Conversations + Colour: Kari Vallury
This week we travel to Adelaide (we wish) and meet with the effervescent and intelligent Kari Vallury - founder of SlowClothes, reproductive health & rights researcher and advocate, avid composter and gardener, and all-round excellent person.
We get to chat about how Kari fell in love with ethical fashion - why it's important to her, how she founded Slowclothes with a light-bulb moment, how to deal with the overwhelm, she shares her tips on starting small - and lets us in on what her favourite vintage item in her wardrobe is. Plus so much more.
Packed full of life, reassuringly genuine, and passionate - we're delighted to introduce you to Kari.
Kari Vallury, tell us who you are and what you want us to know about you: I’m just your everyday greenie, lefty, feminist (I like to start with that, and let people know there’s no point attempting to use such terms as insults!).
I am a huge dag*, an empath, pretty anxious, and try to be super authentic in all aspects of my life. I’m ¾ of my way through a PHD in public health, work by day as reproductive health and rights researcher and advocate, and by night (sounds dodgy I know) my passion as a slow fashion lover and educator comes to life.
I’ve finally found work in two of my dream careers and things just feel right, you know?! I also have a four year old ratbag who is utterly glorious, a groodle called Chini and a husband who I don’t see nearly enough. So life’s just chill, you know?!
Where do you live and why do you love it? We live in the foothills south of Adelaide in an eco house (which we don’t really know how to operate properly so it’s a bit less eco than when we moved in) with our dog and chickens. It’s a compromise between the hills and green that I crave, and the city and the socialising my husband needs. The garden is mainly productive, although the chooks ate my entire winter veggie crop but I’m hopeful for the summer seedlings I’m planting today!
How did you start SlowClothes? Slowclothes sparked from a lightbulb moment on the couch one day, when I realised my training in public health and human rights and love of beautiful clothes went gloriously together. I knew (and still know) next to nothing about business, so I enrolled in a small biz course and launched in-home events (kind of like Tupperware parties for ethical fashion, a bit of education and a bit of shopping!) and brought a range of independent ethical and sustainable labels to markets around Adelaide. Within eight months the store moved online, but I have always been most passionate about face-to-face retail and the education side of it all. Talking in schools, at community events and on panels brings me MUCH joy – helping people join the rabbithole that is more planet and human-friendly consumption and lifestyles makes me happy!
Why is ethical fashion so important to you? Ooooh there’s so many reasons. Firstly, it’s a no brainer for a feminist engaged in human rights and sustainability work. Ethics in fashion is very much a gendered and an equity issue; most of the global and lowest paid parts of the fashion workforce are women.
I’ve also found fashion is the most wonderful tool to bring people into conversations about big picture, ‘serious’ issues like climate change and gender inequality. It’s beautiful and makes us feel good, and is a ‘soft entry’ for many into the world of sustainability and human rights..
Also, I just reeeeeally like beautiful clothes. As a child I remember that when Mum bought clothes or shoes (even though we never had lots of spare $ for these things) they were the best she could afford, Italian leather and the likes, and she constantly had them mended and wore them to death. So I grew up with an innate love of artisanship. Apparently a love of beautiful things is biological, so that helps me feel less frivolous talking about clothes all the time!
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to thinking how we could be doing better for the planet. What’s a good starting point? I feel overwhelmed all the time – it’s really a rollercoaster – feel empowered, feel powerless, feel …. You get the idea!
Start small and try to make sustainable changes. It took me three years to finally commit to having a compost bin in our kitchen, but once I started I haven’t stopped. Add one little thing at a time, over the years you’ll have totally changed the way you live.
I absolutely believe in the power of collective individuals to change the world. When we work together, whether that’s to reduce consumption or lobby governments, we are strong. But I think it’s also important to recognise that while our individual actions are important, we exist in systems – political, social, cultural, economic – that dictate and constrain our behaviour and impacts significantly. I use this understanding both to be kind to myself when I fail to do little things I know I should be doing (like remembering my reusable coffee cup every day), but also to remind myself that getting political and activist is one of the MOST valuable things I can do.
