Olga Joan is a conscious apparel label designed with purpose, offering collections that revel in the beauty of minimalism and the design of simplicity. It demands a return to quality, integrity in production and transparency from fibre to finish.
Olga Joan is owned and run by Rebecca Pastro (my cousin!). I wear her label regularly and her hemp loungewear has been my pandemic go-to when I want to be comfortable at home but might still need to duck out occasionally to run errands.
I sat down with her recently to discuss her business and approach to sustainable fashion.
Describe Olga Joan in three words
It feels like I’ve been wearing your clothes forever, but Olga Joan hasn’t been around for that long. Why did you start your business? Where did the name come from?
The concept behind the business was simple, I wanted to do better than the industry standard. After a decade of working in the rag trade in Melbourne and Byron Bay, I was tired of seeing maximising margins win over durability of a garment and impact of its fibres. I wanted to create a brand based upon supply chain transparency, materials and impacts, while also encouraging the consumer to choose better, wear for longer and wash less.
The name is an ode to my long love affair with vintage and to family, it is named for my Nonna, Olga and my (our) Nanna, Joan. I feel clothing from their generation was designed with purpose, made to last and mended when needed to continue its life. These principles are often forgotten in the modern industry.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I work from home and find it incredibly important to have an active morning routine before beginning my work day.
This usually consists of some form of exercise followed by breakfast and getting dressed, of course trackies and a tank is my WFH uniform.
As the sole employee my days tasks are varied. These include creating technical drawings in Illustrator, fitting prototype samples, communicating changes with my manufacturer, arranging the logistics of ordering the bulk fabric and processing all e-commerce orders.
A big part of your business model is a focus on sustainability. Why is that important?
The industry is one of the top polluters in the world, but better practices and fibres can be adopted to lessen the harmful impacts to both planet and people.
A lot of businesses either choose to turn a blind eye to these issues or simply are not educated with the facts, which in this day and age is simply not good enough.
We are very privileged in Australia and often unaware of the harm caused by the clothing we consume. For instance Viscose, also commonly known as Rayon, is a plant-based fibre derived from wood pulp. The production of the pulp is contributing to the rapid depletion of the world's forests, which are being cleared to make way to pulpwood plantations. Not only is the sourcing of the pulp inherently harmful, to process the pulp into a fibre is a highly polluting process that has devastating impacts on textile workers, local communities and the environment. There are some amazing companies like Lenzing using new technologies to produce a viscose fibre with a significantly reduced impact, such as Lenzing™ Ecovero™ .
With the knowledge I have on the harmful affects of the industry, I see it as my responsibility to provide consumers with a product that has been carefully assessed to reduce its impact and expand its life cycle.
Your clothes are made with hemp which I love. For people who aren’t familiar with hemp, how is it different to cotton and why do you use it?
I chose hemp for the environmental benefits of its cultivation and durable characteristics as a fabric. When compared to cotton, hemp is a superior plant in many ways. Cotton uses 50% more water, and by the time it’s processed into a fabric it has used four times as much.
Hemp is extremely fast-growing and actually returns 60-70% of nutrients it takes from the soil, making it ideal for crop rotation.
Hemp is naturally resistant to pests, meaning it requires no pesticides or herbicides in its farming. Plus it’s stronger and more durable than cotton, giving items a longer life cycle.
Social media has been critical to your success. How have you utilised it to your advantage?
By engaging like-minded individuals and businesses and sharing curated imagery. Social media is a very powerful tool, allowing connections and discovery from across the globe.
What’s your biggest challenge so far and how have you overcome it?
Embodying a marketing position. My background is production and product management so I was very unfamiliar with that side of the business. I wouldn’t say I've totally mastered it but I have built up my confidence and found a voice. That said a marketing role will be the first hire once the business expands!
Who is the ultimate Olga Joan woman?
The ultimate OJ woman cares about the impact her wardrobe has on the environment and understands the power she holds simply by choosing to invest in durable, low-impact pieces, thus supporting businesses striving to do better.
What do the next 12 months hold for you?
Good question. I have gone through a lot of personal change in the last 12 months, including moving myself and the business from Byron to Bellingen and now finally Newcastle. I am looking forward to setting some roots in Newcastle and working collaboratively with other local businesses.
Let's get personal…
1. What else are you passionate about besides your work?
Reducing my impact in all aspects of life, keeping a healthy lifestyle, native bushland, the ocean and surfing.
2. What is your most treasured belonging?
I have a few but I would have to say my collection of vintage towels, most of which belonged to my (our) great grandmother. The array of bright colours and intricate patterns sparks a lot of joy for me.
3. If you weren’t a designer, what would you be doing?
That's a very hard question considering I have been working towards this since I was 14. In year 8 we were given the opportunity to choose any subject for a class project and I chose fashion design. I would have to say something that incorporates technical illustration as I thoroughly enjoy the process.
4. What’s one thing in your home you can’t live without?
My coffee machine, it's only a new addition but I've become very reliant on my daily coffee and dandy lattes.
5. In 10 years, I'd like to be...
Living within walking distance of the beach, surfing everyday and manufacturing the majority of my apparel in Australia.
Want to find out more? Follow Olga Joan here:
Every Monday, Clare Makes sits down with an Aussie creator or business owner to discuss their life and work. These articles are curated with you in mind, to enjoy alongside a cup of coffee and your favourite scented candle. If you'd like to be interviewed for the blog or know someone else who would be perfect, please email firstname.lastname@example.org