We chat with Leah-Jane Musch (aka The Unmaterial Girl)
She’s a former fast fashion addict turned slow fashion activist. When she’s not struggling with buttons at Billy Blue College of Design, where she studies a Bachelor of Branded Fashion Design, Leah is sharing her love of ethical and sustainable fashion with her followers on her blog and Instagram.
I catch up with Leah over Skype on one of her rare days off from class, and she tells me about her fashion epiphany – the experience that convinced her to rethink her choices as a consumer.
“Watching The True Cost - I was so upset. It made me really inspired and angry – it was just the most powerful documentary I’d ever seen. That was when the penny really dropped. Then I watched Minimalism, and the whole idea of having less stuff spurred me on to start my blog.”
On her blog, The Unmaterial Girl, Leah writes about events she attends, shares tips on being a more sustainable consumer, features products and brands, and occasionally also showcases her own work as a fashion student. I ask Leah about her degree, and what makes it unique.
“It’s not just focused on fashion design, where you’re pattern-making and sewing and designing. You’re also doing all your branding in terms of graphic design, business cards, your swing tags, your website, what your brand is about, where you fit in the market. If you actually want to go out there and start your own fashion label, you are equipped with all the tools that you need to do it yourself. You’re skilled in every area from sewing the dress to making the swing tag – it’s a very well-rounded course, I’ve really loved it”.
Going through design school has given Leah a new appreciation for who made her clothes, for the craft and skill that goes into creating a garment.
“Once you start making your own clothes, you love them even when there’s something wrong with them. You love them because you know how much effort and time went into them, and you’ll wear it even when it’s not perfect.
"Then it really doesn’t matter about what it looks like at all – you’re just happy that you put it together, and it’s staying on. Sewing is such a skill – I respect anyone who knows how to sew.”
Leah explains how she doesn’t take her personal style too seriously, and instead focuses on making the creative process enjoyable.
“I always want what I design to be cool and fun and comfortable, but I often make things that come out very girly, which is not a bad thing, but I want to make something edgier. I’m not afraid to do something that’s a little bit edgy or weird, especially if it’s funny. Weird textures, weird design details that catch my attention. A good example of this is a vintage jacket I found in Milan, I spun it around and the whole back was just silver tinsel, it came out of nowhere and it was just so cool, I just had to buy it, it was such a surprise”.
It is these surprise elements that make Leah fall in love with a piece of clothing. But after studying the industry and its pitfalls, the secondary element of story and traceability has become an essential component of her decision making.
“The context of that piece of clothing is what makes me really love it. Knowing where, how and who it was made by – all those things make me really appreciate something”.
But being a slow fashion activist isn’t all free clothes and accolades, especially in a world where people don’t want to be told what to think, let alone that their actions may be causing suffering or environmental damage.
“I’m often met with apathy – people just think the world is too far gone and you can’t really do anything about what’s happening in fashion or consumerism or capitalism. The other side of the spectrum is people who enjoy throwing it back at you. I’ve always approached my blog as somebody who used to be a fast fashion addict – straight up saying that I was one of the worst offenders. Nonetheless, people have an expectation of you to be perfect and know everything, and the stigma of expected perfection is a huge problem”.
“It’s taught me to be really careful, on social media or Instagram – if I’m going to post something or collaborate with a brand I have to know everything about it. I have to be really strict and do a lot of research, and make sure I believe in what I’m posting.”
Being an influencer is also a full time gig, with an unrelenting cycle of content demanding daily creative energy.
“It’s a lot of hard work. I think about it 24/7, I plan my life around it, I always know when’s the perfect time to post, I’m always switched on. It’s definitely not as easy as people might think. My partner Jamie does all my photos – sometimes it takes us hours and we’re annoyed with each other and just want to get the photo done. And you might get the perfect photo but it doesn’t fit the feed – it’s just endless things you have to consider”.
Finally, I ask Leah’s advice for fast fashion addicts like her former self:
“Don’t give up! There are definitely small things you can do that will have an impact. Watch The True Cost and then start small, whether that’s challenging yourself to go op shopping or have a clothing swap with your friends. They’re amazing if you have no money – you can change your clothes and have a whole new wardrobe and it’s fun. If you’re up for it you can challenge yourself to make the thing that you’re wanting. Don’t give up because there’s always something that you can do”.
Interview by Fab Sosh Editorial Intern Jane Chen