to 34 bra sizes, each with high minimum production quantities, this data is crucial for avoiding overproduction of less sought-after sizes.

Despite the slow organic growth and the challenges faced, this model has allowed me to maintain control over both finances and our mission. We typically introduce only 2-3 new designs or colours per year, and the pre-sale strategy continues to be effective.

The Inspiring Journey of The Very Good Bra, the world's first Circular Economy bra

Congratulations for being named as one of the runner ups of eBay’s Circular Fashion Fund, can you tell us a bit about what’s next for the Very Good Bra?

 

I’m delighted to have been a winner in this competition! Right now I have a 200 year old factory in Germany working on making 100% organic cotton broderie anglaise knit to allow us to make something super pretty. I’m also able to custom make some world-first tencel and tree rubber elastic which is expensive and has high minimum quantities. 

Plus I’m going to start focus groups to potentially launch a teen/trainer bra as much as an education tool as to mitigate waste in a high-waste sector. We recently tackled Nursing Bras and this quickly became our 3rd best-selling product which is great, the average nursing mum goes through 4 and they all end up in landfill.

In addition, we are working with a team of experts developing a world first Australian Standard for Textile Composting which is very exciting.

 

What drives your commitment to sustainable business practices?

This business was founded with the mission to pioneer the world's first plastic-free bras, briefs, and sleepwear. That core objective remained unchanged from its inception, requiring no pivot or reinvention. The primary goal was always to create botanically circular clothing.

My passion for nature and the environment grew as I delved deeper into the textile industry, realising the magnitude of its environmental impact. I am driven to make a positive difference by reducing micro-plastics in our oceans, minimising air pollution, and decreasing landfill waste. Through The Very Good Bra, I aim to showcase a new approach to clothing design and manufacturing—one that is environmentally friendly and attainable for many.

The Very Good Bra is compostable and will breakdown in a worm farm

 

 

 

 

 

What do you envisage as being the wardrobe of the future?

 A smaller one I hope! I love clothes, but I think fashion has to focus on enduring style and quality that is not faddish and short-term. 

More than 60% of our clothing is currently polyester, which is oil, and we need to use more natural fibres which are low impact throughout their lifecycle in order to curtail the disastrous effects our clothing choices are having on the planet. Smaller, smarter, cleaner! 

Discover more about eBay's Circular Fashion Fund here, or stay informed about The Very Good Bra’s progress through their social media channels or official website.

AFC Highlights from 2023: Guiding the Just Transformation of our Industry

As we approach the conclusion of yet another year, we're taking the time to pause and celebrate the milestones achieved for our industry, all made possible through the unwavering support of our dedicated AFC Members, Patrons, and Partners. Together, we're driving a transformative journey toward a socially, environmentally, and economically prosperous circular economy by 2030, aiming for Net Zero by 2050. 

Thank you to our AFC Members for being integral to this journey — Join us in reflecting on some of our favourite milestones that defined 2023:

Launched Seamless Design & Roadmap, Australia’s National Clothing Stewardship Scheme: The Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP, Minister of Environment and Water, launched the design and roadmap for Seamless - a plan to revolutionise how clothing is made, used, and recirculated in Australia, striving for clothing circularity by 2030.

Launched ‘Advancing a Creative Industries Precinct for Sydney’ Report: Collaborating with the University of Technology Sydney, Minister John Graham, the Powerhouse Museum, and TAFE NSW, the AFC launched a report into the potential of Tech Central's anchor institutions in fostering a dynamic innovation ecosystem. 

Continued Support for First Nations People and Reconciliation: The AFC collaborated with industry leaders, brands and changemakers to launch #FashionForYes, uniting individuals who are committed to acknowledging First Nations' perspectives.

Joined the CSIRO Chief Scientist Expert Advisory Group:  An opportunity to represent our industry and offer impartial, external guidance to CSIRO regarding the national challenges and opportunities within our sector.

Second Pilot for FashTech Lab: Supported by City of Sydney, AFC partnered with leading Australian fashion brands and tech partners for FashTech Lab's second pilot, achieving notable milestones:

National Reconstruction Fund Industry Working Group Seat: Secured a seat in the ‘National Reconstruction Fund Industry Working Group’ to enhance local manufacturing capabilities in the fashion and textiles industry, aligned with government priorities.

Participation in the 'Inquiry into Perceptions and Status of VET': Committed to skill-building and creating career pathways, we contributed to the inquiry, fostering growth within our industry.

Melanie Levis' Nomination for 'ITAB Board of Management': AFC member Melanie Levis of Cue accepted a nomination to represent AFC at Manufacturing Skills Australia's 'ITAB Board of Management,' contributing to the development of local manufacturing capabilities in NSW.

Engagement in Notable Speaking Opportunities: The AFC had the privilege of sharing insights at notable events including the Ethical Consumer Report Webinar hosted by Baptist World Aid and Be Slavery Free, the Circular Economy Show presented by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Sustainable Fashion Roundtable at NSW Parliament House convened by the Hon. Dr. Sarah Kaine MLC, as well as Ragtrader Live, Global Sourcing Expo, International Apparel Federation’s (IAF) World Fashion Convention in Philadelphia, Circularity Live and more.

