“I am sick of fashion being an exploitative industry and feel personally responsible for ushering in change,” explains fashion designer Courtney Holm. With the belief that “businesses of the future can be the greatest catalyst for change”, the Melbourne-based creative started A.BCH, a fashion brand with responsible production at its core earlier this year. Following the devastating Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, Courtney felt motivated to make ethical fashion accessible for everyone and started the journey to becoming a fashion label founder, including a year-long research and development stage. During her time between lightbulb moment and brand fruition, the designer consumed books like Lucy Siegle’s To Die For and Clare Press’ Wardrobe Crisis, which helped her to gradually grapple with the complex processes involved in a deeply ‘invisible’ supply chain. “Whatever I could get my hands on, I absorbed it and started formulating my own standard of ethics.” But it was the film True Cost that really drove things home for Courtney, though.
“Something about that film just hit me like a tonne of bricks and I wept through the whole thing,” she recalls. “It was like, all of a sudden, I knew I had to be out of the industry 100% or I needed to be in it 100% as a catalyst for change.” Although initially unsure about how to make that change right away, she started building the business foundations for A.BCH and focusing on how it would put “people and the planet before profits.”
That’s exactly what she did. Gathering extensive research before launching, Courtney says she discovered that “customers are often frustrated with the lack of information given about a garment’s provenance and equally about where the money goes.” With that in mind, A.BCH’s pricing structure is made available to customers, as a way of demonstrating the brand’s dedication to full disclosure. “More expensive garments do not always equate to ethical production,” Courtney explains. “Likewise, more expensive does not always equal quality or longevity of style.”
In fact, the designer has had to debunk plenty of sustainability myths like these since first establishing her brand. “In every business decision made at A.BCH, we seek to find the minimal environmental impact and actively choose or reject products based on our standards of only working with organic biodegradable, recycled or upcycled materials with documented provenance,” she says, alluding to the importance of proven sustainability. This also means that A.BCH has had to say no to using certain fibres as well — an issue that the brand unpacks further with its transparent Materials List.
Always seeking to have the highest positive social impact, A.BCH relies on GOTS certifications.
“[We] ensure our supply chains meet strict toxicity and chemical standards, plus minimum social criteria — like receiving living wages, reasonable work hours and access to union representation.”
It is also for this reason that the designer has chosen to manufacture locally, with a family-owned business that’s nearby her studio. “It’s a collaborative approach and considers profits only when it does not harm people or the planet,” she says, adding that: “we carry this across to every product, from fabrics, threads, buttons and labels. Even our packaging materials and delivery methods are a reflection of our values and ethics.”
Responsible pricing is still one of the most important considerations for Courtney, who is passionate about making ethical fashion accessible for everyone. By employing a business-to-customer approach, for example, A.BCH can forgo a retail markup and keep the price fair for everyone. “Discounting has contributed to retailer distrust and the world’s love of fast, cheap fashion,” Courtney says. “By having our pricing structured this way, we don’t need to do discounts, nor is there a margin ‘built’ in for slashing prices. It’s a completely customer-centric approach and I believe it is way more honest.”