Meet Kari Vallury
This week we introduce Kari Vallury to the Little Tienda team.
Kari is someone we greatly admire. We've chatted with Kari back in 2021 - you may remember her. Founder of SlowClothes, reproductive health and rights researcher and advocate, avid composter and gardener and a highly insightful, intelligent woman who knows a lot about.. a lot. We say this as a grand understatement.
We've invited Kari to come onboard each season to share a post about a range of topics that are close to her heart - and we're deeply interested in. We hope you are too.
Where better to start? This month Kari shares a little about herself and how she came to be where she is right now. We hope you'll join us on this new adventure.
What do echidnas, Co2 and clothes have in common? Among other things… me.
I was in primary school, year 5. We were asked to do an assignment on our choice of animal, and I chose the echidna.
I’m not at all sure why. I’ve always been a lover of the odd, the quirky, the things others weren’t into. Maybe that was it. It’s certainly at least partly why, two decades later, I find myself working as an abortion researcher.
Mum whipped out a VCR. A documentary she’d had some hand in making. It told the story of two scientists who ran a world-class research centre, studying echidnas and goannas. I wrote them a letter.
Annual echidna-tracking trips became my joy. We’d walk and track and talk and walk, and I’d never get bored, always waiting for the prize at the end: finding an echidna, checking its pouch, weighing and recording details.
Being the only person I knew who could pick up an echidna without getting pricked became my ‘party’ trick.
One day, standing over a termite mound, watching a goanna do its thing, I was told that termites were able to live in the mounds in spite of their Co2 levels, which were way higher than humans could tolerate. If we could just figure out how they did it, perhaps we could help humanity to survive.
I hadn’t heard of climate change back then. I became deeply aware, however, that the wellbeing of the planet and humanity were intrinsically linked. That we were one.
I’m not sure at what point I diverged from my obsession with nature. Perhaps it was my #metoo moment. Or perhaps it was when I was attended a World Vision camp in high school, learnt how to ‘twerk’ (long story) and became inspired to run the 40 Hour Famine at school (remember that?!). It was certainly at least a little bit ‘white saviour complex’.
Slowly but surely, I very much came to care about the plight of humanity, of women, and of the oppressed. While I deeply despise the innate greed in so many humans, I despise injustice even more.
And so I went deep into the rabbit hole of social justice, studying international public health, living, travelling and loving life in a range of what you might call ‘low income’ countries. Learning I had less to give than I did to learn and gain.
As you’d expect, all of this study and travel cost money. I finally scored a job in retail, which I’d wanted for ages (though nobody in my life, including me, quite knew why). In one position, working with a high-end sportswear label, I offered my services to their ‘planet and people’-type team. I was studying sustainable development and figured I could work with them to help understand and improve their labour and social practices. I was naïve. I asked and asked (and asked) for details about their factories and working conditions. “Stop asking questions”, I was told. I promptly quit. And learnt I’m not great at towing the ‘party line’ if the party line is to make profits at the expense of people or the planet.
Defiance may just be my super power.
At the ripe young age of 25 I won my dream position with the United Nations Population Fund. The Australian Government’s aid program sent me to a UN regional head office to ‘build their capacity’. I did very little of that, but I did have some of the most defining moments of my career and life. Inevitably, though, I followed love back to Australia.
Along with finding myself married, I also, quite unexpectedly, found my way back to nature. It was discovering sustainable fashion that did it.
I only learnt about sustainable fashion 6 years ago. When I did, I felt so silly. I lived in a family of environmentalists and studied international development, but had no clue fashion was an ethical issue. I promptly attempted to single handedly buy all the ethical fashion I could to support independent ethical labels. (Hint: not a recommended way to support sustainability in fashion). More productively, perhaps, I soon dreamt up Slowclothes. I’d finally found a way to bring together my deep drive to contribute to righting injustices and helping to protect and restore our natural world. It felt so…. me!
When I first started my little ethical fashion education biz, people in my life were confused. Much in the same way people get confused when I talk about politics on my fashion-focused social media page. It can seem random. Frivolous even. What does fashion have to do with public health? Social justice? Feminism? (Another hint: Everything!)
Over the last few years I’ve learnt that, as well as just being super fun and very beautiful (I like pretty things), fashion can also be a really gentle way to bring people into conversations about feminism, climate change, science, social justice and public health. It takes but a tiny spark to start a fire in someone’s belly.
Happily, I’ve finally let go of (most of) my embarrassment at finding so much joy in clothes. Fashion isn’t frivolous. It’s political. (She tells herself as she buys another oversized frock under the covers at midnight. I never did say I’m perfect…).
Along with going on about slow fashion to everyone who will listen, and raising a four (going on fourteen) year old, I now spend my days researching abortion stigma for my (nearly finished, I swear mum!) PhD, and working as a reproductive rights researcher and advocate for Australia’s most incredible community organization (IMO). It’s always the prickly, the less trodden path with me. (Did you know, reproductive rights and gender inequality also have plenty to do with climate change?!)
Annnnd of course, I now find myself here. The beautiful Em and her team here at Little Tienda have invited me in to write for you over the next few months about some of the interconnectedness of fashion, nature and social justice. Which is almost as fun as cuddling echidnas 😊
So I’ll see you back here soon. And thanks for indulging me as I’ve introduced myself.