Arraei Collective | Meet the founder with enki

If you’ve managed to get your hands on a copy of the latest issue of enki you may recognise the gorgeous image above. Its ethereal spirit captured our attention and somewhat serendipitously led us in the direction of sustainable fashion brand Arraei Collective.

“Arraei was a way for me to help people reconnect to the earth, to wear nature while respecting our planet and all its inhabitants.”

Natalie Florence Hellyar, Founder

Characterised by their minimal lines and natural materials, Arraei Collective’s garments are effortlessly graceful, feminine and all produced locally in Vancouver.

The passion and vigour behind the brand comes from Natalie Florence Hellyar, and as a multi-tasking aficionado, she tackles the never-ending demands of the business as well as producing the elegant designs for the collections.

Fortunately we managed to grab a few minutes of her time to unearth the story behind Arraei Collective as well as understand her position in regards to the ‘fast fashion’ controversy.

1. Let’s go back to the beginning, talk us through your journey with Arraei Collective.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to the manifestation of Arraei, but there are two main places that shaped it, namely Africa and India. Growing up in South Africa nurtured a deep connection to mother earth and fostered an innate passion in me to protect our planet. India was a place of dreams for me, a constant flow of wild emotions and perspectives. It holds a boundless energy that inspires me to think big thoughts and dream big. After a few years of travelling the world on a quest to discover my path and decide on a future I wanted to create for myself and the planet, I eventually landed up in Canada and started Arraei. Although there is a back story to Arraei I like to think of it as a living thing, constantly evolving and being shaped by current influences, knowledge and perspectives.

2. If you had only three words to sum up Arraei Collective what would these be?

Conscious, Feminine, Bohême.

3. What inspired the name of the brand?

Arraei is a word that I created. I started with a bunch of letters that I liked and I spent hours arranging them into all kinds of combinations. All I knew was that I wanted the name to start with an A and hold an energy. When Arraei finally came into being, it was as much about the process as it was about the result. I like to think of it as an ongoing project of combining things – of arranging and collecting ideas and bringing them to life – hence why “collective” is part of the name.

4. What materials do you use for the creation of your garments? What informs these choices?

We only use natural materials to craft our pieces, with a focus on hemp and linen. Both of these fibres have incredible wear properties and are two of the most eco-friendly textiles. These plants use considerably less resources to grow and process than other fibres and, when compared with cotton, they use four times less water. Our fabrics are one of the most important aspects of Arraei because sustainability is our number one mission. For Arraei to “leave no trace” we have to consider the end of life of our garments. One way we do this is to offer a up-cycling / recycling program to our customers, and the other way is to create garments that can go back to the earth. All our garments will biodegrade within eight months in the right conditions.

5. Break down the production process for us.

I work with a small team of sewers and seamstresses out of a home studio. We work within fair-trade principles and pay our sewers a living wage. To ensure a zero waste policy, we produce in small batches. Currently, we are looking at expanding our production to incorporate social outreach into our business model and supply chain, so that we can support and make a difference in smaller & more rural communities.

6. Do you design all of the pieces yourself?

Yes! I spend hours people watching and drawing. Sometimes you’ll find me scrambling for a piece of paper to sketch down an idea that pops into mind. I was an artist before I was a designer, so the creative process of designing Arraei’s collection’s is one I really cherish. That being said I would love a business partner to bounce things off, and help me make decisions… I find myself going back and forth for hours with designs, usually landing up where I started and just following my original intuition.

7. When you start designing new collection, what inspires you?

Nature, the elements, picturesque landscapes, words, poems, people, feelings. Sometimes I’m inspired by the way someone walks down the street, other times it’s the way the light blends into dusky horizon or the scent of fresh cut grass, my inspiration comes from being present in my daily life.

8. The phrase ‘fast fashion’ is sparking debate around the world at the moment, where do you stand on this issue?

I consider myself an activist for change and in solidarity with the slow fashion movement. ‘Fast fashion’ is something that needs to be radically addressed because it has a tremendous impact on social and environmental issues. There are a few key aspects of the industry that need to be reformed. Firstly the welfare of the people who make the clothing, what kind of life do they have, what is the true cost of fashion? Secondly, The environmental impact of the industry in general, production, waste disposal, shipping and the carbon footprint and lastly its about creating awareness and encouraging transparency. I believe the most influential way to make a difference is to be conscious, curious and vote with your dollar.

9. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced with Arraei Collective to date?

There have been many, but I would say the biggest ongoing challenge is learning to adjust and deal with the ups and downs and to have ‘grit’ when things aren’t going as expected. I think when I first started I underestimated how difficult running a business would be, so I’ve had to learn to manage my expectations and learn to not obsess about things.

10. And to finish up, how do you envision the future of the fashion industry?

I think people will start to buy with more intention and to wear their values. Maybe it’s one ethical and sustainable piece in their closet or maybe it’s their entire wardrobe, each little step counts. I think there will be far more awareness and people will be making conscious decisions about what they buy, buying less, buying second hand and buying from brands they trust. I feel the next biggest challenge we face is addressing the fact that in order to be sustainable, sustainable fashion has to be accessible to everyone and not be exclusive because of its price point.

Natalie Florence Hellyar, founder of Arraei Collective

Images photographed by Morgan Hoog & David Karnezos

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