“I was walking along a Parisian street and came across this tiny little shop. I looked through the glass window and saw a French woman using a beautiful old sewing machine, her sketches tousled on a nearby table, bolts of fabric and two small racks of garments stood in the background. I remember instantly connecting to this picture. I got goosebumps all over my body. I thought, ‘my goodness, this is what fashion is. This is real’. I could see this woman’s blood, sweat and tears in every garment. I saw myself in this lady, her passion was my passion. It was a beautiful moment that I will never forget.”
It was this inspirational, lightbulb moment which steered Michelle Kent on the path she is on today. Having worked for a number of large fashion houses, the Australian fashion designer questioned the industry she had longed to enter. Yet a trip to Paris combined with a desire to uphold fashion’s artisanal heritage - not mainstream glamour - led her to establish her own lifestyle label, So Stella, named after her grandmother who she remembers for her timeless style.
“Starting So Stella made me realise what I loved about fashion and why I wanted to be a fashion designer,” she says. “In the modern world of mass production and disposable fashion I have been inspired to preserve the art of tailoring garments for individual women in natural fabrics and assist women in celebrating their own unique style.”
Launched 12 years ago, So Stella now operates in the Australian country town of Orange, about 3 hours west of Sydney. Surrounded by wool farms, fruit orchards and vineyards, the town of about 40,000 people boasts fresh produce and delicacies as well as a stunning natural environment. And so it’s no wonder that natural fibres - namely Merino wool - play a huge role in the designs of So Stella.
“You could say Merino wool is in the very lifeblood of the label. I love working with 100% super-soft Merino wool. It’s an incredibly lux, versatile and natural cloth. It is soft on the skin, easy to wear because it breathes and acclimatises to temperature to keep you warm or cool, it is also odour and stain resistant. It can be transformed into the most vibrant and stylish garments because of its natural drapery and lively movement. Lastly, it is biodegradable which is a very important component to ensure style and sustainability go hand-in-hand for So Stella.”
With the fast fashion being one of the word’s dirtiest industries, Michelle is adamant to ensure So Stella does not fall into this category.
“I’m extremely mindful about waste. I never want to over produce so I design capsule collections and work on elevating the everyday basics. Fashion has become too fast and it was a conscious decision to design and make trans-seasonal collections that women can wear all year round opposed to trend-driven collections produced each season. Wool’s natural properties certainly lend itself to being a trans-seasonal fibre and that is why I love working with it and my clients love wearing it. It’s a magical fibre that inspires me every day.
“I’m also exceptionally proud to state emphatically that every single So Stella garment is personally designed, cut and sewn by my own two hands in my studio in Orange. The label is 100% Australian made and ethically produced. So Stella has been accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia since April 2012.”
Whilst is takes days, even weeks, to make a single garment, from initial design through fabric sourcing, pattern making and finally sewing, for Michelle this artisanal process is a true labour of love. “At the end of the day it may cost more to purchase a handmade garment, but you will own something unique and of higher quality.”
In conversation with Livia Firth, the founder of sustainable brand consultancy Eco-Age