Meet Zuhal Kuvan Mills. A former veterinary surgeon and university lecturer dedicated to protecting animal rights and environmental issues who started her own eco fashion label Green Embassy to spread her message. I went down to Houghton Wineries in the Swan Valley to preview the ‘Silent Rainforest’ Bridal Collection and chat with Zuhal about her journey from the farm to the runways.
GW: What is eco fashion?
Zuhal : There is a misconception that eco fashion is yoga gear. I want to break this stigma and show that eco fashion is high fashion and art. It is sustainable, eco and environmentally friendly, 100% ethical, no child labour, no sweatshops. We work closely with Save The Children to help children that have been exploited by the fashion industry.
GW: Where did you learn how to sew?
Zuhal: I learnt at home from my mother as it was a cultural expectation that most Turkish girls were brought up learning how to sew and cook. It’s like part of being a ‘good girl’. (We both chuckled at this point.) I did however have a special interest and I enjoy sewing, knitting and most textile crafts. They started off as hobbies and I find it very relaxing.
GW: Tell me about your journey on how you started your own eco couture label.
Zuhal: I started 2 years ago with Green Embassy label. At the time, everybody told me that there was no such thing as eco fashion. I am against the pollution, sweatshops and human abuse that are caused by the fashion industry.
I grew up in Turkey where all of my friends were forced to work in the garment factories when we were about 7 years old. I graduated as a veterinary surgeon. I then moved to England to teach animal science, marine conservation and ecology so I am very knowledged as to how the fashion industry impacts on the animals. The toxins in the ocean affect the fertility of the animals and contribute to increasing cancer rates. Basically – the fashion industry is killing the environment.
And because we keep demanding for cheap clothing – in the end who suffers?
In 2004, I studied art because I love creativity. I started my art degree in the University of Creative Arts in London. I completed my first year, then we immigrated here to Australia. I finished the degree part time, then enrolled in Curtin University to do a visual arts degree. I studied textiles, photography, drawing and sculptures.
Then I started Atelier Zuhal which is my textile art. I went to Korea to promote Atelier Zuhal and in order to attract attention, I made my own clothes from my alpaca textile art. I met some fashion designers who were really interested in my textile art. I told them that I made it myself, I can only make 2 metres as everything is handmade, one off and can’t be replicated.
A German lady from the group then suggested to me that as an artist, I should consider making more clothes for other people from my textile art. When you think about it – fashion is an art and a language.
I then figured that I could take my concepts from 2D to 3D. I remembered waiting for people to come and view my textile art in the art gallery, which then raised the question – what if I showed my art on models rather than on walls? I figured that through fashion, my environmental message can reach more people through the media.
What you wear says a lot about you. Why should we all wear the same thing?
See this dress here? It’s been printed from turmeric.
GW: Are you serious? It’s absolutely stunning.
Zuhal: Yeah! Turmeric from the kitchen. All of the pieces from the Silent Rainforest Collection have been hand printed with purple carrots, berries, and turmeric. Green Embassy does not use artificial dyes. We use fabrics such as organic cotton and vegan silk which means that silk worms have not been killed in the process.
GW: That’s really innovative.
Zuhal: All of my collections make strong statements and tell stories. My concept behind the Silent Rainforest Collection was inspired by the rainforest burnings in Bali. The materials tell a story – I used elements like spices, crystals, flowers and berries to represent the gifts of the rainforest. At the opening of Vancouver Fashion Week, I had a model wear a dress with burnt fabric marks and danced like a butterfly to represent the dying butterflies as a result of the rainforest burnings. Eco fashion covers a lot of areas, not just the aesthetics.
My new collection Empty Oceans that you will see in November will be created from textiles made from recycled plastic bottles, rubbish, drift nets and recycled industrial fishing nets. Emma Watson wore a dress with the same fabric to the Met Gala this year.
GW: It would be nice to see more to see more celebrities wearing more sustainable fashion on the red carpet. Has Green Embassy dressed any celebrities on the red carpet?
Zuhal: Adina Porter from True Blood has worn several pieces from Green Embassy on the red carpet. I met Adina at Vancouver Fashion Week where she fell in love with my work. I’m waiting for Pamela Anderson’s measurements to come through – she is a strong supporter of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society who we work closely with. I am really looking forward to dressing her!
GW: Do you think that diversity is a problem in the fashion industry?
Zuhal: Absolutely. I have an appreciation for many cultures. I have used a lot of Indigenous models on my runways. An Indigenous community recently contacted me to help them with their calendar. I felt very honoured to have been a part of this. They were such a beautiful and amazing group of people. I got my team together and flew all the way to Mount Isa, north of Queensland.
At my Vancouver Fashion Week show, I had 20 pieces to show and used 40 girls of all ethnicities and of every age.
What about the ladies over 30? Are we meant to forget about them? I used one of my model’s mum and got her to walk on the runway. I told her to practice lots in the hotel room. (chuckles)
I used a plus size model on the runway who was actually the head of the modelling agency. It is my heart’s desire to for women who represent Green Embassy on the runway celebrate women of all shapes and sizes. People were clapping their hands when she walked. After I put her on the runway, other designers started using her for their runways as well. She was very grateful and sent me a message saying “You started this!” Fashion is such a powerful tool to convey a message.
GW: What more can the public do to practice sustainability in our fashion consumption habits?
Zuhal: If I can get people to reduce one unnecessary purchase, I have done my job. Before buying something, think twice if the purchase is really needed. If a button comes off a top, you don’t need to throw away the top but you can repair it. Support local designers. Be conscious about our environment and planet as we only have one home.
You can follow Green Embassy on their website http://greenembassy.com.au/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/greenembassy/