Edda Hamar is on a mission. As the Director of Undress Runways, Edda supports, celebrates and showcases the unique work of sustainable fashion designers from around the globe. The annual Undress Runways events serve to educate, to inspire and to encourage Australian consumers to value sustainable fashion, and the team behind the scenes is committed to making a difference.
“Things need to change.” This is a phrase at the forefront of the company. Undress Runways believe we, as consumers, have the power to set new standards for the fashion industry by examining the practices of our favourite labels. Creating the change is also about involvement, education, and engagement, which is why Undress Runways now hosts annual events in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Showcasing sustainable daywear, eveningwear, swimwear and lingerie from national and international designers, featuring everything from bamboo underwear to red wine and turmeric dyed garments, recycled accessories and organic fabrics.
Planting the seed, Undress Runways encourages fashion enthusiasts to think twice about the long-term impacts of the fashion industry, and to consider sustainable fashion choices. By combining the ‘fashionable’ aspect of a runway event with the topic of sustainability, Undress Runways are taking a green step in the right direction. “I think ethical and sustainable fashion still has a very ‘un-cool’ stigma attached to it in certain circles and there is also a general lack of education amongst young people who are starting to shop. We want the tables to turn and the term ‘sustainable fashion’ to disappear; it should just be ‘fashion’ and the other stuff should be ‘sweatshop fashion’ or ‘cheap and nasty fashion’. It is slowly getting better in Australia, but ‘fashion’ generally isn’t recognised as a big contributor to climate change, however it is the second-most polluting industry in the world. Government and industry groups are starting to realise that fashion is fuelled by diminishing resources like cotton, and run-off is polluting our planet, but we are still behind a lot of European countries in making the change.”
Although Edda is an advocate for sustainability now, working in fashion wasn’t something she dreamt of as a child. Born in Iceland, Edda grew up travelling the world, moving onto a 48-foot yacht with her family when she was five years old to travel around the world. Sailing around Rome, Italy, and through the Mediterranean, down the coast of Africa, across the Atlantic, up the East Coast of America, back down the Panama Canal, over the Pacific Ocean and through the Pacific Islands, Edda ended up in Australia. “We settled on the Gold Coast. I spent my teens growing up in the Bonogin Valley, on a beautiful big acreage property. I was very active, I did a lot of sport and was I well behaved in school, but I was a bit of a chatterbox in class. With all the travelling I did when I was young, I had all sorts of ideas about what I wanted to do when I grew up; doctor, actress, astronaut, director, princess… I was 12 when I decided I wanted to organise events as a career, the Olympic Games in particular. I started working in fashion on a whim. I wanted to do something challenging and interesting, so I organised a fashion show with a friend called ‘Frock It!’, showcasing the Queensland University of Technology fashion students. After that, I got together with a couple of friends and launched Undress Brisbane.”
When Edda looks back at the launching years, her feelings are balanced between nostalgia and frustration. It’s not easy starting a business in the fashion industry, especially on a whim. Edda’s Masters in Business/Marketing certainly helped, but she put the puzzle pieces together herself, learning about fashion shows on the fly, how they work, what they’re for, fashion jargon, what works and what doesn’t on the runway – it all came naturally, but not easily. “During the first 12 months, I was working a fulltime job, so the hardest factor evolved around time and not having enough of it. It can be extremely stressful working full-time and trying to launch a business. You feel like you’re not performing 100% at anything because your energy and time are so divided, it can be really frustrating.”
The sheer size and complexity of the touring Undress Runways events seem so monumental that most event managers would shudder, but Edda assures me that the process is organic, structured chaos. She refers to herself as both organised and unorthodox, but with years of experience and ten fashion shows under her belt now, each cog has its place behind the scenes. The team operates in an unconventional way though, primarily run by volunteers who have normal 9-5 day jobs, but the results always outweigh the late nights, early mornings and long lists. “I had no fashion background before Undress so everything has been created very intuitively and collaboratively. Undress’ goal is of course to produce amazing shows and to work hard to promote our designers, but I also heavily invest into the internal team experience. It’s important that the experience is fun, interesting and meaningful for the team. Being volunteer-run can often make Undress look like organised chaos from the outside, but it is actually a very smoothly-oiled machine with an excellent sense of humour.”
