THE HEART BEHIND is a series of interviews where we get to know the founders and the heart behind what they do.
A resort-inspired label creating beautifully designed holiday wardrobe staples, Fadilah, founder of The Soleil Girl tells us more about her label.
What sparked your journey in creating The Soleil Girl?
I learned about sustainable fashion about 10 years ago when I was actually looking at ways to be greener in my diet. Naturally, when I was doing my own research and learning about the environmental impact on our food, one thing led to another. There were a couple of pioneer local brands back then but I could never afford to buy myself an eco wardrobe as a student. Thought I could start my own sustainable clothing brand at an accessible price point someday, but never really acted on it.
Many years later, I watched the documentary 'The True Cost' and it opened up my eyes and heart to the dark side of fashion. As a regular fast fashion shopper, I felt so guilty about my lifestyle. Growing up reading fashion magazines and the constant exposure to advertising has made me always want to have something new. However, circumstances that led me to The Soleil Girl was serendipitous. I wanted to start making a difference. I would say the ethical side of fashion pushed me to start this journey although the eco aspect was the seeding idea.
Is there any brand or personality that has influenced or inspired you in terms of design of values?
The Soleil Girl is inspired by some of my favourite Australian labels like Zimmermann, Lover The Label and FaithFull The Brand. I love the whole laid-back aesthetics and the idea of being a free spirit to pursue whatever you desire without conforming to social norms. In terms of values, it’s Stella McCartney (I also learnt about Meat Free Mondays from her!) and Nadya Hutagalung. Their work has influenced me in different aspects of my lifestyle.
Starting a fashion label is challenging to say the least, not to mention doing it alone. What keeps you going?
It’s certainly challenging to begin this journey from scratch with no background in fashion design let alone understanding the process behind garment making. I had my time of self-doubts but it was possible to birth the business by working with the right people along the way. I definitely had help and wouldn’t be able to do it all by myself. Now that we are in operation, it’s a different set of challenges to keep it going. There are plans yet to be executed, a community to grow and connect, and so much more in being the difference. It’s a personal motivation and it’s also the change I wanted to see in the local fashion industry that keeps me going.
You visited a number of suppliers before settling on the current factory you work with. Tell us more about that process.
An ethical factory with small production runs was my pre-requisite above anything else. I wanted to see for myself the physical environment - the space, ventilation and safety exits, especially after watching 'The True Cost'. And getting an idea of the sense of culture in the workplace - that would give me an insight in how the workers are being treated. I decided to partner with a garment factory run by a mother-daughter duo team as they checked all my requirements and their employees have been with them for a long time. Besides their monthly income, they are incentivised for their productivity which I think is fair for the workers.
Social and environmental issues are problems that seem out of reach for most of us. Do you feel it is your responsibility to respond to these issues?
As a brand, we do have a responsibility to respond to these issues and one of the ways is through educating our little community, in the simplest way possible and in a compassionate manner. This might even be their starting point where they start to seek other resources to learn and dive deeper. As individuals, we can take on a more responsible mindset and do our part socially and environmentally.
But we can’t do it alone. No matter how small the change is, it’s the collective behaviour and actions of individuals that can make the difference.
What do you hope to see in the fashion industry?
It’s admirable that major players in the fashion industry have started looking at the problems they have created and are working towards innovative solutions to create circularity. As a whole, I hope the industry will be able to work more collaboratively in a way that creates meaningful impact, instead of hyped collaborations and shaping culture alone. I hope to see more synergy between small independent brands and big players in the industry where each has its own strengths and expertise that they can bring to the table. It might help lift up small brands to be scalable and big players to slow down their production cycle, rethink their long-standing practices and market themselves in a more responsible way.
What do you think customers need to know about sustainability?
Sustainability is all-encompassing and there’s no one size fits all model. What’s good for the people and the community is also good for the environment. Customers can start their sustainability journey by learning what they care about most and support brands that are aligned to their values and belief system.
What are your dreams for The Soleil Girl?
For the business, the dream is to be able to partner with every supplier directly from raw material. In this way, there’s full traceability and control. It would be a dream to also work with innovators to develop woven fibers with minimal environmental impact. As a brand, we want to grow our presence in international markets when we are scalable enough. We would also love to partner with other sustainable and ethical brands locally and overseas in creating a collection together. I think it would be quite flavourful and exciting!
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