WATCHING a Kenyan man make jewellery from coconuts and toys from thongs was enough to bring Kristyan Evele back to Adelaide a changed woman.
She admits it’s a cliche, but the culture shock stirred an internal shift. The resourcefulness of the locals and their connection to the land was inspiring.
“There was a man who used all the rubber from thongs that had washed on the beach and he would melt them down and make shapes and toys and then they were sold at the markets,” says Evele, who travelled to Kenya in 2013 for aid work.
“That sort of thinking really appeals to me. I think we are a bit distanced from that here, we don’t look at the world that way.
“I saw these people who were so much happier with so much less and … I came home and realised I couldn’t commit to a uni degree I wasn’t that passionate about.”
So instead of coming back to study teaching in art/design – “the practical choice,” she says – Evele went on to study fashion design at TAFE, always hoping that one day she’d somehow be able to combine her interest in fashion with her passion for sustainability.
Now the dream is a reality, as she prepares to open clothing design and upcycling studio Uhuru the Label in the Gu Filmhouse courtyard.
The 22-year-old – who named the studio after the Swahili word for freedom and independence – gained the spot under Renew Adelaide’s Own It program, a rent-free program funded by the Department of Premier and Cabinet for entrepreneurs aged under 25.
At the studio, Evele will design and make custom clothes using recycled and second-hand materials while involving customers every step of the way in a bid to make the industry more transparent.
“People can come in and see how it’s being made and I’ll also have workshops to show people how to patch up a hole or hem a pair of pants,” says Evele, adding she grew up in a family that focused on making do and mending rather than buying and replacing.
Evele’s work is classified as slow fashion, the antithesis to the mass-produced fast fashion movement.
As highlighted by ABC’s War on Waste, fast fashion is one of the biggest pollutants in the world, with Australians throwing out 6000kg of clothing every 10 minutes.
“The ethics in the fashion industry are terrifying … and now there’s a huge consumer focus on sustainability and buying ethically and locally and thinking of impact on each purchase,” she says.