An Interview with Helen Minogue of Vintage Inspired Ethical Designs

Vintage Inspired Ethical Designs is a new eco friendly vintage inspired contemporary fashion label based in Adelaide. The owner/designer, Helen Minogue develops her designs in Adelaide, and after many months of searching finally sourced home workers using traditional methods to weave, dye and print to make the eco friendly fabrics she wanted to work with, in India.

Tell us about your background

I was born and raised in South Australia to Anglo-Celtic parents. I was raised and educated as a Catholic. My father’s parents lived in New Guinea when he was a child and he was sent to Australia to boarding school from young age. My mother was born and raised in Adelaide and her parents were second-generation Irish. When my mother was growing up there was considerable discrimination against Irish Catholics to the extent that job advertisements would place the acronym CNNA – which stood for “Catholics need not apply”.

My mother’s grandmother would tell stories of when the English ‘invaded Ireland’ (as she called it), they stopped population speaking Gaelic and the children from being educated. So despite being raised a white Anglo Celt in a middle-class family I was made aware from a young age of the discrimination that can occur between groups of people and the long term and far reaching impacts this can have.

Tell us about your story and how you got into fashion?

I have come late to the fashion industry and with no formal training or relevant industry experience. I initially trained and worked as a registered nurse before then moving into the field of occupational health & safety. The compulsory purchase of my house and being made redundant lead me to decide to pursue a lifelong dream of having my own fashion label.

Vintage inspired design

Box Pleat Skirt made of 100% Hand loomed Organic Cotton. It is hand dyed using natural dyes and block printed by hand.

How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?

I have always taken an interest in Human Rights so I was well aware of the ‘sweat shops’ being used by many fashion houses and especially any label that was offering clothing at very cheap prices.

So when I decided I was going to start my own label being ethical was a given and that is why it appears in my label name. It was when I started looking for an ethical supplier that I learned just how bad the fashion industry was in relation to pollution and waste and I felt I just could not knowingly be a part of that facet of the industry. Thus I began looking for organic fabrics and natural dyes.

As my designs are inspired by the vintage era my thinking behind my designs was that they would be more ‘timeless’ and therefore not impacted by the seasonal trends, I also hope that they are pieces that people will want to wear for years thus removing them from the fast fashion stream.

What seems like the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?

These designers and companies have 2 influencer roles, especially as there are more around. Firstly, we can impact upon the consumers by educating them about ethical and sustainable fashion and the benefits for everyone moving forward – this is particularly important for designers of teen fashion because if they can be educated at that stage of their buying journey it can impact them for the future.

The 2nd way I see us being influencers is upon governments in things like getting new sustainable crops grown, tax reductions on sustainable clothing, supporting initiative’s for used clothing use.

What makes slow fashion better than fast fashion?

Fast fashion is usually mass-produced clothing that has everyone looking the same; it is made from synthetic materials, which come from a polluting factory and are designed to be worn only a few times and then thrown out – as because it is no longer ‘on trend’.

Slow fashion is made from organic fabric using natural dyes and will provide a unique piece that does not belong to a season and people will want to wear them year after year.

What is the importance of animal rights, especially in an ethical and sustainable fashion context?

Just like people animals as sentient beings have the right to be treated in a humane manner, if you are presenting yourself as ethical then by very choice of that word requires the appropriate action.

This is an 8 Gore (panels) Skirt. It is made from 100% hand loomed organic cotton, dyed using natural and traditional dyes and finally the print is added using the same method that has been employed for centuries – block printing.

What is Vintage Inspired Ethical Designs?

A new label that takes inspiration for designs from the 1920’s to 1960’s. It is currently doing ladies daywear. The clothes are designed with a timeless flair so that they can become wardrobe staples

What inspired the title of the organization?

I wanted the title to clearly explain what the label was about (this was before I had become eco conscious) and Vied means struggled/strived which I thought was apt for what I was starting and also for working with ethical companies

What are some of its feature products?

Organic hand loomed, hand dyed and block printed by hand fabrics

What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?

Organic cotton, organic linen, organic khadi, organic nettle, wood fibre.

Who grows, harvests, designs, and manufactures the products of Vintage Inspired Ethical Designs?

I design the clothes here in Adelaide, Australia. The growers and the manufacturers of the fabrics are local men and women from a number of villages across northern and north/western India. I choose the fabric and commission a bulk quantity (there is no capacity for sampling you have to commit), once the fabric is ready 5-6 weeks it is taken to the ‘factory’ in Mumbai – this factory consists of only about 7 people and they pay award wages.

Water use in production is an issue. What is the importance of reducing excess water use in the production of fashion?

As water is a precious resource, this is a very important issue facing the fashion industry. I am conscious that organic cotton uses less water than non-organic but it still uses a fair amount of water, so for my next collection I want to investigate the use of bamboo as an alternative but I do have concerns about the manufacturing process so this is what I need to look into further.

Will the fibres and fabrics for the products from the company biodegrade?

Yes, they are all organic so break down quite easily.

What is the customer base – the demographics?

Any age would suit my clothes, however I have specifically designed them for women 35+ and up as they are designed to fit women with realistic figures.

What topics most interest you?

New organic fabric developments, new sustainable crops, up-cycling ideas, ways to overcome the disposable society we have become (like the café in the USA where you can take broken kettles etc. and people will help you try to fix it instead of throwing it out and buying a new one).


Thank you for your time, Helen.


About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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