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We caught up with sustainable fashion consultant Celeste Tesoriero from Sonzai Studios, sharing her tips to live a more considered lifestyle, creativity and the future of sustainable fashion. 

You come from a very creative background, what inspired you to make the move into consulting?

Consulting for me has been a very natural progression in my career. I have been a designer for 13 years, 5 of those were running my own eponymous brand. I loved having my own label and ticked many personal and professional goals with it. As it grew, I had more opportunities arise to speak up for sustainability, and it continued to become the biggest driver in both my professional and personal life. After having my own brand, it felt more in line with my personal ethos to help others do better than creating my own products. I was the Sustainability Manager of UK brand Roland Mouret and sat on British Fashion Councils 'Positive Fashion Committee' where I got to work with representatives from brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, and Kering. This experience really gave me the international knowledge to gain the confidence needed that I really could help brands at varying levels through consultancy.

How did you find lockdown in Sydney? Did you learn anything from the experience?

Initially, the lockdown in Sydney was very strange and unsettling. I've moved house three times since Covid began, and so being in transition during this time has been both a blessing and a hindrance. I've only just recently unpacked my kitchen that has been in storage since February!

I've just tried to go with the flow, be grateful for what I have, and be grateful to live in a country where we have excellent health care and open spaces.

My main learning, which has been so fascinating to watch unfold, would be how we so quickly become accustomed to change, and our 'normals' such as the 9-5 office life got the forced reinvention they needed.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about sustainability in the fashion industry?

The biggest misconception about sustainability in the fashion industry is that it is unrealistic to do good and still make money. Richard Branson famously states "Doing good is good for business", and I see this first-hand time and time again.

The other misconception is that sustainability is a separate sector within a business. Sustainability should be woven into every facet of a brand, and doing the right thing shouldn't be a luxury some people choose to do - it should just be common practise.

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Sustainable fashion is finally making waves, what are your tips for people looking to shop more consciously but don't know where to start?

We would all prefer to buy from brands who are producing ethically and in a sustainable way, but due to greenwashing and lack of policy, it's really hard for us to filter through and find them. The premise shouldn't be on us to become sustainable fashion experts to know how to shop, it should be standardised at a governmental level, but until that happens, here are some things we can do:

1. Find your most important value within sustainability.
That could be environmental, ethical, vegan, or social impact for example. Then, you will create a set of non-negotiables for when you shop. For example, the environment is your priority. Your non-negotiables could therefore be: I won't buy conventional cotton, I won't buy synthetic fabrics (unless perhaps they are second hand). As you self-learn more about sustainability, you can add more on as you go, and research brands who are leaders in the space. This set of rules makes you feel empowered with your choices.

2. "Buy less, choose well..." as Dame Vivienne Westwood says.
Fashion has been psychologically placed as throwaway, so we generally give the same amount of time to our purchase as we would a consumable like food. Think of it more like a keepsake, or something you don’t want to replace very often like a dishwasher. If you were going to buy a new dishwasher, you would want to do some research first, find options, perhaps check its energy and water rating before purchasing? Do that with your clothes. Buy with the intention to keep for a long time.

3. Pause before purchasing.
Do you need it? Mindlessly buying, without knowing our intention is the trap we are looking to avoid. Will it last? Is it quality? Is the brand doing the right thing by the environment and the people making it? Can it be up-cycled, re-homed or reused once we are done with it? Don’t buy on the spot. Walk away, and if you still want it in a week revisit it.

What are a few things that you do to live a more sustainable lifestyle?

I always try to remember our money is casting our vote for the kind of world we want to live in, so every dollar has that power. I try to live plastic-free, zero waste, eat organic and be more self-sufficient by growing some of my own food and making my own products such as toothpaste and household cleaner. I aim to only buy what I need, and question first if there is something I have that will suffice or if I can make it myself. I am also passionate about supporting small local businesses and aligning my purchases so they can do good. For example, I wanted artwork for my home, so I chose to take part in a charity fundraiser for the Australia bush-fire relief to buy a print. A win-win!

Where do you find inspiration? Do you have a creative outlet?

Nature is my biggest inspiration. The colours, the beauty of it, its designs, its faultless ecosystems and lifecycles. Scientists are looking to nature for our sustainability problems. For example, they have discovered a type of fungi that will eat plastic waste.

My creative outlets would be sketching, writing, sewing and cooking.

If you could switch lives with any person for a day, who would it be and why?

Maybe David Bowie? I would love to have had the opportunity to get inside his brain and experience the creativity of his mind for a day.

What is your signature dish (or drink)?

My signature dish is pasta. I'm Italian so I guess it's in my blood.

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What are you watching, reading, and listening to at the moment?

I am reading The Memory Code, Lynne Kelly, which explores the Aboriginal memory technique of songlines and how it was used by ancient civilisations worldwide as a way of remembering much more than the modern person is capable of.

My partner and I have been watching Blue Planet II, and we've just set up our new house with his record player so have been listening to a lot of Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Mozart.

Is there a creative's work that you are particularly coveting at the moment?

My favourite local Aboriginal artist is Niah McLeod @niahmcleod. I'm also currently into artists portraying a strong message in often simple ways. Barcelona artist Octavi Serra @ooss_ooss_ooss is great, and I recently saw an exhibition at the NGA, 'Xu Zhen®: Eternity Vs Evolution' which was fantastic. I'm a sucker for the old classics, but love being surprised by new and young artists. @toward.2030 is a really interesting platform of artists who are using the UN 2030 agenda as inspiration for their work. I love that art can inspire change.

What do you do to reset, reflect and unwind?

A swim in the ocean is my reset button. My partner jokes that if I'm in a bad mood he just needs to throw me in and I come out a new person. My mediation practise really helps day to day also. I love cooking, so I use that to unwind whilst sipping a good glass of red. I'm trying to read rather than scroll at night, and have taken to doing crossword puzzles.

What are you currently working on (that you can share)?

I'm working on a plan of how I can help more people and brands simultaneously and apart from my work, I'm studying a Diploma of Sustainability and also a two-year course on Permaculture.

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