Before starting Australian ethical fashion label All The Wild Roses, founder Hang Osment-Le had a very different career as an insurance company finance manager. She was first inspired at just 19 years old to start the brand after making her first trip to her native Vietnam.
“All The Wild Roses is a way to pay it forward and share the opportunities I had with my extended family and the women in their community who work as seamstresses. I saw that they were capable of more but just did not have the access to opportunity and global markets, so I wanted to help them bridge that gap.”
CREATING OPPORTUNITY FOR WOMEN IN VIETNAM
When they started, Hang’s team could only make T-shirts and shorts – not a lot of variety! They have since expanded, of course, learning by remaking vintage dresses Hang had collected.
“Without access to training and education we had to get creative about learning how to craft clothes and remaking vintage was our way to do it. So today our brand is really influenced by vintage and timeless style. The vision is that we want to create designs that people love and keep, and just gets better with age. They could become the next generation of vintage clothes!”
We work as a team and so our seamstresses play the key role.
We have a small team of 12 women. My cousin is the head pattern maker and seamstress, her sister is the head pattern cutter, and the rest of the team are made up of their close friends. All members of our team are mothers, so it’s a family business, and they really care for each other beyond just work. That, for me, is the best part. They are part of all decisions from design, logistics, delivery and most of all they set their work and price for the work. My job is to work backwards from that and create designs that win for everyone along the journey of creating products that we are proud of.
What is it like working with people in Vietnam? How have they informed how you run All The Wild Roses?
Vietnam is where I come from and for me, the energy of the place is really created by the people. They are so vibrant, free-spirited, and very determined. We have an amazing production team there, but it’s difficult as a small to medium business to work there. There is not a lot of support; in fact, there are more barriers and bureaucracy as they favour big corporations over micro-businesses. So we constantly have to seek more creative ways from a logistical point of view to provide work to our team in Vietnam in a way that is viable. But I love seeing the underdog win, so we keep at it!
Was it difficult to set up your business – especially working so closely with people overseas? What sorts of steps were involved?
I think to set up any business it is difficult, but yes being overseas does add an extra level complexity. For us, again it was such a team effort and the fact that I was working with my extended family made it easier as I could trust that they would take care of certain aspects. So they took on a lot of what was involved from Vietnam side of things, which continues to this day.
In terms of steps there are so many to mention, but the biggest challenge and the one that I am most proud of is that our team and I did not know anything about fashion, creating or designing, but we just learnt as we went along. I think in starting or running any business or project, it’s not so much the steps but it is the mindset you approach it with. I love this quote “Be confident of your potential and aware of your inexperience.” It encapsulates how we approach our work and vision. We are always willing to learn along the way, as we know we have the potential to make it happen.
Tell us about the “Dare to Dream” project. Why are initiatives like this so important in the industry?
Our “Dare to Dream” project was created as a way to keep on paying it forward and spread opportunity for women to achieve their dreams and realise their true potential no matter what part of the world they come from.
Through our brand and years working with my extended family in Vietnam, it’s become obvious to me that opportunity is the best way to help people to help themselves. They truly have the talent to do so but they need a hand to do that.
Through the “Dare to Dream” project, every purchase helps to provide a micro-loan to a woman-led business in a developing country to pursue their dreams of earning a living for their family and rising out of poverty.
Can you share with us some of its outcomes so far?
Yes! In the first year of our “Dare to Dream” project, our goal was to finance one loan each week to a woman so she could start her own business and pursue her dreams of making a living for her and her family. Since we launched the project in November 2015, we have financed over 40 loans to date!
Here are a couple of stories:
Beatris from the Philippines was unable to afford milk or rice for her family prior to receiving a loan to start her own business. She received a loan to purchase 200kg of abaca (natural plant fibre) to start her own handcraft business making ropes. She is now earns 10 times her previous income and is now an employer of other women in her community. Most of all she is able to build a home that has electricity, water and other essential amenities for her family and all her daughters are receiving education.
Saleha and her husband Mujib come from a remote village in Bihar, India’s most underdeveloped state. Having grown up in poverty themselves, they were determined to offer their children opportunities that they never had. With the loan they purchased tools and supplies to grow their construction business. They now employ other people from their community, providing their families with a stable income and an opportunity to transform their futures, too. Also, Saleha has even trained to become a health leader in her community and established a number of health savings groups, enabling 80 families to come together to pool funds in case of emergencies. This shows what happens when you invest in women: they invest in others so everyone can thrive!
Where else in your business have you made efforts to be ethical?
We are always looking for ways to do it better, including the very small things such as our packaging. Our packaging – boxes, wrapping paper and swing tags – is all made from recycled paper.
In terms of the bigger decisions, we focus on small-scale production and produce to order and seasons to reduce wastage. So we produce small runs to line up with orders so we don’t produce excess stock or fabrics.
A couple of our medium-term (3 years) goals are:
To carbon offset all our freighting and electricity we use in producing our products.
We want to source and learn about how to use more eco-friendly fabrics such as remnant fabrics and hand-loomed fabrics in our upcoming collections.
I think the styles you’ve created really capture the spirit you’re trying to channel. What makes All The Wild Roses different from all the other stuff out there?
I think the simple answer is that we create clothes that have style and impact. That is, you can look good, feel good and do good, too. It’s about living a life that looks as beautiful on the inside as it does on the outside. That’s what we are striving to do with our vision and our designs, and we hope it shows!
Kira Simpson is an environmentalist and sustainability expert. She started The Green Hub as a blog in 2015, which has since grown to become one of Australia’s largest education sites dedicated to helping people live a more sustainable lifestyle.