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One to Watch: Emma O'Rourke

6 November 2017 at 5:02 pm
Wendy Williams
Emma O'Rourke is the owner and designer of THE LABEL, a Canberra based fashion label which focuses on garments designed and constructed using minimal waste techniques. She is One to Watch.

Wendy Williams | 6 November 2017 at 5:02 pm


One to Watch: Emma O'Rourke
6 November 2017 at 5:02 pm

Emma O’Rourke is the owner and designer of THE LABEL, a Canberra based fashion label which focuses on garments designed and constructed using minimal waste techniques. She is One to Watch.  

A total of 60 of Australia’s brightest young changemakers have been selected by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) to take part in the 2017 Young Social Pioneers (YSP) program. It is Australia’s first, and only, national youth entrepreneurship incubator designed exclusively for young people leading initiatives that respond to society’s most pressing challenges. In this mini-series Pro Bono News speaks to a pioneer from each of the nine categories across the program about the differences they are hoping to make.

O’Rourke believes that attention needs to be given to the fashion industry in order to affect change and ensure an ethical and sustainable future.

With this in mind, the 27- year-old designer created THE LABEL in 2015 in this image, focusing on innovative, refined and wearable design.

Each collection encompasses minimal waste design techniques and sustainable fabrics, ensuring consideration to an ethical future is at the forefront of her brand.

The label has even been showcased on the international stage, with her collection hitting the runway at Vancouver Fashion Week last year.

Now, O’Rourke has been selected for the Young Social Pioneers program as part of the sustainability stream which is supported by Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

Here she talks to Pro Bono News about the motivations behind THE LABEL, the importance of sustainable shopping, and being a force for good.

What motivated you to start THE LABEL?

I guess the motivation really wasn’t about the label itself, I didn’t have that idea first off. The motivation started when I was researching the industry, and I just didn’t realise how much destruction and horrid things were happening. And then I guess also in some other ways you know I kind of realised, oh well, of course it clicked with me a little bit that it wasn’t perfect so why was it that I kind of knew in the back of my mind I guess that these things existed but I never really thought about it when I went shopping. And so I guess that was kind of it and I just started researching it more and started looking at my own behaviour and my purchasing habits, and that sort of thing and just realised it is so hard for people to shop sustainably and ethically. I feel like the industry is almost designed to make you not do it. So I kind of wanted to do something to counteract that. And I’m really passionate with design. I thought that that needed to be an integral part of my business and my ethics and my brand.

What have you done differently to make THE LABEL more sustainable to other clothing brands?

So it’s a little bit complex to explain. But I use minimal waste design and that traditionally can be  quite complex and involve a lot of pattern pieces. But I kind of do it on the other end where I try and make sure I have as little pattern pieces as possible, minimal amounts of cuts, so that it is a simple process to create. Rather than trying to save money by exploiting workers or the environment, I try and make the product as cheap as possible by using an innovative design.

What are your aims?

I guess I just really like to be a force for good. And I’m sure everyone, you know if they were to think about it, they’d like to have that. But that’s really been at the core of what I want for a really long time. I think it’s a big part of what I want to do every day. I want to try and make sure that you’re nice and you’re kind to people and all those kind of things and I don’t think that your day to day business and your personality, well for me anyway, they’re not separate. You know I always want to try and make sure I’m doing the best that I can for the people around me and I think then with my creative endeavours that’s the same.

You started THE LABEL in 2015. What is the highlight so far?

I’m not really sure, maybe getting published in Fashion Journal. I think that was really, really great. I really do admire Fashion Journal and I have read it for a long time. But I think that is in terms of an on paper thing.

But I’ve got a great network of stylists and models and photographers and I think the joy I get coming back home after a shoot with the photographer and the stylist and you know sometimes the model as well, we all come back to my house to do a debrief and just go through the photos. It is such a simple thing. But I just think there is a lot of rewarding stuff in there,  when you’re working with a great team, and something like that. I absolutely love it. I love doing those debriefs. I work with photographers that have the same aesthetic as I do, we don’t use Photoshop and we just kind of believe the model is great how they are, they are already a model, can you improve on perfection. So yeah it’s kind of nice just seeing the beauty of that raw detail there, I absolutely love it.

Who are you targeting with your clothes?

I don’t think that I’m necessarily targeting the sustainable shopper. I’m more targeting someone who likes a minimal aesthetic and just really likes simple, clean lines, paired back colours and that kind of thing. I think it should be possible, and I want in the future for everyone, to be able to shop sustainably without having to look for it. And I also think that there needs to be a little bit more diversity in terms of sustainable design so that it is accessible to everyone on the market, and you know isn’t just prescribing to one kind of thing. So I don’t think it’s necessarily someone sustainable I think it is just someone drawn into that aesthetic.

What can be done to encourage more people to shop sustainably?

I think it’s quite hard. People have already made the connection with let’s say, buying eggs that you should get them free range or be vegan and all those kind of things. With makeup you want to make sure it’s not tested on animals. I think what needs to be done is people need to [make that connection], when they’re out there shopping.

Sometimes you just need to get something or you want to feel good. Clothing has an amazing ability to make you feel good. And you know you love your new purchase or you feel really comfortable in that jumper that you’ve had for so many years. It has a really powerful, powerful connection in people’s minds. I just think another connection that needs to be made when people are making purchases needs to be where has it come from, what impact has that had, and you know if it’s so cheap, why is it so cheap? I think it’s just about that connection, I think we’re on the way there. And it’s no one’s fault. It’s just about that little thing which is one day going to click.

What are you hoping to get out of the YSP program?

I think I’ve gotten so much out of it already. I work in a quite corporate job, doing my nine to five and it’s very, very different. I work at the Bureau of Statistics. I love that as well. But it is just really great and as soon as you get into that environment and you step into the room with everyone, there’s just so much positive energy and everyone is so happy to inspire other people and hear their problems and hear their successes. And they just really want to build each other up. And I think that that’s honestly the most positive thing I’ve got out of this situation. I think if people have this really collective mindset, build those people up around you, build your friends up, build women up, like everyone up. I just think that if you try and work as a community and you believe that everyone’s trying to do the same and you work towards a common goal then you can achieve a lot. I think it ramps you up for the day.

How do you find leading an organisation at a relatively young age?

I’m of the opinion that you can achieve anything at any at any age really. I think that you’ve got different perspectives that you need to take on board, like from someone who’s got a lot of experience in one field or they’ve got fresh eyes on something. I think it’s all really, really valuable.

I would love to learn off more people in the industry and people in even different industries, and then I think for older generations it is important to gather the knowledge of younger people to kind of see what’s the environment that you’re living in, what are the pressures that we need to take into account. But I don’t worry too much about being young, or I don’t necessarily feel it,  I just feel that I am who I am in this space and what can I do with what I know and what can I take on.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I think I’d like definitely to be doing what I’m doing full time. I’m also a very cautious person, so in my mind I’m like if we just work this many hours and I get a full time job and I do the other thing that’s going to be the safest thing. You know I think I would love to devote full time to this because it really is my passion and I really believe it’s an industry that deserves so much attention because it can do really great things but can also do really bad things. So I think I’d just like to be doing that full time and creating beautiful clothes that have a story and have a meaning and can really pass that on to people when they wear it.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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