What do you do if you’re committed to ethically made clothes but just can’t find the style you’re after? You start your own label of course!
If only we could all be as talented as Linda Smyth who has created a brand based on her favourite wardrobe basics.
Betty Browne is a Sydney (Marickville) made luxe everyday wear company started by Linda in 2013. She loved simple, comfortable yet with a slight edge everyday outfits – long sleeved shirts and t-shirt dresses in plain tones – whites, greys and black.
It now has 35 stockists around Australia and keeps a high quality, small range.
“I wanted to make clothes,” Linda says. “And I didn’t want to do it in a way that was bad for people, or in a way that meant I was making money from people who were not paid enough to live well and was damaging the environment. I’ve always been conscious of my impact and not exploiting other people.
“You do have a bit of guilt making stuff when there’s so much already around.”
Betty Browne began as a part time business and now Linda says she’s never worked so hard in her life and she keeps learning.
Competition is stiff and she’s seen many boutiques, likely outlets for her, close down, potentially as a result of cheaper, mass made, brands moving to Australia.
Home made and quietly ethical
Finding manufacturers in Australia was relatively easy and on top of that she’s sought Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation, which certifies that the clothes have been made using fair labour. The certifiers visit the factory and audit paperwork.
Linda, like other designers Sustainable Shopper has spoken to, say that despite our minimum wage rules, exploitation of workers who are under the radar is a problem in Australia’s fashion industry.
Despite few customers asking about the ethics of her production, the process is important for Linda’s peace of mind and proves that she’s above board but it’s not something she shouts from the rooftops in her marketing.
She wants the quality of the clothes to sell themselves. Linda is a fabulous designer with an eye for detail, who just also happens to be ethical.
The clothes are certified organic which is also not strongly promoted other than a summary of the benefits of organic cotton on her website.
To cover all bases the cotton yarn she uses is dyed using colour fast, eco dyes certified by Oeko-Tex (which tests for known harmful chemicals that might not be regulated) and knitted into single jersey fabric in Melbourne.
Look at the tee, not the tags
Linda says no one really checks the labels and only a few people have asked her about the materials, something she finds incredible.
Betty Browne doesn’t use organic logos on the clothes, the swing tags simply say the garment has been made with organic cotton.
Linda says, “Labelling is about balancing up between the shopper and shopper experience. You don’t want to go too far either way. If you have too many logos, it becomes about the logos and not the garment.
“I don’t know what’s right. I know all my customers are on a spectrum of caring and not caring about ethical manufacture. Some don’t like it just because it’s organic, they just like the style. The bulk of the audience perhaps just like the clothes.”
And there is a lot to like, the style is very basic wardrobe items that get a lot of wear.
Simple does it
“Betty Browne is clothes I feel I’m missing in my wardrobe. Simple aesthetic. Most days I wear a t-shirt – long sleeve or short sleeve and you can make it look easy and effortless. Stuff that’s got good building blocks and different types of jeans and jackets. Simple stuff. Skinny jeans and a loose top, jumper and a jacket.”
And don’t expect too many colours. Linda is going for effortless mix and match – her own wardrobe is black, white and striped. She also finds colours harder to sell and stores are reluctant to stocks colours, summer might be a little different, but not much.
Move over Betty
Many years ago Linda bought a cheap, 1950s mannequin, which had a heart on its (her) chest. She looked like a ‘Betty’ and so inspired the brand Betty Browne.
But Betty is moving aside to make way for a name that better reflects what the label has become. Next season Betty Browne becomes ‘bon’, which is French for good. “It’s a better representation of the brand. Parisian women wear basic clothes and they look good in them. I wanted to blend that style with Australian sensibility,” Linda says.
I’m sure Betty, dressed in a lovely certified organic, Australian made t-shirt dress, will look on approvingly as bon takes over in February 2016.
Where does Linda shop?
“I like Stella McCartney underwear because of her ethos. All my jeans are Nobody Denim or Nudie [which despite appearing men only do make jeans for women] and my jackets are made in New Zealand by ethical company Zambesi.”
Stay tuned for bon’s next collection which really does take such simple staple items such as long sleeved tops and t-shirts to the next level of sophistication and elegance.