Nestled between a cake shop and an art shop, is a new addition to Barker Street Castlemaine. It’s name is Incarnation, and it’s where to find Holly Simpson and Britt Rouse, two design entrepreneurs with an impressive sustainable philosophy who want to change the way we see, use and buy fashion and materials. They opened in June 2023 and have hardly stopped to draw breath since.
Their mission is to make beautiful, high quality, useful clothing and quilts without producing waste, and demonstrating to the community a more meaningful way of creating clothing and embracing craft.
For them, products made at Incarnation are imbued with a sense of connection to community. They aim to show the community that operating in a more meaningful and practical way, in the fashion and textiles industry, is possible.
Both have been trained at RMIT completing the Bachelor of Fashion (Design) and both returned there for a time, employed as technicians.
But the usual fashionistas they are not. Jilting the industry where ‘waste is ingrained’, they set out to fly a different path, using only recycled and second hand materials. Holly says that everything that ends up on the floor has another purpose.
She tells her story which begins when she was three years old, making clothes for her Barbie dolls from old pillow cases. This grew into a lifelong joy of being ‘on the hunt’, exploring op shops and filling up a room full of fabric which is now a resource for her own garment designs.
Britta also started her career early. At the age of five her mother enrolled her in a sewing course. She began designing clothes for her teddy, using her Dad’s old T shirts. Her mother’s own love of sewing and a very stylish grandmother, have contributed to her passion.
By the age of 10 she was already scouring the op shops for clothes she could wear that reflected her own individual style.
Holly worked in the industry for a time, but soon realised its practices were not in line with her philosophy. She is not only competent with designing and sewing clothing but is also interested in furniture making.
During Covid, Britta’s work disappeared so she began to practice quilt making. Inspiration came from a book on the women of Gee’s Bend who made beautiful quilts in non-traditional ways, only using what was on hand: worn out clothes, potato bags, cigar wrapping, and ribbons.
Both designers describe how in general, it’s cheaper for the makers in the industry to buy very large quantities of fabric but often only use a fraction of it for the season; for instance, leaving the remainder sitting idle, unused, or becoming waste that ends up as landfill.
To Incarnation this ‘waste’ is a precious commodity. Now the industry is changing a little. New businesses like Incarnation look to buy waste materials to be transformed into products of beauty and use.
They have made use of local connections to recycle and reuse materials and sewing machinery for their business.
Their practice means that their designs are informed by what they find secondhand or already have on hand. This way they minimise waste. For example, Holly might construct a garment from deadstock material, and then Britta can use the small scraps for her quilts. So the two compliment each other well.
Holly also now offers an alteration and repair service which already has a long waiting list from the community.
But their sustainability thinking involves more than the designing and sewing. Their whole way of running the business is devoted to a low emissions target. There are no energy guzzling appliances in the shop, not even a fridge. The industrial sewing machine and irons are only turned on when needed.
They use a start-up green energy company called Energy Locals and they avoid online purchasing and delivery where possible, using recycled brown paper and a compostable tape for packaging.
The community is a very important component of their business. They are building up and strengthening relationships with local manufacturers and businesses, as a way of sourcing what they want without travelling too far.
They have other dreams which are high on their To Do List. Remembering their younger selves, are intending to run workshops for teenagers who want to make their own clothes by reimagining second hand ones.
They want to run workshops which might include repairing garments or develop educational tools to share with the community on how to consider products that have longevity and avoid the garments that are made unethically and more likely to end up in landfill before others.
Another ambition of theirs in the future is to operate from a studio that has solar panels, with passive design inbuilt.
Their store is expanding to showcase and work with furniture makers who share a similar philosophy.
The ideas bubbling here are endless. We wish them well. Watch this space!