Avila is an Australian lifestyle label locally produced in Melbourne, offering luxury clothing you can wear everyday. They instil qualities of elegance and naturalness in all their garments by selecting luxurious natural fabrics, ensuring quality fit and an ethical and sustainable conscience. Their philosophy stems from supporting healthy, balanced lifestyles where style and comfort do co-exist. We have a chat with founder and designer, Ashleigh Bingham.
Tell us about family background
I was born in Melbourne, Australia and grew up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. I spent a lot of my childhood on our family farm in rural Victoria, where I developed a passion for nature and animals.
What is your personal story – education, prior work, and so on?
I developed an interest in textiles design and construction during school. I gravitated towards using different types of fabrics to create various mixed media artworks. From there I moved into fashion, as I loved the idea that a piece of blank fabric could transform into something wearable.
After school I studied a Bachelor in Design specializing in Fashion. I struggled through the majority of this course not really finding my area or where I wanted to take this. It wasn’t until my final year where I was given the freedom to truly express my personal style and active wear and casual wear was exactly that.
Out of University I interned for a while and then started my own label.
How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?
After doing a research study during my University course I really started to see the issues in the fashion industry and the huge negative impact this industry has on people and the environment. I was shocked at the conditions in many factories and sweatshops.
I also saw the importance of quality clothing that would last and not be thrown away after one season. The more I learnt the more I became passionate about doing what I could to make a change. To show people that you can merge, fashion, style, quality, comfort, ethics and sustainability. These are the core values at Avila.
How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?
After university I started working for a fashion label as an intern. While working I saw first hand some of the issues that I had researched during university and I felt more strongly that there was a better way to produce clothing. After interning for a while I finally got the confidence to start my own label that incorporated all the values that I felt strongly about.
What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?
Ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies have a crucial role in educating and making consumers stop and think about what they are purchasing. These companies prove that fashion can be produced ethically and sustainably and hopefully encourage a movement towards accountability within the industry.
What is the importance of fair trade?
Fair-trade is very important, as it is a universal accreditation that products with this certification are produced in decent working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers. Fair-trade raises standards of living for these farmers and their families and is aimed at encouraging a positive change in the industry.
Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?
I would say Emma Watson as she has an amazing influence and uses her large reach to educate people. She is standing up for issues that she truly believes are huge issues within the industry.
What is Avila?
Avila is an emerging Australian lifestyle label locally produced in Melbourne, offering luxury clothing you can wear everyday. We instill qualities of elegance of naturalness in all our garments by selecting luxurious natural fabrics, ensuring quality fit and an ethical and sustainable conscience.
What inspired the title of the organization?
The name Avila was inspired by one of the horses I grew up with. Her personality, free spirit and strength are inline with how I see the Avila customer and therefore the perfect name for the label.
What are some of its feature products?
We produce a casual daywear range, with versatile classic styles that don’t date. Our other range is an Athleisure range, which includes styles combining elements of active, comfort and leisure.
What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?
We use organic cotton, tencel, modal and merino fibers mostly.
Who grows, harvests, designs, and manufactures the products of Avila?
We use accredited suppliers that we research thoroughly before working with. We are able to source the majority of our fabrics here in Melbourne from a local mill and a local company accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) produces our products.
Will the fibres and fabrics for the products from the company biodegrade?
Yes, the fibers and fabrics we use are biodegradable.
What is your customer base – the demographics?
The Avila woman strives to create a balanced lifestyle through health and fitness. She is very busy and enjoys being able to transition from a yoga class to coffee with friends, while remaining comfortable and stylish. She has an interest in sustainable fashion and locally produced clothing and values the story behind clothing.
What topics most interest you?
Functional fashion that is eco friendly. I am also interested in fabric production and developing new ways to produce fabrics with a lower environmental impact.
Did you have a mentor in this work?
I have been lucky enough to have many people in the industry that have offered support and advise. I do have a mentor in the Business and finance area, which has been crucial to the growth of the brand.
Have you mentored others?
At this stage I have not but would love to mentor others in the future.
What are the importance of mentors in the fashion world for professional, and personal, development?
There are so many benefits to having a mentor for professional and personal development. One of the main benefits to me personally has been getting different perspectives, which has enabled me to see my business differently, and learning to keep an open mind.
There have been large tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires (2012). How do tragedies shed light on work conditions in garment factories?
At Avila we take responsibility to educate people as much as possible so they are able to make an informed decision. Our number one priority is that our makers produce our clothing in an ethical manner and in good working conditions. We work closely with our makers who love making our products and are very passionate about every item they make. The more knowledge that we can share about the issues the more people become aware and hope this can lead to a change.
What educational campaigns and pragmatic initiatives might the fashion industry encourage and support to improve the chances for girls and women?
There are a number of scholarship programs that are being run for women in developing countries. I believe this is a really effective way to educate and support women in communities where equality and education for women is lacking.
How can individuals, designers, fashion industries, and consumers begin to work to implement those rights so that these vulnerable populations, women and children, in many countries of the world have better quality of life?
I think encouraging people to ask questions. All along the supply change it is the responsibility of everyone in the process to ask questions about where, how and who was involved in the making of this product. For us as designers we need to be asking our suppliers for detailed information about where our fabrics come from, who made them and in what conditions were they made. We need to know everything about all parts of the process.
As consumers we need to be asking the brands about how and where the products are made. If everyone in the process asks more questions I believe we will begin to move towards an industry that promotes a better quality of life for all involved in the process.
What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?
Having the knowledge that my label supports local makers working in great conditions and creating jobs for our locally industry is a really great feeling. I also hope that we prompt more people to ask questions about how and by whom, their garments are made, therefore helping the industry move towards more sustainable and ethical processes.
What other work are you involved in at this point in time?
At the moment, I am solely dedicated to my label and the growth of the label.
Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?
Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline.
Any recommended means of contacting, even becoming involved with, Avila?
What has been the greatest emotional struggle in business for you?
Having to put myself out of my comfort zone to enable my business to grow. In the early days of the business I was not able to hire people to do certain things that I did not have knowledge in. I had to put myself out there to learn about all aspects of the business, which at times was very uncomfortable and emotionally challenging for me.
What has been the greatest emotional struggle in personal life for you?
Committing to starting my own business has been quite an emotional process. No one is telling you what to do or when to do it, so it has really been a learning process for me to stay motivated and persevere through the challenges of running my own business.
What philosophy makes most sense of life to you?
Do what you love!
Thank you for your time, Ashleigh.