The founders of Terra on the connection between self care and sustainable style

Style philosophies are generally a personal thing, but speaking with the sister duo behind Australian clothing label Terra, I was introduced to one that can be applied by everyone: love yourself.


It might sound like a slogan more suited to a diamante tracksuit than a handmade hemp dress, but I think that’s the point. As Em and Kel explained “Once you really know and love yourself, you trust that you can make the right decision: you know your own style and you only buy what you need, rather than having a wardrobe filled with sustainable options that you never actually wear.”


The main takeaway from my conversation with these impressive, powerful sisters is that we need to take our emotional understanding that extra step. Rather than just looking for clothes that are “sustainably made” we need to really understand what each step in that “sustainable” process means. Rather than just looking for clothes that are “stylish”, we need to understand our own personal style, so that the clothes we own are a reflection of who we are. Rather than simply being inspired by nature, we need to be motivated to protect it – more than earthy tones, this means choosing fibres that come into (and eventually leave, if they must) our wardrobe without harming the planet in the process. This commitment to fully interrogating their decisions is evidenced by everything the team at Terra do: small batch clothing made to order, using 100% compostable materials, sold alongside prints, teas and scents which encourage and inspire slow, compassionate introspection.


I asked Kel and Em about the decision to rebrand from Folktribe Clothing to Terra The Label, and they explained:


“Sustainability has always been our number one priority, and it still is, but moving in to Terra we wanted to explore the self love movement, and empower people to explore who they really are and how they’re connected to the earth. I think once we understand that it’s easier to live a more conscious lifestyle, and that contributes to sustainable fashion. So many people when they’re talking about sustainable fashion just seem to focus on the fibres and processes, which are obviously so important, but if we’re just excessively consuming – regardless of whether the things we’re buying are sustainably made – it’s still not solving anything,”.


While hand-making beautiful, 100% compostable clothing is still at the core of Kel and Em’s business, making the change from Folktribe to Terra saw them launch a new range of Gaia-inspired gifts (including a ritual oil blend and packs of organic incense. I ask about the inspiration behind what they do, and they explain that it’s nature all the way.


“Growing up in the Grampians, there was always such an innate connection for us with the environment. When you’re running a sustainable clothing brand, it’s easy to get a bit distracted by the facts and the figures around sustainable fashion, which are super important, but we’re kind of missing the connection aspect of it. We are truly connected and we need to recognise that our bodies and ecosystems and the environment are all part of one bigger picture. When we make that connection it all comes together, style makes more sense because it’s a creative expression of connection, rather than being fact-driven endeavour,”.


Although neither of the founders studied fashion, their understanding of design was organically born out of experience and exploration: Kel worked at Ink and Spindle, Em’s study of architecture exposed her to the universal principles of design, and creativity has been part of their lifestyle since day one.


“When we grew up our mum was just a whizz on the sewing machine, she was constantly sewing everything for us: costumes, dresses, anything. Growing up connected to nature, always having creative people around us really compounded the idea that nature and creativity are connected. We had a lot of freedom when we were kids: we had 40 acres which backed on to a national park, so we were out there trying to make things out of sticks and clay. We had full freedom and were always encouraged to be creative, and we tend to do everything together so joining forces on this project was a natural progression for us,”.


I ask Kel and Em about their tips for building a sustainable wardrobe, and they reiterate that sustainable style is a matter of knowing and loving who you are:


“I think what we’ve really been trying to express through our brand (and this is part and parcel with the rebrand) is definitely the connection with self love and that softer, more feminine approach. Knowing yourself, nurturing yourself and really going easy on yourself: that’s how you can build a wardrobe that you love. And having genuine love for yourself necessarily results in living with more love and care for your environment,”.

Kel & Em, Terra founders

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