Interview with E tk | Undress Showroom Exhibition
Rachel Kelly of E tk is turning festival waste into bags as an act of art and activism.
Read on to explore where the idea came from, her approach to activism and ideas to drive the fashion industry into a more sustainable, innovative industry.
Come to Undress Showroom on Friday the 22nd of November, kicking off from 3pm, to see the E tk installation - you might even catch Rachel for a drink at the Undress Conference networking function!
What inspired you to start E-tu?
In 2009 I graduated with a BA in Textile Design from RMIT University and have spent the past decade working as a Senior Designer for Fashion Retailers around the globe. Im no stranger to the impact textile waste has on the environment as the second biggest pollutant after the oil industry and wanted to make change. Frustrated at the lack of action and sustainable change I was seeing in the industry, E tk was born out of a desire to lead that change, be disruptive and show people the value of waste.
My partner and I have been attending music festivals for the past decade and believe they play an important role in our society; bringing people together, getting out into nature, connecting and sharing experiences. Over the past five years weve noticed a huge increase in the amount and the type of waste left behind at music festivals, it used to be one or two broken tents and a few bags of rubbish now its entire campsites and perfectly useable tents and bedding discarded as waste.
E tk is the hybrid of Design x Activism x Art - our aim is to start conversations around waste, talk about the dirty stuff and offer platforms in which we can come up with ideas together.
E tk means to stand up in Maori - E tk, E tk lets stand up for the environment together!
What was the process from your original idea through to creation of your first bag?
Working with festival textile waste is time consuming as sourcing the fabric is complex and there are many steps involved before its ready to be sewn. We set a realistic goal this year to create 50 bags from waste by 2020 - and we are on track to reach that goal!
From concept to collection E tks Timeline:
Spent the past decade attending music festivals and was always overwhelmed on the last day seeing the volume of waste left behind- often 100% useable tents left erect for someone else to tidy up. I knew I had to use my design and activism skills to be a part of the solution.
Contacted Rainbow Serpent Festival - one of the leading sustainable festivals in Australia to discuss my idea and seek permission to collect abandoned tent waste from the festival - they agreed.
Collected my first 4 tents from Rainbow Serpent Festival pretty impressive for a festival of 20,000k festival goers!
Washed and prepared the fabric at home however didnt really have a plan or idea of what to make with the fabric - talked about the idea a lot with friends.
Working as a Trend Forecaster at Cotton On Group in Geelong where the idea of sustainability was often described as a trend that would pass I knew deep down if I was to have impact within fashion and sustainability I had to remove myself from the fast fashion industry.
I decided I had to make a change and took five months off to study User Experience Design. Within a short space of time Id changed careers and thrown myself into the world of tech and startups
Finished the year with a new vision of only taking on Projects with Purpose
Motivated and energised I set a goal to make 50 bags from waste by 2020
Created E tks first pitch document outlining who we are, what were trying to achieve and our process to collect - sent to a variety of music festivals
A selection of interested festivals responded collection dates and times were confirmed
Collected abandoned festival waste from three prominent Music festivals ranging from 5,000 - 20,000 attendees.
Shot the entire waste collection process on film camera and iphone, unsure of the content I was capturing
By March 2019 I had a shed full of festival waste and spent winter designing and sampling bags from waste
August 2019 production of first bag collection begun, designed and made with love in Melbourne
Debuted our first bag collection at Undress Runway Sustainability Conference
How did the concept for a bag come about?
Were launching with bags because theyre seasonless, theyre an all year round product and dont need to fit any particular size. We wanted to launch with something super functional, something thats inclusive that everyone needs - a good bag. We hope to exhibit our collection over the coming months, raising awareness around the impact festival waste and textiles in landfill has on the environment before we start selling our product online.
In the future were interested in exploring adults and kids raincoats as the fabrics we collect would really suit the application. However collecting, storing and preparing the fabric takes up a huge amount of resources so we are currently exploring ways in which we can make this process more sustainable before introducing anything new.
How do you access the festival waste?
I used to collect from the festivals I attended which hanging back to collect tents on the last day. Now I approach collecting differently and reach out to Festivals in the months prior to seek permission before turning up to collect. I want to be seen as working with festivals so I email them some background information on E tks brand story, our purpose and what were trying to achieve my collecting festival waste.
A few festivals have said theyre not interested but the majority of festivals Ive contacted have been really supportive. This year I collected from three festivals and typically drive there, collect and return on the day. Its a big day so I make sure have a good playlist ready and know where all the good bakeries are along the way! I hope to get to a point where I can encourage festival goers to collect on my behalf or ask the festival to set up a deposit station making it easier for me to collect.
