Hi Annabelle! tell us a little about yourself – where are you from, where do you call home now, and what do you love doing?
Hello! I am from a small town in Northern California named Mill Valley and I now reside in Santa Cruz, California. Surfing is one of my biggest passions and and I do it as often as possible. I also love taking film photos and videos, growing flowers and veggies, dancing, designing clothes, exploring my beautiful surroundings and connecting with like-minded individuals.
You’re a full time student, business owner, surfer, gardener, artist, lover, friend…the list goes on! What does a typical day look like for you balancing it all?
Ah, you know… it really isn’t perfected yet. Maybe from the outside it seems meticulously calculated and planned, but believe me it’s not. I’m a full time student and my classes and school schedule change quarterly, so time management is challenging. I use breaks in between classes to work on projects for my clothing company. Sometime during the day I try to get a surf in or some form of exercise and that keeps me healthy and grounded. I love my job, so spending a lot of my downtime working on my company is fun and challenging, never a chore.
The projects I concentrate on everyday are variable, but I love planning out future photo shoots, scouting out locations and models, planning our Instagram posts and sketching out future designs. Whenever a new line is going to be released I do have to plan everything very precisely in advance like photoshoots, website design, social media marketing and then there will be new planning for the next line as soon as the current one drops! I try to do as much as I can, but sometimes I’m super overwhelmed especially if I have deadlines for work and school, but it is usually manageable.
Your line, Belle The Label, incorporates your California coastal roots and environmentally conscious lifestyle into a fashion line…what inspired you to start Belle and maintain sustainable and ethical practices?
The fashion industry and the immediate-gratification consumerist culture that accompanies it creates a marketplace that does not align with my ethics. Fast fashion is extremely bad for the environment, so when I made the decision that I wanted to be apart of this industry I really wanted to find a way that didn’t harm the earth. I wanted to make pieces that are inspired by the earth, made from organic materials like linen and cotton that are plant dyed and can biodegrade and use recycled materials and deadstock fabric. I am really inspired by the land that creates all of the materials that the clothing is made of. I want to learn everything about the process, kind of like farm to table for fashion. I am inspired to learn more about the whole process start to finish of how pieces are made, and how to make them in the least impactful way and teach others.
I started my company with my mom a few years ago with no background in business or knowledge of the fashion industry. I immersed myself in learning design and taught myself everything else I needed to know along the way. I just loved every aspect of it, so I never had any apprehension or fear of failing. I just looked at it as a creative and fun learning experience. I guess starting out small and growing into my business helped to keep me centered too. I have always been an environmental advocate but going to University of Santa Cruz I have learned so much about sustainability and environmentalism that has inspired me to be very conscious in my business practices. Ultimately, I want to do no harm in my business and instead help and inspire.
I hope that my efforts in making my business sustainable will help lead other small businesses in the right direction. When I started out I would try to talk to other business owners, but not that many were helpful, forcing me to learn mostly everything on my own. Now that I have my own business I am very open to being transparent and sharing what I have learned along the way with other small brands that are trying to find their way.
It has been fun, I’ve talked with other small brands a lot about reducing our impact and sharing our methods and the factories that we use. I think being secretive in the fashion world is pushing other businesses back, I’d rather be open and teach others to change fast fashion methods then being selfish and keeping my knowledge all to myself.
Can you give us some examples of how you and your line incorporate sustainable practices into everyday life?
Currently our swim and surf wear are made in Bali using a fabric called Econyl which is made from post consumer recycled materials like fishing nets and plastic waste. It is so soft, thick, UV resistant, I wouldn’t use any other fabric now. This year our clothing is starting to be made from all organic materials like cotton, linen, bamboo and soon we will be transitioning to plant dying everything. Our pieces are made with a lot of attention to detail and care, intentionally constructing them with the idea that they will last for a lifetime. We want people to like their pieces so much that they don’t get rid of them after the trend season ends.
