Why is it such a big thing to have the latest items or be “on trend”? Our Instagram feeds (depending on the type of circles you run in with the industry) are constantly being bombarded with high end, misspelled logos that make the hairs on your arms stand up with excitement when you witness your favorite influencers and celebrities get involved. It’s that inspo, aspo, fomo consensus that many of us in the industry share when every fashion week rolls around. But how do they do on the ethical scale? TPC sits down with Mary Lawas, stylist, artist and all-around an amazing human being to chat about the importance of reviewing those practices.

Nicole Fang (NF): So this is picking up from our last conversation where we were talking about slow fashion, and how South Australia has gone into a very interesting direction on focusing on quality versus quantity. Especially since a lot of our mutual friends who are based in Adelaide have started their own brands with respect to that as well, I was hoping to ask for your viewpoint on such a movement as a stylist (and occasional model) when it comes to fashion.

Could we start off with a rundown of your background and how you got into the industry before we tackle the questions?

Mary Lawas (ML): So my fashion background..it depends on where you want to start really. For the fashion design aspect of my life I have always loved fashion as a child, like I used to make clothes for my Barbie dolls from socks (laughs). I didn’t have a lot of money growing up so I just got creative, but it took me a long time to get into fashion. I started in administration because I didn’t graduate high school. So I had to find different ways of earning money, and ended up doing retail and admin full time, and then from there got a bit bored with that after a while. And after that I decided, “you know what? I’ll study fashion”. I’ve always loved fashion, so I started doing it with short courses and really enjoyed that so I did a Cert 3. After that month of starting that Cert 3 course, I applied for a job at a local fashion label company thinking, ”I am not going to get that job – why would I get that job I’ve only done a month at school”. But I got the job! Which marked the start of my fashion career and I found myself learning so much in the industry already.

I mean I haven’t worked in multiple companies but it was a very fast paced industry and environment to be in. It was a pretty incredible experience and I loved every aspect of it. I finished that job last year because I felt that there was a part in me that wasn’t really feeling the fast fashion part of the industry. My morals didn’t really align with that, but that dichotomy gave me a chance to rethink about what was really important. The emphasis in my past job came with the expectation to always to be involved with what’s happening and being on top of trends as expected. Everyone in the company had that same mentality and culture of working fast and hard where you’ll get there in the morning and only leave at about 7 or 8 o’ clock at night. There were definitely moments when I was going, “ I don’t think I am being very creative right now” because I was working for someone else. And coming up with original ideas was and is still so important to me as an individual.

From there I started dating Adam who is a photographer and I started styling for him. Another aspect of fashion that I really enjoy as well! It’s almost bringing together my love for art and fashion. I started styling on and off for a year because I’ve been so busy with studying and trying to squeeze in as many opportunities as I can.
NF: Next question. What defines fashion? And how does one define personal style?

ML: I believe fashion is always going to change. Fashion evolves quicker than we can think about it. You’re always going to have trends, you’re always going to have things that come and go. And it comes around in a circle. But style is a personal thing. And everyone has his or her own personal take on that. Because I think that is a subconscious expression of ourselves to demonstrate who we are as individuals. I love people watching and seeing how people put things together because you get so many ideas from just watching how people behave and interact with their clothes.

NF: I completely agree, and it’s always interesting to observe how important fashion is in our everyday lives.

ML: Yeah and it’s funny how that it’s (fashion) one of those industries that people don’t take seriously and yet it’s one of the oldest industries. Like Vogue being around for more than a hundred years. And it can be as influential as politics as well! It’s like the fun side of life, (laughs) you know?

NF: Exactly! And that kind of leads onto my next question where you’ve kind of indirectly answered part of it. You mentioned that how fashion gets dumbed down by people who may not really be familiar with the nuances of what we do in the industry. And they don’t realize how influential fashion is!

When compared to slower, more sustainable fashion – vintage and second hand – what are the type of benefits we should consider when implementing such practices?

ML: It’s such a hard thing to do honestly because it’s so subjective. Majority of people can’t really afford to always invest in sustainable items or clothing, and that’s why they steer towards fast fashion. Fast fashion has boomed in the past few years for sure. So I understand why people are indulging more in it and buying more items. I’ve been guilty of it, I’m not saying that I’m a perfect person who has never bought a fast fashion item. Because I love sales.

But (laughs), op shopping is definitely a passion of mine, I always managed to find better quality pieces in vintage stores that have stayed in my wardrobe a lot longer compared to items you find in fast fashion that are on trend pieces; I can’t even resell them sometimes because of the quality! So yeah, the benefits from purchasing from op shops or buying vintage off eBay taps into the idea of recycling items and is less wastage. The chances of getting higher quality pieces, and it makes you a lot pickier when it comes to deciding what to get. I don’t know about you but I realized that about myself when I do op shopping. I think about the importance of getting good quality pieces. Is it a good piece of clothing? I’m not just buying for the hell of it; I’m buying it because I love it. I see a place for it in my wardrobe. And it saves you a lot of money in the long run when you train yourself to think objectively like that.

NF: What are the possible challenges to embarking on your own journey to incorporate slow fashion into your wardrobe? If you are trying to convince a first – timer to go op shopping with you how would you go about it?

ML: A lot of people don’t feel like they can’t do it. That’s one comment that always comes up with people. Uh, the fear of receiving unsanitary items are another concern where some would go, “Ah look, it’s just a bit gross”. You’re going to get that. And in the unlikely event that the shop doesn’t clean the clothes before putting them on the rack, you can wash almost everything.

But with first-timers I’d always offer to go op-shopping with and if we do, I’ll make it the most fun experience ever for them. And hopefully that helps with them considering this a lot more in the future! (laughs). But I know it is challenging and I’ve go a hunter/gatherer brain and not everyone does.

A lot of people also don’t think they can find something on trend as well in op shops.

NF: But with personal style as we discussed previously; trend should dictate what you wear.

ML: No I don’t think (that we should be sticking to trends all the time) so too. But you can sometimes find on trend pieces in op shops. If you really rummaged, you can find something to fit a trend. So hold onto those older good quality items because fashion will come around in a full circle again!

Over time, my style has become so simplified to the point that I don’t want to buy anything unless I 1. Love the fabric and 2. It suits me. And it will suit me no matter what and it will always work.

NF: And good options to start with?

ML: I get that question a lot and to be honest I don’t really know how to answer that question unless we are physically in the shops themselves because it really depends on who has dropped off what recently. But definitely stick to the more well off areas here in Adelaide like on Goodwood road where you’ll get more donors from that area who have a little bit more money (laughs), hence the increased chances of acquiring better quality items. I heard that in the country their op shops are really good because a lot of their things are untouched as well.

NF: *(makes mental note to ask Mary to go op shopping with her). What do you think can be a starting guideline towards adopting better, more ethical practices with your personal style? I know you’ve answered bits of it in the overall interview but would you like reiterate?

ML: Yes I think it’s all about being conscious of whether it is made locally or not, if it’s made ethically. There is a lot going in the industry and community we chose to be in and I’m hoping that slowly, but surely we’ll get to a point where wastage and practicing better industry practices becomes the highest priority. That’s why education is so important. We as individuals have to start somewhere by educating ourselves on what we are buying or supporting.

taken with Leica ME for project blue roses and the Leica Project

find Mary here on Instagram and her website.