Congratulations on winning the category for Sustainable Innovation (Emerging Designer). How does it feel to be recognised, particularly after a challenging year in the fashion industry?
Courtney Holm: “Thank you. It feels pretty surreal! It’s been a big year for us in so many ways, and while we are still an emerging label, I feel like we’ve done a lot of growing up in 2020. Winning this is a great industry honour and it’s encouraging to see the industry highlighting emerging brands and designers who are seeking to do things differently.”
Do you believe that in response to the pandemic, we’re seeing meaningful change by way of sustainable innovation in the industry as a whole?
CH: “I think the pandemic has changed consumer sentiment around who they spend their money with and why. While I’ve observed this slowly happening for a while now, we’ve seen it accelerate much quicker and more widespread this year. This is a good incentive for businesses to listen and act. In terms of innovation, I believe it will require more boldness and action-based collaboration in order to achieve meaningful change across the industry. Entire systems need re-wiring and investment in the future must overtake short term profitability. So I see that we are very much in the groundwork phase, though I am hopeful that 2021 will be a year of courage and action for the industry as a whole.”
What needs to be done to ensure you were still here following lockdown and restrictions?
CH: “When the severity of the pandemic first became apparent, people just stopped buying clothes. Sure, this was industry wide and painful, but even more painful were the billions of dollars of cancelled orders and the blatant disregard for people in global supply chains. COVID-19 was just another revelation as to why the current fashion system is so broken.
In many ways A.BCH was built as the antithesis to the typical business of fashion.
For example we’ve always refused to wholesale, we exclusively sell direct and online, our supply chains are hyper-localised, stock levels are lean and backfilled and our production operates on a continual timeline that doesn’t follow traditional collection or season expectations. Our clothing is built for timeless appeal, comfort and health, never for trends. Our marketing efforts heavily focus on loving your clothes and making them last. So we didn’t need to change our product assortment, cancel orders or close stores; we were almost fully prepared for this kind of environment. What we weren’t prepared for was such a tangible shift in consumer sentiment towards brands.
Rather than shrink back during this time, we saw an opportunity for thought leadership and action. We amped up our communications with our audience, focussing on practical education like garment life extension, mask making tutorials and how to avoid plastic in clothing purchases. We also invested in digital solutions to make our customer experience even better. We developed and produced a much loved, comfortable and compostable face mask, gifted hundreds of them to our community and made our pattern open source for all. And finally, we re-thought the idea of fashion seasons all together and launched our own A.BCH Seasons based not on collections but on education and the lifecycle of a garment – Birth, Life, Afterlife. All of these things, both the deep-set business model and the individual actions we took, have meant we are still here and stronger than ever. ”
How often are pieces released by A.BCH?
CH: “We release pieces very slowly, on average 10 new styles per year. In saying that, we are continually designing, making and refining. We invest a lot of time into fit and longevity, we make to order, offer repairs, repeat much loved styles like the A.14 skivvy in new colour-ways or variations and make small modifications to pre-existing designs and re-release them.”
Your pricing is quite accessible compared to fellow sustainable brands. Why and how was this possible?
CH: “By choosing never to wholesale, we can cut out the retailer margin from the price of our goods. We do this deliberately and talk openly about where our pricing comes from with our customers. The long term goal is to re-calibrate the true and fair price of a garment. This creates a more equitable price point for everyone – not overly high or low, they’re just what they should be.”
In what other ways does sustainable fashion assist the globe, other than climate change?
CH: “Sustainable fashion should reduce or eliminate material and energy waste and live within the earth’s means by halting its reliance on non-renewable resources and environmental degradation for profit.”
True sustainable fashion should work to empower and educate people rather than trick them with marketing and it should celebrate, uplift and respect the entire supply chain with each individual process and skill involved.
What’s next for A.BCH?
CH: “Our focus is to continue developing and and rolling out A.BCH Seasons, making well researched and loved garments for our customers and establish best practise for product and industry. An exciting area of development is our long term recycling project where we’ve been piloting how to recycle cotton garments and cutting waste and incorporate them back into our base materials, thus reducing reliance on virgin organic cotton and eliminating textile waste.”