Not yet a member? Join us to unlock exclusive resources and events, connect with our professional network, and contribute to the future of a sustainable and innovative industry. The AFC is proud to contribute 5% of membership fees to the Indigenous Fashion Fund, launching in 2024.

Seamless announces inaugural CEO and Board of Directors

The AFC is proud to support Seamless as it enters its next phase, welcoming the announcement of its new CEO and Board of Directors. We look forward to continuing our support for the new organisation, as well as current and future members, in 2024.

Seamless appoints new CEO, Ainsley Simpson

The recently formed Seamless Board, today announced the appointment of its inaugural CEO Ainsley Simpson, effective from 4 March 2024. Seamless is about creating a sustainable fashion future for the Australian clothing industry by transforming how clothing is made, used, reused and recycled in Australia.

In speaking about the CEO appointment Seamless Board Independent Chair, Rosanna Iacono, said.

‘As a respected, inclusive and values-driven business leader, Ainsley is an outstanding choice to champion our ambitious vision. She brings a wealth of strategic leadership experience and proven ability to drive sustainability best-practice, building strategic partnerships spanning government, business and industry peak bodies for intergenerational impact’.

Deeply familiar with driving sectoral change, Ms Simpson is currently the CEO of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council, a purpose-led not-for-profit, assuring economic, social and environmental outcomes for over $290 billion infrastructure investment across Australia and New Zealand. She has amplified the organisation's impact, serving a member base with a combined annual turnover of more than $50 billion.

Ms Simpson has worked in executive roles in public and private sector organisations, and holds non-executive roles on other not-for-profit boards and global committees which systematise continuous improvement and inform policy leadership so people, nature and nations thrive.

“This appointment marks the start of an exciting new chapter, and the board looks forward to working with Ainsley to drive responsible change toward effective clothing stewardship and circularity by 2030’, said Ms Iacono.

Commenting on her appointment, Ms Simpson stated “It is a privilege to be leading this important work on behalf of the founding and future members who are at the forefront of circularity in Australia; and contributing to transforming the way clothing is made, enjoyed and recirculated on a global scale’.

“My immediate priorities will be meeting our existing and imminent members and activating initial outcomes across our four strategic objectives; circular design, circular business models, closing the loop and citizen behaviour change.

The appointment represents a major milestone toward activating clothing stewardship in Australia.

Seamless Board of Directors

The Seamless Board is made up of a representative from the Australian Fashion Council and nominated representatives from each of the eight Seamless Foundation Members :

The Board is also currently recruiting two independent directors that will bring relevant specialist knowledge and skills across the clothing supply chain from clothing design, reuse and recycling and an independent director acting as Guardian of Nature, that will bring relevant specialist knowledge and skills in relation to the natural world and the non-human species that inhabit it and/or social impact.

Brands are encouraged to register their interest to remain up to date with Seamless.

Meet the 2023 Melbourne Fashion Week Student Award winner, Rubee Hay

Taking place at Melbourne's iconic Waterfall Lane, the Student Collections Runway at Melbourne Fashion Week athered Melbourne’s notable up-and-coming designers from the state’s top fashion schools, including Box Hill InstituteHolmesglen InstituteKangan InstituteRMIT School of Fashion and Textiles and Whitehouse Institute of Design Australia

The AFC had the privilege of attending the presentation, and our Project Director, Danielle Kent, participated in the judging panel, selecting the top five finalists and ultimately resulting in two winners, which is a first for this award.

Congratulations to Alexandra Groves and Rubee Hay, students from RMIT School of Fashion and Textiles.

Here, we spoke with one of the two 2023 winners, Rubee Hay about the concept behind her collection ‘Broken body, silly little girl’ and where the future of fashion is heading. 

Q1: Tell us about the concept behind your collection ‘Broken body, silly little girl’. 

‘Broken body, silly little girl’ is an introspection on notions of vulnerability and protection, and their necessary coexistence. It ponders a duality; an ‘I’ and a ‘Me’. ‘I’  am protecting ‘me’. A little girl, broken and cold, dresses herself and protects herself;  shields herself from the wind and from the world, aware of her own fragility.  

Drawing from depictions of isolated women in art and literature, namely ‘The  Apprenticeship or The Book of Pleasures’ by Clarice Lispector, the collection balances a melancholy and hopefulness; a sensitivity within a harsh, hard world.  

Central to the work is the notion of the self-portrait and theories of symbolic interactionism, placing importance on how narrative and communication can influence the way we touch, wear, and care for our garments.  

Q2: How do your garments align with this concept? 

The garments in the collection focus on tailoring and draping, creating a delicate balance between being slightly too small and a touch too big. They acknowledge and serve the wearer, emphasizing the relationship between body, garment, and self. This exploration delves into how garments communicate through their interaction with the body, influence posture, and allow for body exposure, concealment, and manipulation. By emphasizing craftsmanship, technique, and a sentimental commitment to quality, longevity, and slow fashion, the collection nurtures an enduring narrative between the wearer and the garments

Q3: Were there particular materials or techniques used in your collection to symbolise vulnerability and  protection?

