• Fashion

Under their spell

Behind the scenes of Spell & The Gypsy Collective’s sustainability journey

It’s hard to argue against the power of positive thinking, just ask Lizzie Abeg. She is one of the sisters behind cult fashion label Spell & the Gypsy Collective, who says the Byron Bay-based brand simply began as a manifestation of all the things she and sister Isabella (Spelly) loved. Fast forward to today and they have close to one million followers on Instagram and celebrities like Elsa Pataky, Chrissy Teigan and Jessica Alba all lining up to wear their iconic floral print dresses. From a small shop front in Byron Bay they’ve managed to conjure up a bridal line as well as their Little Gypsies collection for children, swimwear, intimates and a range of accessories. And did we mention they also travel the world to shoot these collections in exotic locations from Ibiza and Morocco to Western Australia.  

Where to from here?

Despite their successes the sisters remain humble in their approach to life and business, and rather than just reap the rewards of their meteoric rise they decided to pivot toward sustainable and ethical production once they’d reached a tipping point.

“When we founded the label, we were grass roots, humble and handmade but sustainability wasn’t at our core,” explains Lizzy. “When you’re so small, you’re kind of sustainable by default, because you don’t have much impact, we were making jewellery out of found objects and using old pieces of leather to sew bags.”

But she says, as their business continued to grow she quickly realised their impact and felt strongly about making a it change toward a more sustainable business model. “I realised we were big enough to do damage, and therefore big enough to actually create change, if we were to step toward a more positive place,” explains  Lizzie

The pull of the universe

Despite having an action plan in her mind, Lizzie says it was actually a chance encounter at a local café that gave them the final push they needed to implement their sustainability strategy. “I was having coffee in our local café and I bumped into one of the dads from my son’s school,” recalls  Lizzy. “I asked him what he does for work, and he said, ‘I help fashion brands to become more sustainable’, and bingo, that was our green light to go full steam ahead.”

A voice for fashion

Since making a number of changes to their business and production model, Lizzy has also become a voice within the industry. We recently got to watch her speak at the inaugural Legacy Fashion Summit, where we learned that Spell is in fact one of the few Australian labels who actually file yearly impact reports. By telling their story she hopes to inspire other fashion businesses to also make positive change.

Sisters and Spell & The Gypsy Collective co-founders Lizzy and Isabella

Here we  chat to Lizzy what what exactly being a sustainable fashion brand  entails, her reality as a working mum of three and why she loves being in business with family. 

Where did your idea for Spell come from? And has it evolved into what you imagined?

Our brand was really a manifestation of all the things my sister and I loved. The design and aesthetic were driven by Isabella, she kind of can’t ‘not’ design, it’s just in her blood. And the culture and business were driven by me. The brand has kind of evolved as we’ve grown up. It used to be all about festivals and now it’s about travel and family. It just grows as we grow.

What’s it like to work with your family?

We have an immense amount of trust in each other, trusting each other of our abilities and strengths. My sister knows what our customers will love, and every piece she backs or is passionate about is always a favourite of the customers – even if I’m not sure! She trusts me with HR, business decisions and marketing. We love working together, but it’s funny, because it feels like we don’t get to see each other that often! Our desks are on opposite sides of our office – often we have to schedule a coffee in to even see each other.

As mums we’re obsessed with hearing about how other mums approach the work/mum juggle. What’s your current balance? (Or attempt at balance!) look like?

They say hindsight is 20/20, right? Well after three kids you get some hindsight, and my first realisation is there is no such thing as balance, so don’t even look for it. And my second realisation was that balance just comes naturally when your youngest is around three. So boom! At the moment I’m on maternity leave so my life is in perfect balance and bliss, just breastfeeding and cruising around with my family. And when I go back to work, I plan to just hang on for dear life until Leila is three. I hope to enjoy the ride and go easy on myself.

You have such an amazing, engaged and loyal following on social media, what’s your secret?

We’ve always had a genuine love for Instagram, so it has always felt natural and authentic. I think followers can feel when someone genuinely loves the platform. I’m not so into Facebook so other people from my team who do love it manage that one. We were early adopters of Instagram, so many of our followers have been with us for years.

You’ve made sustainability part of the fabric of the business. What was the moment or catalyst for this, and how did you go about it? Where did you start?  

Well, it’s an ongoing process. We aim for sustainability to be part of our DNA. It’s a very conscious decision – I mean our brand definitely didn’t start that way. During Fashion Revolution Week in 2016 I made a conscious decision to map our supply chain. I didn’t even know you could get a third party audit at that point. I googled it! I literally Googled “how do you ensure your suppliers are ethical” or something. Luckily, we’d been very diligent when choosing our suppliers and they had very similar values to us so when we approached them about being audited they were all immediately on board.

Is sustainability something you’re still working on?

Yes, most definitely. We are nowhere near being a ‘sustainable brand’ if being a sustainable brand is even possible. We are literally at the beginning of a huge journey, only three years in. Talk to me in 2025,  and even then, we’ll have a way to go! We’ve mapped and audited our tier 1 suppliers, but it goes so much deeper than that. Fashion supply chains are deep and dark, to say the least. Which is why using things like GOTS organic cotton is so important, because it ensures social and environmental traceability right back to the cotton seed. One-by-one we’re plugging more sustainable fibres into our supply chain. In 2019 we’ll be swapping out some conventionally produced rayon/viscose in our collections and using Lenzing™ Ecovero™ – a fibre made from wood pulp sourced from certified renewable wood sources and produced in an ecologically responsible, closed-loop system. Rayon has kind of been the elephant in the room, even though we’re transitioning away from conventional cotton and using recycled nylon, it was the rayon that makes up the majority of our collection.

Tell us about being part of the Byron community, what do you love about it?

There is a lot of change happening in Byron, some inevitable with the growing population but some is really sad. It’s been quite empowering as a family to have protested the West Byron Development over the past year. We’re not sure if we’ve succeeded yet but at least we feel very much part of the community in trying to stop this development from happening. Spell and other local brands have funded ads in our local paper, we’ve attended protests and protest paddles up the Belongil River to highlight the damage the development will cause to our waterways. I guess that’s what I love about Byron Bay. People really want to protect the town.

What are your favourite Byron based brands or stores?

Rowie, Mister Zimi, Newrybar Merchants, Nikau.

Who are your favourite sustainable bloggers or Instagram accounts?

Natascha Elisa, Clare press, Mimi Elashiry and Lucy Ewing.

What’s on high rotation in your wardrobe at the moment?

I found the most gorgeous Lithuanian label on Etsy called Not Perfect Linen and she makes these mumma dresses that are super great for breastfeeding, knee length and button up. I bought about six in different colours, they get baby spew on them every hour (hence why I needed so many) I live in them at the moment. And I love our Linda shirt dress in khaki.

Read Spell & The Gypsy Collective’s annual impact report here.

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