Anna-Louise Howard started her career as a Fine Art Photographer travelling the world taking photos of the planet and, tragically, the pollution that riddles it.
It was when a large oil company offered Anna Louise a six figure sum for the rights to a series of photos she’d taken, that she decided it was time to change paths, and start making a difference from the inside.
“I didn’t want to be using the environmental work I do to help the very people who are causing the crisis. I realised that nobody was listening at this end, so the question became: what can I do to get to the beginning of the chain, to make a change from the starting point, and show that there’s a better way to be doing things, a way that doesn’t result in a huge amount of carbon emissions, pollution and a human toll.”
We spoke with Anna-Louise about her journey from photographer to founder, and her thoughts on how technology can be harnessed for good.
“I’ve always been a bit of a greenie, for as long as I can remember I’ve cared about the environment in a way that a lot of people don’t seem to. I started working as an environmental landscape photographer in my twenties, and through that work I was exposed first-hand to the pollution crisis, a crisis that comes from everything we do: not just specific industries, but daily life, the structures that make up our existence.”
“I would exhibit my work in different galleries and spaces, and I really believed that through that work I could make a difference. I would invite all of the right people to the shows, to spread the message that this was a crisis that needs to be resolved, but the message didn’t seem to be getting through. One of my biggest shows was called “cause and effect”, based on the premise that for every action we take there is a necessary reaction. I wanted to educate people, to spread the message that we need to change our actions to build a better ecosystem, and then there came a really critical moment for me: a big oil company was in trouble, and they wanted to use one of my series’ to put a positive spin on their oil spill. That was where the fork in the road became quite clear: the agent that I had just wanted me to sell the work, and even my friends and family were telling me to just do it. For me though, it didn’t feel right, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to make the change I wanted to make through the work I was doing.”
“I’d photographed a lot of industries through my work, and with the knowledge I had, mining was at the top of the list in terms of industries I wanted to change. Not far down the list was the fashion industry, and I realised there was potential there for me to be an example of what can be achieved, and how companies can function in a way that promotes a more positive future.”
“From that I started All Myn: my first venture in the fashion industry. Within that business I created the Farm to Hanger collection, a collection which embodied everything that I stood for. It is a traceable, transparent supply chain, with an environmental ethos built into every element of the collection. I realised that that’s where my heart is, so I decided to build an entire company around that ethos.”
“And this was at a time that sustainability really wasn’t popular – other people in the industry told me to stop making waves, to accept the way things were done. That just added fuel to my fire, and I realised I needed to learn by myself, so I went to fashion school, and I started to build Farm To Hanger from my garage.”
“I moved my life and my business from Sydney to Daylesford in Victoria, because this is the home of permaculture, and the first customers of Farm To Hanger came from here: they understood what the brand was about, they understood what sustainability meant, and they appreciated what i was trying to achieve.”
“It’s the way we operate as a business and as individuals that really sets Farm To Hanger apart from other brands: sustainable, conscious living is integrated into every element of the business, and every element of our lives. We grow our vegetables and compost our food on site, we have rainwater tanks and solar panels – we make sure that we live and work in a way that’s harmonious with nature. Then there’s the social impact of our business: we employ local people, train them up and increase their skill-set. We want to prove that manufacturing hubs don’t have to be city-based. COVID demonstrated how, spatially, we don’t have to be creating pollution by packing manufacturing centres into urban spaces – we can reduce the environmental impact by spreading them out and embracing alternative approaches to infrastructure, approaches that don’t have the ramifications that high density industrialisation has.”
When we asked Anna-Louise to share her tips for business owners, she told us it’s about going above and beyond, and considering how you can take one step further towards sustainability.
“Research where everything comes from: don’t rely on labelling, do your own research and ask yourself if there’s a better alternative.”
“Embrace new approaches: technology has come so far, and there are so many developments we can embrace that minimise our environmental impact.”
“Look at the space you’ve taking up, and consider how you can make it healthier for your staff: just putting plants in the office can make a huge difference, we have a waterfall next door, and our windows overlook the vegetable garden that one of our team members, Karen, has just picked her lunch from”
“Believe in your impact: it was in pursuit of creating a business that has the lowest possible impact that we created Farm To Hanger, and every part of the business had to be scrutinised to answer the question: is this the best that we can do?”
To learn more about the work that Anna-Louise does at her sustainable clothing label Farm To Hanger, visit her website farmtohanger.com
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