After living and working in New York for six years with two children and a break from fashion, Jade Sarita Arnott returned to Australia and the industry.
Relaunching Arnsdorf in 2017, she made sure the label's come back would take a more transparent and sustainable approach.
“When I returned to Australia, everyone was asking if it also meant Arnsdorf would be returning too and the timing felt right to relaunch the brand, but in a new way.
“The Rana Plaza collapse had a huge impact on me. I had already stepped away from the industry and had never manufactured in Bangladesh, however I felt such grief for the lives lost and the devastation.
“I made a decision if I was going to return to manufacturing, I wanted to have total transparency and traceability over my supply chain.”
As part of its new business model, Arnott set up a factory in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood where machinists are paid above award wage and provided with a safe working environment.
The whole production process takes place in the factory from start to finish.
“Myself, a sample machinist and the patternmaker work closely together to develop new styles.
“Once we have had our final fitting and quality test we move onto production.
“Manufacturing in-house allows us to cut small batches and respond swiftly to customer demand.
“We will often only cut one of each size to test in store before committing to a bigger production run.”
She explained that this small batch manufacturing allows the brand to manage its carbon footprint, as does manufacturing within a close radius to the stores as opposed to overseas.
The brand opts for sea freight over air freight where possible, ships online orders in compostable bags made from cornstarch and wraps each product in recycled tissue paper.
“We are mindful in the factory of our energy consumption and use a green provider,” she added.
“At Arnsdorf we are continually looking for steps to help reduce our carbon footprint.”
The brand opened its first boutique on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy in December 2017 and another on Chapel Street in South Yarra in October 2018.
This year it plans to open a third Melbourne store and its first Sydney store.
In a bid to ensure longevity of its products, all of its stores offer alterations, it offers free lifetime repairs and it never goes on sale, Arnott explained.
“All our stores provide our alteration services where we train our retail stylists to pin garments and measure our clients, with most having a background in garment construction.
“We feel offering this kind of service allows our customers to purchase pieces that fit them perfectly, which in turn increases the length of time they have the garment as it becomes a staple in their wardrobe.
“We also offer free repairs for the lifetime of Arnsdorf garments and want to encourage our clients to have long term relationships with our products as well as offering excellent service.”
The brand only uses sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton, hemp, Belgian linen, silk, wool and recycled fabrics for its products.
It sources deadstock fabrics as well and works only with mills that specialise in sustainable and ethical practices.
Last year, it received its Ethical Clothing Australia certification and is currently in the process of obtaining its B-Corp Certification.
Arnott explained that the process for both is very thorough and involves being audited.
“For ECA, the process is very thorough, the whole business is audited to see if it complies legally with wages, benefits, health and safety obligations of the building, etc.
“Every person who is connected to the business from contractors to our internal staff are investigated to see if conditions are appropriate.
“This includes stat decs and face-to-face interviews.
“For B Corp, much of the same processes are assessed as well as the focus being on our environmental impact as a business and our contribution to social justice.
“This includes a lot of paperwork and interviews.”
She has placed a huge emphasis on transparency in the business to both educate consumers and gain their trust.
“The world has changed and the rise of the conscious consumer is now upon us.
“Transparency builds trust with customers and prompts businesses to be accountable for their decision making and have greater scrutiny of their supply chain.
“We are constantly being bombarded by garments and advertising from fast fashion retailers with retail prices that are well below that of ethical make prices, so transparency provides an opportunity for sharing information and educating the wider community, particularly those not part of the manufacturing industry about how much it actually costs to make a garment ethically in Australia from sustainable fabrics.
“We made the decision to disclose the price breakdown of all our products to further inform our customers to start questioning the extremely low price-points of clothing.
“If we are going to change the way the industry works, we need to be actively challenging consumers to look on the back of the label, to ask the right questions and to align their values with their purchases.”
Since relaunching, it has never been on sale and this an important decision for Arnott in building a brand based around sustainability.
“The sales culture and markdowns are a real concern in terms of sustainability.
“It's this constant cycle of oversupply that leads to firstly inflated prices to account for inevitable markdowns.
“After a few months, product loses half if not all its value and retailers are faced with unwanted stock.
“In our business to date since we re-launched almost two years ago, we have not gone on sale or marked down stock.
“We have a core range that is available continuously and seasonal ranges we treat more like limited edition rather than something that loses all its value oat the end of the season.”
As part of its ongoing commitment to sustainable and ethical practice, the brand also donates 2% of its revenue to funding women in developing countries to gain new skills that can help them to start their own businesses.
It also has implemented a system to manage its fabric scraps and wastage.
“We recently did a collaboration with Nelson Made shoes where we supplied our silk velvet offcuts and they were used to create a slide for us.
“Currently, we donate our offcuts to arts organisations but we're looking for more closed loop options of recycling into another product.”
This year it will also partner with ethical and sustainable online retailer Well Made Clothes to release a limited selection of pieces for the online store.