A celebrated success now, Undress Runways remains an organic, personal experience for all involved, and because each location’s event only happens once a year, it doesn’t feel like a usual ‘job’ for Edda. “It doesn’t have the same rhythm and routine like many conventional businesses. It has a really unique feel; it feels more like a family of friends getting together to organise an event that we really believe in – rather than a day job. I am passionate about people living responsibly and businesses existing with a worldly purpose and a healthy bottom line (not just profit). I want to show people that there is a better way to enjoy fashion and that businesses have the power to create positive change in society.”
It’s a big goal, but an attainable goal for Edda. Being somewhat of an adrenaline-junkie, the transition from Undress Brisbane to the expansion of Undress Runways – which now sees three shows in three cities in just over three weeks each year – is an immense commitment, but a worthy commitment. With the blood, sweat and tears that go into each event, she does sometimes question what’s she’s doing with her life, but the end result and good times with the team always snap her back to reality. Edda labels the before and after, the ‘pre-runway-superhuman-season’ and the ‘post-runway-sloth-season’, both which take a good few weeks time to recover from.
The 2015 Melbourne event is one of Edda’s favourites to date, and the most successful. With a team on the ground locally, the lead up was a lot smoother too. “This year we had a team in Melbourne which was amazing, it makes such a difference having a local team when we’re doing interstate shows. The set design was also new. Ryan, our Art Director, was inspired by the connection between our clothes and climate change. He created a floating set of biospheres to make a connection between fashion and the earth’s delicate ecosystem. We picked locations with a lots of space and high ceilings this year so we could have a long runway and go to town on the set.”
Although the events only run across three weeks of the year, planning occurs year round for Undress Runways. “Every week is different, every day is different. Before the tour, a week would include photo-shoots, planning, logistics, writing for the website, partner meetings, interviews, training interns, writing for The Naked Mag, team meetings and sourcing everything from paper-clips to marquees. Today, I woke up, had a meeting, edited a short video, wrote a video brief, answered emails, paid invoices, worked on an event proposal… There’s never a dull moment when it comes to sustainable fashion.”
Edda is also working on the fourth edition of The Naked Magazine, a publication that promotes Undress Runways and sustainability, offering an insight into the behind-the-scenes action of the fashion industry. The Naked Magazine is informative and it’s all about the impact that fashion has on the environment. Filled with educational pieces on the unethical treatment of fashion workers, The Naked Magazine exposes the blurred lines between designers and production; some of it is confronting, but only through acknowledgement will we ever make the change. The Naked Magazine also shares entertaining and insightful interviews about people making positive changes in the fashion industry through their products and practices, and it features people who are paving the way for sustainable fashion design. With the third edition of The Naked Magazine currently on sale, the fourth edition is in the pipeline for September 2016.
2016 is set to be a big year for Edda too, with the January launch of VIHN, a sustainable fashion label that it determined to transform the garment industry. The word VIHN is derived from the Icelandic word meaning ‘friend’, reminding people that there are actually people, friends, behind our clothes. Sales from VIHN will also make a difference. “Buy a VIHN dress, and you provide child-care to the workers. Buy a VIHN jacket, and you add solar panels to the workspace. Buy a VIHN shirt and you fund education programs for the workers. We want to create opportunities for mainstream garment workers to move into ethical workplaces, and transform their lives.”
With the shows, the magazine and the label churning year round, one would assume that the spare time of such a busy woman would be spent relaxing, but not for Edda. “I visit my family a lot in the Bonogin Valley; my sister just finished high-school, my other sister is in grade 8 and I have twin siblings who are 11. I’m also getting back into running the Kangaroo Point stairs with my housemates (ouch!) and I’m spending a bit of time on a new event to launch next year.”
When you’re working on something you love, it’s not work, and this saying is true for Edda. Her vision and passion remain focused on educating the consumer and changing the lives of people in the fashion industry, from developing countries, factories and workspaces, to the general public and of course, the front row of Australian runways.
The Fashion Advocate x