Why Arnsdorf, a sustainable minimalist luxury fashion brand from Australia will never go on sale

Why Arnsdorf, a sustainable minimalist luxury fashion brand from Australia will never go on sale

Waste not, race not

Text: Jolene Khor

Trends come and go, but sustainable style is forever. Sure, that's not exactly how Yves Saint Laurent's famous quote goes, but if there's one thing we can all agree on, it is that the world is due for a major change. Jade Sarita Arnott, founder of Australian luxury fashion label Arnsdorf, wants to be a part of it. Built on foundational wardrobe pieces made to last, Arnsdorf is the modern woman's answer to eco-conscious professional daywear. Suits are staples. As are silk dresses, smart jackets, and lush, transeasonal knits.

"We make limited number of pieces, and we let them sell out before making more. We only have two stores in Australia and we're online, so we're able to produce in small batches and respond to supply and demand carefully," Arnott opened up during our chat in her studio Down Under, during Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival. Find out how this sustainable designer is moving up by scaling down, and why she almost gave up on her label before finding her way back, after the jump.

What is Arnsdorf's story?
I started Arnsdorf originally in 2006 in Melbourne but I relocated the brand to New York City because that's where I was based at the time. We functioned in a typical manner of a young designer then — we sold to premium boutiques around Australia, some internationally as well, and we were wholesaling and showing regularly at Sydney Fashion Week.

But then you took a break.
In 2012, I became increasingly uneasy with the way the fashion system was running and the waste that was associated with the current fashion system. I had my first child then too. Hence, I pressed pause on the brand, took some time off to decide where and how I wanted to spend my energy... if I still even wanted to be involved in the fashion industry.

And you did!
[Laughs] Yes, but not before I explored other creative outlets. During my break, I studied industrial design and photography... basically I was looking for a product with more longevity because I was frustrated with the fastness of fashion. You know, that system where an item hits stores, then go on sale three months later, losing all their value. I also worked at start-ups in New York who were looking at different ways to interact with clients, they were companies which built their customer base upon the idea of exceptional concierge services. It was then that I was approached by a fashion brand to consult on a denim range, and that experience put me back in the fashion industry, allowing me to begin a new love affair with it.

That's when the new Arnsdorf was born?
When I moved back to Australia, I decided that I wanted to relaunch Arnsdorf but do it in a different way. I was concerned about sustainability, ethical manufacturing, and traceability.

I was told that you don't believe in discounts.
We don't ever go on sale, with the exception of our sample/archive sale, the first of which just concluded. We're trying to change the sales culture — the over-inflation of prices only for it to eventually come down. It dilutes the value of the clothing we make. To counter this, we strive to be transparent about our pricing on our website: we show every aspect of manufacturing cost, especially labour and materials. We want to educate consumers about what it costs to make things that last in a sustainable, ethical way, and that's reflected in our price.

Where were your clothes manufactured before?
During Arnsdorf's earlier days, it was in China and in New York. It was a global operation, which meant that it was hard for me to have total visibility over the whole supply chain. After Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh, it was a turning point for me. I wanted to have total visibility of the supply chain, ensure everyone working on my pieces is doing so. in a safe environment and they're paid fairly. That was really the foundation of Arnsdorf, the second version, where we decided to do everything in-house. We design, cut, sew, and finish everything within these four walls.

Where are your fabrics from?
Our fabrics come from China (there aren't any textile mills in Australia anymore, unfortunately) but our clothing is produced entirely in our studio. Our denim is not, though. They're assembled around the corner in another factory, very close by, only because we don't have machinery for denim yet. We will eventually.

Who's we?
We have six machinists who do all the sewing. Michael cuts our fabrics. And then there's Gemma, our production manager; Olivia who handles the website and customer service; and me, the designer. It's a small team.

How has scaling down production help the brand?
Thanks to high-street's fast fashion, consumers have become out of touch with how garments are really made — by real people. Because we produce slower, we have the ability to guarantee better quality for lasting garments. We also offer free lifetime repairs on all our garments, on top of complementary alterations. We'll take hems up, adjust things to the waist for free. We see ill-fitting garments and preventable damages to garments as the barrier to keeping clothing in their true lifespan. We want to ensure people keep clothing. in good condition in their wardrobes for as long as possible. Circularity isn't just about sustainable production, it's also about helping people make informed choices with their wardrobe.

Have you noticed a difference in your clientele before and after your brand took on a new direction?
When I relaunched, I had customers writing to me to say, "Oh you were the first designer brand I saved up for" — that's been lovely to hear. Another customer said something along the lines of: "Now I'm in my 30s and I have a professional career going for me, this is exactly the type of clothing that I want to wear and the fact that it aligns with my values is a plus". While my customers have matured a little bit with me, there's also generally been a huge awakening of ethical values in this market. Everyone has become more aware of their power as a consumer to make sustainable choices.

What needs to change in the fashion industry?
Ideally, there'd be restrictions placed on companies in terms of the raw materials they could use or the hazardous chemicals that could exist in their products. Legislations against the burning of garments that didn't sell is starting to form in Europe, which is fantastic. Consumers need to demand more from brands too; a revolution can start from a movement when we all demand to know the who, what, and where of fashion manufacturing.

What's important to you as a designer?
Respect goes a long way. Respect for the Earth, respect for the people who are involved in the process of making the garments. Traditionally, the people working behind the scenes in the fashion industry aren't really given a voice or weren't always seen. If we can operate with kindness and respect, we can have better outcomes for the people and for the planet.

You believe that well-being is linked to the clothes that you wear — can you elaborate?
If you're wearing clothes that are made under the right conditions and they use safe materials, it affects the way you feel. And the way you feel affects your well-being which affects every area of your life. Therefore, to be truly healthy you need to look at what you're wearing, examine if it aligns with your values. If you're wearing something that you like aesthetically but you know it hasn't been made in the best of conditions, those garments aren't going to feel completely great on you. There's going to be a subconscious part of you that isn't aligned. I believe in aligning all those pieces together to put the best version of yourself out there.