We have taken the time to get to know the people who make our goods, and we are proud to know that our factory and team maintains equal high standards of ethics and environmental responsibility that align with our brand. We love our manufacturers so much. It is a small team, only around fifteen people total, and they are one big family. The best part about is that they are transitioning into being zero waste! They take all of their fabric scraps and turn them into pillows and donate them to organizations throughout Indonesia. We are constantly collaborating and inspiring each other about sustainable methods in making garments, it is a really amazing set up.
What has been the biggest inspiration for you to begin cutting out plastics from your life?
There are a multitude of reasons that I am influenced by, but I was initially inspired by Lauren Singer’s “Trash is for Tossers” video where she shows how she reduced her waste to fit into a small mason jar over the course of a year. After viewing that I became extremely excited that there were so many simple things I could do to reduce my waste. Traveling and seeing the amount of trash around the world, completely infesting the oceans that I cherish has had a tremendous impact on conscious consumerism as well. I want to tread lightly and treat the earth as gentle as I can, so I’ve started incorporating it into my everyday life to do my part.
I am not completely plastic free yet, but I am really striving because I deeply care about my impact on the environment and hope to inspire and show others how simple it can be to make the small changes to reduce your waste!
I think of Santa Cruz as a much colder, less tropical Byron Bay…with its beautiful coastline, long point break waves and untouched rolling hills. Has being surrounded by all of this natural goodness contributed to your desire to be environmentally conscious both in your own life and in your business?
Absolutely. Most of my inspiration stems from the raw beauty that surrounds me. I want to make sure I am not harming the beautiful land that is providing me with happiness, my food, all the resources I use daily, and the materials I make my clothing with.
What are the steps you’ve taken and the biggest challenges you have had to face with making the transition to a plastic-free lifestyle?
Here are some super easy and affordable steps I am taking to reduce my plastic intake & my carbon footprint in my personal life
- Replacing plastic bottled water with a reusable water bottle that I take everywhere with me!
- Shop at the farmers market to get delicious, organic, locally grown produce while reducing my carbon footprint & food miles
- Grow your own food!
- Take reusable bags to the market + grocery store
- Don’t put your produce in plastic bags at the grocery store!
- Ask for no plastic straws or cutlery when eating out and buying drinks
- Carry around your own set of bamboo cutlery and straws to have on the go
- Bring reusable thermal mug/cup for coffee or tea
- Bring your own tupperware when you eat out
- Try to avoid packaged food when grocery shopping and replace it with something you can make yourself!
- Make your own cleaning supplies with ingredients you’ve purchased from bulk store like baking soda + vinegar
- Invest in wash cloths and dish rags for cleaning that can be washed and reused instead of paper towels
- Buy in bulk as much as you can! Try to find a local bulk food store and bring your own glass containers
- This step can be challenging because a lot of my favorite foods are packaged like baked tofu, vegan field roast, protein bars, and bitchin’ sauce. So while I mostly only buy produce these are hard for me to replace, but I have given up a lot of my favorites and have started making my own sauces + cheeses.
You’re always planting and harvesting food and flowers in your backyard garden, which is a great way to get plastic free goods and connect you back to the earth! When did you become interested in growing your own food?
Realizing how easily I can grow an abundance of delicious, fresh, produce has catalyzed my interest in gardening. The last few years I have become obsessed with permaculture, I want to learn everything about it. The food you grow is special, it is your little dance with the earth. A small creation you feel proud of, something you created harmoniously with nature. It tastes better, it is more accessible, and so fun. I have always wanted my own farm.
You’re a uni student on a uni student’s budget, do you have any tips for others trying to reduce their impact while saving money?
Yes! I think if you make the initial investment in the tips I’ve listed above then everything after that should be relatively inexpensive.
Are there any brands you love at the moment that are reducing plastic waste or doing something else to keep the planet happy and healthy?
So many! Off the top of my head…
See what else Annabelle & her label are up to on Instagram–
And check out this video highlighting Belle The Label’s new ‘Poppy Surf Suit’ seen on surfer Sarah Brady in Fiji