The best festival collection experience Ive ever had was at Inner Varnika a festival in country Victoria earlier this year, where on arrival to the festival I found a pile of tents waiting for me. The volunteers had already cleaned up and had been instructed to help me out, they even helped me load my car - it made the whole process so much easier I was very grateful and look forward to collecting there again this year.
What other initiatives are you interested in at E-tu?
Were interested in the concept of Designing for Change and are exploring ways in which we can contribute to a circular economy here in Melbourne. Good friends are product designers at Precious Plastics in the Netherlands theyre constantly inspiring us and sharing their knowledge of how there is growing interest for repurposed products made from waste in Europe.
My hope is the appetite for repurposed, well designed products grows here in Australia too and once it does E tk will be an established leader in the space.
E tks future state involves collaborating with engineers or scientists people who are in the business of turning plastic into reusable materials on a large scale. I would love to be able to offer a return policy of our products that sees old E tk bags returned and given a second, third or fourth life. This process is called circular design and in my opinion the sort of responsible design every designer/ maker/ retailer should be actively supporting.
In the past you have worked for big brands including Country Road, Cotton On and Marks and Spencer, how has that shaped the way you work today?
My dream all throughout highschool was to work in fashion so when I landed my first job as the Textile Designer at Country Road I couldnt believe it - I felt like I had made it. As a textile designer I worked closely with the designers and creative directors to develop beautiful yardage prints, I loved problem solving and developing complex prints and embroideries that stood out from the rest. Id spend hours, days, weeks engineering prints and embroideries liaising with factories in India and China ensuring every opportunity was taken to minimise yardage waste and maximise its yield.
From womenswear to home, kidswear to stationary I've been fortunate enough to work alongside incredible people, develop quality products and design collections for iconic brands. This experience has made me the designer I am today, what has significantly changed however is my desire to align my values with my vision to only work on projects that have a true purpose. Im incredibly conscious of the impact we have on the environment, I dont want to take more than what I need and want to be sure that when/ if one day my future kids ask me what I do for work I can say that I actively designed for change - to shift perspectives and start important conversations about waste and its impact on our environment.
Can you tell us a little about your thoughts on the fashion industry and what changes you'd like to see?
Fashion Retailers have a lot to answer for - as the second biggest [industry] pollutant on the planet after oil there seems to be little consequence for the share amount of waste created when delivering their seasonal collections.
Customers are waking up to the practises used by retailers to maximise profits by creating cheap, low cost products that do more harm than good to the environment and those that make it. The old paradigm is shifting and industries who value profit over people and planet need to be aware the tide is changing.
Areas I would like to see the fashion industry take action in are:
Radical Retail Responsibility
The retail industry is currently somewhat self regulated as there are very few policies in place that make retailers responsible for the products which end up in our landfills. This means corporate companies are left up to their own devices to decide what parts of sustainability they participate in- if at all. I would like to see retailers take greater responsibility of the products they create and put into this world and invest more money in circular design education, recycling initiatives or technologies that break down fibers and give fabric an after life.
Science Based Goals
Id like to see the Australian retailers set science based goals which are measurable and help consumers make decisions about who they want to support. Currently we see Australian retailers using abstract language and setting vague targets Eg Our goal is for every product to be more sustainable by 2020.. What does more sustainable mean? How will I know if their products are all more sustainable by 2020, what is the measure of a good amount of sustainable, does it mean products could be made 1% sustainable and would that mean theyve reached their target? This language vague for a purpose it suits the retailers agenda to be non-committal just incase they dont achieve the vague and abstract goal.
A common set up in design houses across Europe such as at Kerring who have Innovation Hubs set up internally to support ideas and concepts from design through to science, this concept has been slow to take off here but as creativity is so often part of the solution I would like to see these hubs created within the walls of the big retailers.
Whatever the initiative consumers are waking up to the impact fashion and textiles has on the environment. So thrilled to be a disruptor in the space!!
How can the user-experience side of fashion become more positive?
Knowledge is power and technology gives us knowledge at our finger tips. I think social media is educating consumers every day on the impact their decisions have on the environment. A decade a go people smoked in restaurants now Melbourne city is almost 100% smoke free, where will we be in another decade? Making noise and raising awareness are all part of the solution encouraging consumers to shop local and most importantly invest in quality - as its made to last.
E tk, E tk lets stand together!