Making ethical fashion accessible: Nikki McAllum - The Road Clothing
I first learnt about The Road Clothing in a Collective Hub article titled 4 Ethical-Fashion Labels You’ll Want in Your Wardrobe ASAP (they weren’t kidding), but what made this Sydney-based online store stand out from the others was that it was the only label with all garments under $100, most of which were under $50. The words ethical and affordable don’t usually go in the same sentence, but for designer and founder of The Road, Nikki McAllum, it was imperative she make the two go hand-in-hand. Nikki found the time in her busy schedule to tell me about how she quit her day job in commercial fashion for international brands to pursue something she was truly passionate about.
What was the turning point in your career, when you decided to quit your job and start your own label?
The Savar building collapse (a poorly run sweatshop in Bangladesh) scared me. Knowing that the work that I was doing could easily have been the cause of such a horrific event chilled me to the bone. Then I read Lucy Seigle’s book – ‘To Die For’ which really opened my eyes to the enormity of the problems within the fashion industry. I was fortunate enough to see Lucy give a talk on ‘How fashion is wearing out the world’ and quit my job the next day.
How difficult was it it to source sustainable materials, and a manufacturer that would support an ethical workplace?
I was surprised how easy it was to find a fully established ethical supply chain. There is an amazing resource called the Ethical Source Network which puts industry people in touch with ethically minded businesses. I shortlisted 3 manufacturers in India and visited them all before I finally settled on Mila (Fair Trade Clothing).
Your range is mostly basic tees, briefs and dresses, with some original graphic prints. Where do you find the inspiration for your designs?
We all need basics, so it’s about providing the must-haves first and foremost. I try to keep the cut and styling classic but also on trend which is actually quite difficult sometimes. I like to look at what’s going on in the current market but also like to look back to vintage styling for inspiration. The trick is balancing the two!
In addition to being an ethical and sustainable label, you also focus on keeping your garments affordable. How do you manage to keep prices low?
By remaining an ‘online only’ retailer, we can keep our overheads down and pass on that saving to our customers. We also do not take as big a margin as some other retailers might so we operate with a very minimalist philosophy; it’s a ‘no frills’ kinda vibe.
You’ve previously discussed how the Savar building collapse in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, really changed your outlook on the fashion industry. Being in the industry gave you the opportunity to make a change. Did you see others around you, at that time or since, also strive to improve the way that clothing is produced?
When I first started out there were not a lot of brands with solely organic and fair trade values (hence the need to start one myself). But over the last 4 years I’ve seen a lot more ethical brands pop up, more ethical fashion bloggers, more ethically curated online stores and generally more awareness around ethical fashion. Even large scale retailers like Zara and H&M are bringing attention to these issues by moving towards more sustainable practices.
You were in Christchurch at the time of the 2011 earthquake. How did this affect you and your work?
I felt what it was like to have a building collapse around you while you’re sitting at a sewing machine. I didn’t know it at the time but I think that was one of the reasons why the Savar building collapse affected me so deeply. I had an insight into how those women and men must have felt; the absolute terror, confusion and disbelief at what was happening. The saddest part is that the Christchurch earthquake could not have been prevented but the Savar building collapse could have.
What’s the next adventure for you and your label?
We are always working towards expanding the range. I would like to offer woven garments: shirts, dresses, shorts and pants to go with our existing knitted product. Chambrays and denims are also high on the list. This would involve another trip to India to source the right factory. India is always an adventure!_
Author: Zoie May
Images: The Road Label