Whatever you are doing, whether it’s parenting children, working in an office or a salon, there will always be opportunities to make small changes.
What’s the oldest piece of clothing in your wardrobe? Ooooh it would have to be an epic brass leopard belt that was Mum’s from, I’m guessing, the 80s?! Most of my clothes are pretty new, however, as I’ve put on a decent amount of Covid weight and my new curves don’t fit into anything I used to love and wear.
What do you look for when you’re shopping? And do you have a different approach to shopping personally than for your store? More than ever I appreciate versatility – both in design (something that can be worn as a jacket and a dress, for example) as well as size (elasticated and drawstring waistbands, etc) so pieces can move with me as my weight fluctuates and get as much wear as possible. (This is on top of ethical and sustainable production!).
The store (which I’m having a break from the retail side at the moment) and the brands I support on social was/are essentially an extension of my own wardrobe. I only work with brands that were/are deeply values-driven. While I will sometimes personally buy from labels that aren’t quite as ethical if I know they’re making meaningful changes to improve their practices, for Slowclothes I work with labels I consider to be gold standard in terms of ethics and sustainability. They don’t have to be perfect of course, but they have to be honest and trying gosh damn hard in as many aspects of ethics and sustainability as they can. I get to know the owners/designers and trust my intuition as much of the time, small brands can’t afford the more trustworthy certifications, or are doing amazing things that are hard to quantify.
Biggest fashion myth? That fashion is frivolous. It’s gosh dang serious and something we should ALL be talking and learning about.
Who inspires you? Everyone who is trying to do their little bit to make the world better within the madness of their everyday lives and of the world. It’s a hard slog – you all inspire me so much!
What’s been a career highlight to date? Hitting the GST threshold was massive for me as a business. I (believe) I am sooo bad with finances and never thought I’d get Slowclothes to that point, so it helped me believe in my own capabilities.
When I worked with the United Nations Population Fund I got to go on a work trip to Mongolia and sat with some incredible women in a yurt trying to work out how to make a sexual health program more effective. Epic.
Favourite toasted sandwich set up? I’m currently on Fodmap – a crazy diet – so toasted sandwiches are a no go. But imagining I didn’t have a ridiculously grumpy belly it’d have to involve goats cheese, caramelised onion, avocado and some kind of pulled meat (this environmentalist ain’t vego anymore, despite a decade of vegetarianism before it was ‘a thing’ I gave it a red hot go).
At a dinner party I am likely to be… Super socially anxious, but unable to help myself getting into an argument about politics or feminism (woops). I don’t drink, but if it goes late enough I’ll pretend I’m tipsy to justify the inevitable twerking.
Favourite Little Tienda piece? They’re all my faves, but the most worn would have to be my epic oversized cardis. I have two now and they go with EVERYTHING, from jeans to cocktail attire (at least I pretend they do and wear them everywhere).
Someone you really love to show up in your instagram feed? At the moment I have to say I LOVE seeing gorgeous slow-living influencer from NZ Dani Duncan in my feed. She brings me the most joy and realness. I adore her vibe, her honesty about all things, her boundaries, and use of colour.
If Covid and money were no issue - where would you be sending us a postcard from today? I’d be in the Dominican Republic in a town called Las Terrenas, sipping fresh (virgin) Pina Coladas and dancing bachata on the beach. Not sure I’d have time to send a post-card but I’d try.
Song that makes you want to dance? Anything Latin or with a reggaeton beat – I was a Latin Dancer for MANY years and I can’t NOT dance when I hear Latin beats.
Tell us - what’s coming up next for you and Slow Clothes? Honestly, I’m super keen to finish my bloomin’ PhD so I can invest some heartspace into learning to sew, getting Slowclothes to reach its potential as an education and empowerment platform, maybe get back into dancing a bit and of course keep the reproductive health and rights advocacy going strong. Oh, and the second the borders open I’ll be getting out of here for a while (no offence Aussieland, I do love you, but…) 😊