It was important to me to steer away from traditional ideas of ‘protection’, which I  think can focus on harshness and hardness. What I am trying to show is more the feeling of being protected, warmth, comfort, and safety. Because of this, I  focused a lot on wool and silk fabrications, there’s a fluidity and softness to natural protein fibers which means they interact with the body in a really special way. 

My practice has a very strong emphasis on construction, with a particular focus on tailoring and draping, which I think was imperative to communicating the body through my garments and acknowledging and honouring the wearer. In terms of technique, I was very conscious of not wanting to add to the fabrics,  only take away. The pulled thread work on the kilt and the hand-cut pinstripe on the pencil skirt, the underneath is where the concept gets translated so I wanted to show that. 

Q4: As a student entering the industry, how important is sustainability within your design process? 

It's hard as a new designer to feel justified in making, but I think thoughtfulness and intention are what’s important. I always want to make with intention, making sure every possible detail of a garment is considered acknowledged, and treated with importance. My practice approaches sustainability through the lens of symbolic interactionism, placing importance on the intangible attributes and personal significance that garments can hold. Narrative and communication are vital elements of my practice,  as I believe the way that we speak about our garments can influence the way we touch, wear, and care for them.  

Sustainability to me is more of a mindset; it's about consuming and creating with a deeper consideration. We live in a culture of rapid, mindless consumption, so I think the key is to challenge that. By approaching design and fashion with an introspective and analytical mindset, we can promote thoughtful consumption and positively influence the longevity of our garments within our wardrobes. 

Within a fast fashion consumerist culture; to nurture the cloth that dresses us, protects us, and creates us, is a fundamental act of resistance.  

Photographer : Ella Maximillion (they/them)
Talent: Jackie Zhou (they/he)

Connect with Rubee
@rubeehay
rubeehay.com.au

With special thanks to Melbourne Fashion Week.

Meet the 2023 Melbourne Fashion Week Student Award winner, Alexandra Groves

The Student Collections Runway at Melbourne Fashion Week brought together some of Melbourne's most promising up-and-coming designers from the state's leading fashion schools, which include Box Hill Institute, Holmesglen Institute, Kangan Institute, RMIT School of Fashion and Textiles and Whitehouse Institute of Design Australia

The AFC had the privilege of attending the presentation, and our Project Director, Danielle Kent, participated in the judging panel, selecting the top five finalists and ultimately resulting in two winners, which is a first for this award. 

Congratulations to Alexandra Groves and Rubee Hay, students from RMIT School of Fashion and Textiles.

Here, we spoke with one of the two 2023 winners, Alexandra Groves, whose focus on fashioned knitwear and sustainable hand processes highlights the innovative contributions of young designers to the industry's future.

Q1:  Tell us about the concept behind your collection and how you came to use knitwear.

The motivation behind this collection stemmed from a desire to create future heirlooms. My intention was to create garments that people could cherish and that would withstand the test of time. Building on this idea I found inspiration in the couture designs of the 1950s and 1960s, in particular the work of Cristobal Balenciaga. 

What excited me about these designs was their ability to encapsulate a specific era while remaining contemporary to this day. I found it an interesting challenge to capture these elegant and timeless qualities through the lens of knitwear. I am really interested in working in this space, finding the balance between refinement and rawness in the context of knitwear. 

My background is in textile design so I actually came to fashion through knitwear. I love working with knitwear as it allows me to simultaneously create the textile and the garment. This allows me to really experiment with material exploration and development which is the focus of my work.

Q2: Could you explain the sustainable hand processes used in this collection?

My collection is made using fully fashioned knitwear. Working with this method, each piece of the garment is knit to shape meaning that there is very little waste created. For this collection I have used a lot of hand processes, working with materials and techniques which can not be reproduced by machine.

The intention behind this was to create unique, one-off pieces which can never be perfectly replicated. The inherent mistakes and irregularities that come with hand-making are embraced. I believe these imperfections add character and value and have the potential to resonate more deeply with the wearer and foster a sense of satisfaction. This approach aligns with my interest in emotionally durable design which provides a pathway towards more sustainable and meaningful relationships with fashion and material possessions, fostering a shift away from a culture of disposability and excessive consumption.

Q3: How does your collection reflect the intimate and embodied experience of wearing clothing? Can you describe any design elements that achieve this?

For this collection, I was really interested in the tactility of clothing and how this affects our experience of it. I view wearing clothing as a very personal and intimate interaction, as it is worn so close to our body.

During the textile development for these pieces, my focus was on crafting garments that not only had a luxurious appearance but also offered a luxurious feel when worn. For me, comfort plays a significant role in my choice of clothing and dress. This is one of the reasons why I have a strong inclination toward knitwear. In creating these pieces, my aim was to combine the comfort associated with knitwear with the luxury and elegance of evening wear.

This is what led me to the beaded design elements in my designs. The beads give pieces a really nice weight and drape while the knit allows it to conform to the shape of the body without restricting any movement.

Photographer : Mira Pedlar
Hair and Make Up: Kate McWilliam
Talent: Rosie Graham

Connect with Alexandra
@alexandragroves

With special thanks to Melbourne Fashion Week.