When Vanessa Katsanevakis took over the helm of Sussex from her father, a talented jeweller-turned-tapware designer, she set a goal to incorporate the highest standards of sustainability into its tapware manufacturing processes while making the most beautiful designs possible.

Sussex joins an increasing number of forward-thinking businesses that balance the demand for stylish and timeless designs with the need for sustainability and local production.

Reflecting increasing consumer demand in this area, Sussex invited like-minded designers to participate in a panel as part of this year’s Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Ideas program.

“Now more than ever, it’s vitally important for peers across different design disciplines to come together and discuss how high-end design can be combined with sustainability,” says Katsanevakis.

The panel was moderated by RUSSH magazine Editor-in-Chief Jess Blanch and Katsanevakis was joined by jewellery designer Holly Ryan, whose eponymous label is favoured by bloggers and celebrities alike; contemporary furniture and lighting designer and avid champion of local artisans Ross Gardam; and Gemma Cahill, production manager at Arnsdorf, a label that returns from its hiatus this year with a new approach to women’s fashion.

“It was amazing to hear from these other leading makers and to affirm that it’s possible to create best-in-class design outcomes that are also ethical, sustainable and locally produced,” Katsanevakis says.

“I came away inspired by Holly’s organic-minimalist designs, the level of care and attention that Ross puts into his lighting and furniture, and Arnsdorf’s ability to create uncompromising fashion that respects both its garment-makers and the environment.”

Despite their diverse fields these Australian designers found they had much in common.

“For example, we were able to compare manufacturing synergies with Holly Ryan’s jewellery-making processes,” Katsanevakis says.

“My father started as a watchmaker and then became a jeweller before a tapware manufacturer. I remember his little furnace for melting down metal to reuse it, which we’ve continued on a much larger scale at Sussex, continuing that vertical integration and the closed loop of recycling brass shavings in our foundry, rather than them being devalued as scrap metal,” Katsanevakis says.

The panel examined sustainability from the concept phase through to manufacturing, sharing insights into how sustainability informs and shapes their processes, the importance of maintaining quality, and the value of keeping production in Australia.

The audience learned about some of the many sustainability initiatives these designers are implementing in their businesses, from Arnsdorf’s move to make the costs of its ethical local clothing production completely transparent to Holly Ryan’s ‘Old for New’ recycling scheme that offers to buy back pieces of jewellery her customers no longer wear.

The lack of accreditation for sustainable manufacturing was one issue the participants raised.

“Our product is entirely made in Australia, which radically reduces its carbon miles, so it can be frustrating that the Australian Made accreditation means only half the manufacturing has to happen here. But it’s actually been a blessing for us because at our factory we have an open door policy. We’ve often got architects, designers and customers coming through and we are very proud to show them the investment that we’re making in energy efficiency.”

Just this month Sussex covered two thirds of its factory roof in solar panels, part of a drive to reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions by 10 per cent each year.

“The ultimate goal for us is to be carbon neutral,” says Katsanevakis.

The Sussex director says the VAMFF event had been a valuable forum for sharing the success stories of this growing industry sector.

“Ethical manufacturing has certainly become more widespread in the past few years but I think what’s new, and a real area of growth, is that sustainability can no longer be a compromise with exceptional design,” Katsanevakis says.

View more images of the event here.

Image: Marie-Luise Skibbe

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