Allie Cameron isn’t your ordinary 25-year old. After travelling through India and Indonesia and seeing the damage the fashion industry is having on the environment, Cameron decided to take action and launched HARA The Label, an ethical and sustainable underwear line.
Having spotted a gap in the market for intimates that are both sustainable and stylish, HARA is Cameron’s gift to the world, women and their wobbly bits. Just two years on, the collection is now stocked in over 6 countries and in all major cities in Australia. I met with Cameron a few weeks ago, and she shared with me her own journey and the story of HARA The Label.
Growing up in New Zealand, Cameron says she’s always been surrounded by nature and it’s important to her to maintain a balanced relationship with our earth, by giving back just as much as she takes.
“Becoming a clothing label and taking resources from the earth I think there’s a responsibility that you must take so that we’re not just going to end up in the same negative cycle.”
HARA translates to green in Hindi, which is exactly what Cameron wanted to achieve when creating the label. Within a fast-fashion centric society, HARA stands out as an ethically produced, transparent and sustainable label that Cameron says is an expression of what she believes to be “woman”. The label also promotes body positivity as well as actively campaigns across social media for gender equality, women in disadvantaged communities and an end to period poverty.
From a young age, Cameron has always had a keen interest in fashion, with a particular love of upcycling and vintage wear. In high school she ran her own online store, using her eye for second-hand steals to turn a small profit, and in turn, find these pieces a new forever home. It was at this time when Cameron began to think deeper about the environmental impact that mass-produced clothing was having.
“I was really into recycled clothing more for my creative flow. And then, that really made me aware that the clothes that we wear impact the world that we live in. It was during this short period that I had this business that I knew I was going to do something within the fashion industry,” she says. “At that moment I felt like the awareness wasn’t there within the practices of the industry.”
Over the next six years, Cameron finished up high school, moved to Melbourne and began researching into sustainable fashion to determine the most sustainable fabric with the intention to create just one ethical bra.
“I wanted to create a bra that was comfortable and you didn’t feel like you wanted to take it off as soon as you got home because it’s causing you pain,” she says. “We don’t have to wear bras that push our boobs in a certain way.”
“Because we’re in this society where there are moments we have to wear a bra, it was about opening up this new option for women. To show them it’s possible that during these moments, wearing a bra can be a comforting experience.”
Her expedition to find the most sustainable fabric took her to India, the largest supplier of organic cotton in the world. At this stage, the media and fashion industry spoke highly of organic cotton as the way of the future, but Cameron’s travels revealed that organic cotton was not all it was cracked up to be.
“When I came back after that trip I realised cotton wasn’t the answer. Organic cotton uses even more water, and even though it’s organic, it still uses chemicals. The water they use can’t be recycled for drinking and in the community,” she says.
Studies have shown that organic cotton can actually have a worse effect on the environment than regular cotton. While the term “organic” in modern culture typically carries with it the suggestion that it’s less harmful and from non-genetically modified plants, to make organic cotton you need significantly more plants, which in turn, uses more water. Approximately 2500 litres of water are needed to make one organic t-shirt.
With organic cotton ruled out, Cameron returned to Melbourne and began researching into Bamboo as a more sustainable alternative. Finally, all her research paid off and Bamboo proved to be the “perfect alternative,” she says. “Bamboo uses no pesticides, uses the rainwater to grow and it grows like a weed. It can grow up to one to two metres per day.”
Bamboo then took Cameron to Bali, Indonesia. “I went to Bali to research bamboo and I found a natural dye house. This dye house was the most amazing discovery I felt like I’d ever seen,” she says.
Looking around the dye house, Cameron describes what she saw: “There were dyes coming from composted leaves, all the dyes are then poured into this pool of hyacinth plants which soak up all the dye and then at the bottom there’s a tap that pours out fresh water which can be used on the surrounding jungle life.”
Prior to visiting the dye house, Cameron says she wasn’t sure where she wanted to produce her pieces from but the whole process really inspired her and everything that followed happened in a “perfect flow.”
“I went to Bali and ended up sampling and producing there and came up with the five products that we have today,” she says.
The five products are all minimalist in design, with the purpose to be comfortable, versatile and flattering to all body shapes and sizes. The natural colour palette reflects the environment the bamboo grows in, with options in charcoal, ivory, olive, pink and pumpkin. The collection consists of the Stella low cut bra, Leo high cut bra, Lena high waist undies, Maya low waist undies and the Eva G-string.
In the past six months, Cameron has taken a step further and moved all production to operate solely out of a small warehouse right here in Melbourne. By doing so, she says she can have more control over the quality, waste and shipping.
“Now that we’re here I can look at every single bra being made and make sure it’s right,” she says. “My brother has also been working on a natural dye house, so we’re dying all our fabric naturally in Melbourne.”
When asked how she was managing the transition, Cameron laughed to herself as she reflected, “It’s been really, really busy and a lot of hard work… but being able to be a sustainable clothing label in Australia is really important for us and to be producing here and showing other labels that it’s possible to bring it back locally.”
The warehouse is run by a team of just five, who are responsible for designing, cutting patterns, sewing, selling and distributing the label all over the globe. Producing on average, 300 pieces a week, Cameron says she couldn’t be happier with how well the label has been received in Melbourne.
“We’ve experienced so much support here already and I think that’s partially because there’s a lot of creative and eco-conscious people here,” she says. “I think Melbourne is a perfect city for sustainable fashion to grow.”
While the concept of sustainable fashion is still relatively new for some, there is a steady growing consciousness among consumers that their buying patterns could be negatively impacting the earth. Whether it be through a want-not-need mentality, insisting on a seasonal wardrobe or shopping unethical brands, these combined can contribute to mass amounts of irreparable damage, landfill or water pollution from toxic chemicals used during the production process.
Cameron is confident that consumer conscientiousness goes beyond the current hype and buzz surrounding ethical clothing.
“In this moment right now, the awareness for the fashion industry and how it’s affecting the world is increasing every day and I think that’s because there’s been light brought onto the situation,” she says. “For people to come forward and finally say, okay, something needs to change, maybe we need to change. From that point, companies and clothing labels are coming out and teaming up because they want to create a better future in the industry.”
“People are finally realising the power that they have.”
The label is stocked within four boutiques in Melbourne as well as in stores across Sydney, Queensland, South and Western Australia. Internationally HARA can be found scattered across Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Indonesia and of course, online.
Meeting Cameron, it’s hard to not be charmed by her can-do attitude and humility, a testament to her honest attempt to inspire change in the fashion industry and give back in her own way. Refusing praise and diverting the conversation to her enduring sense of responsibility felt towards the environment.
“I always felt this responsibility as a human on this earth. I have a responsibility because I walk on it to care for it and support it. If we don’t work with the earth and continue to use and take advantage of the environment that we’re living, we’re only hurting ourselves.”