Safa Itote and Desta Cullen are sisters with a shared passion for sustainable fashion and fair trade. They’re also the founders and designers behind Brisbane-based label The M|N|ML.
With backgrounds in journalism, marketing, fashion and design, and a lust for the perfect t-shirt and comfortable basics, the pair made a foray into ethical fashion.
“When we started to plan our brand in 2015 we found common ground in wanting to do things differently,” Cullen says.
“We felt that the fashion industry was in desperate need of a shake-up when it came to ethics and sustainability.”
The sisters found that there were limited options when it came to brands that had sustainability and ethical manufacturing at their core, and set out to make sustainable clothing more approachable – in both cost and aesthetic.
The M|N|ML’s original core range of organic cotton styles are made in Australia by an ethical production facility that’s Ethical Clothing Australia-accredited and the first Australian Certified Organic (ACO) cut-make-sew manufacturer in the world.
Other pieces are made in ethically accredited and fair trade manufacturers around the world in countries such as Bangladesh and India, and some are handmade in Brisbane.
The brand has also partnered with a social enterprise studio in Brisbane that assists refugee women in getting back to work and upskilling.
Based in Mt Gravatt, Mantua Sewing Studio is tasked with producing some styles that The M|N|ML doesn’t have the machinery and equipment for, bringing their skills and experience to the sewing table.
“It’s exactly the kind of relationship with our makers we always envisaged when we started the label,” Cullen says.
When it comes to the materials, The M|N|ML uses an assortment of natural fibres.
“We started working with GOTS-certified organic cotton as we wanted our styles to be breathable, biodegradable and comfortable,” Cullen says.
“We chose certified organic over conventional since it’s free of harmful pesticides and herbicides, and the crops are grown with fewer negative environmental impacts.
“Transeasonality is another important factor in how we select fabrics – we like fabrics and textiles that have a bit of substance to them so they can be worn alone or layered and matched with other pieces throughout the year.”
The pair have also used linen in their collections and experimented with blended fabrics such as hemp and recycled poly.
Rather than using a ‘design, source fabric, sample’ cycle typical in clothing design, The M|N|ML let the fabric inform and inspire the design through its attributes and values.
“It’s changed the pace and how we create, but it’s a process much more in line with our slow and conscious consumption ethos,” Cullen says.
“We’re shifting to more of a slow fashion style of production where we’ll outsource some small-scale runs of styles and make others in house.
“We’re hoping this will allow us to have a bit more flexibility in design and creativity. Our plan is to start using more deadstock and one-off fabrics we find in op shops.”
In an effort to reduce waste in their collections, The M|N|ML focuses on small-scale production to avoid huge amounts of leftover stock.
“We’re working towards circularity, so we’re currently conducting our own sustainability audit to improve our processes and look at how we can move forward in the most planet-friendly way,” Cullen says.
“The weaving mill of our Belgian linen supplier is certified carbon-neutral and runs completely off renewable energy, with the organic linen GOTS-certified from field to fabric.
“We keep offcuts to repurpose and reuse – so far we’ve made shirred tops, scrunchies and headbands and we have other accessories like earrings, jewellery, homewares and other clothing in the works.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that The M|N|ML garments are not seasonal. On the contrary, they’re for people who value well-made clothing that’s designed to last – people who like basic/minimal dressing, with a touch of luxe.
Sound like you? Find out more about the brand and shop here.