Slow fashion statement

What do you do when your child rips their jeans? Do you throw them out? Not if Kate Fenby and Sarah McMillan of Cactus Revival have anything to do with it. If your kid’s jeans are ‘cactus’, as we say in Australia about anything that’s ‘kaput’, Kate will find a way to revive them, and Sara will find a way to get them to market.

Cactus Revival, a way to recycle, repurpose and re-use children’s clothes into unique and individual pieces, came from Kate Fenby and Sara McMillan’s shared passion for environmental issues. They were both working for an environmental organisation when they met in 2007 and, within an hour of meeting one another, knew they would be firm friends.

The business came about when Sara and Kate became parents and were concurrently on maternity leave. Kate had always wanted to learn to sew and turned to her mother for inspiration and skills. She then thought of it as the next thing to do.

“I started learning about the fashion industry and textile waste and how big a problem it was,” says Kate. “Then, having a young child, he would often get marks and holes in his pants, so I created these treasure map shorts (Kate points to a cute pair of boys’ shorts with a red ‘X marks the spot’ and a gem button sewn inside the pocket) and he loved them. He was about four at the time, and I thought it was a way of creating a practical, tangible way to help reduce waste and help the environment.”

Kate and Sara are big op shop fans and source materials from there. The Cactus Revival workshop is a treasure trove of old reels of cotton, lace, fabrics, buttons and other paraphernalia sourced from op shops and markets. But children go through so many clothes as they grow, and they often can’t be op-shopped because of wear and tear. Sara says, “It’s a conscious decision for us to focus on children’s clothes at the moment for that reason.”

“It’s not that we can’t afford to buy new; it’s that we can’t afford not to mend them. We need to be wearing our clothes longer because of the impact – the water and the dyes that are used to make these garments. If they’re only going to last a few washes and then they’re stretched or unravelled, then all those resources are gone, and they’re ending up in landfill,” Kate says.

It’s slow fashion that lasts and can be handed down as opposed to fast fashion. Kate works with each piece and mends it to make it exciting and fun, and the pieces are a great hit with kids who like them because of their fun and originality and not because they’re a fashion statement.

Photos: Yanni

Sara says, “We’re finding that a lot of the time at markets, kids will come in of their own volition and touch a piece of clothing and say to the parents or grandparents, ‘Oh look, isn’t this cool… this is great.’ They’re really drawn to the designs.” She shivers at the mention of fast fashion sites pushed on social media. “They’re horrendous. I can see how it plays out, and I can see how, for people who are hungry for something new, it’s accessible – but the feeling of fun and excitement fades. When you know about the other side of the industry, it’s alarming.”

The message about mending and repurposing is attractive to many people, but they might not have the skills to do it themselves. Kate and Sara met with the Mornington Peninsula Shire recently to discuss the possibility of running workshops on mending at Mornington Community House. They’ve already run workshops for children, which have been a hit.

Being in business with your best friend could have its hazards. What are Kate and Sara’s secrets?

“Being open about what your expectations are, what you want, and what you can commit to are my top three”, says Sara. “Having a values-led business is also the key. We both believe in what Cactus Revival is trying to achieve.”

“We’re honest and share our feelings,” Kate says. “We don’t take offence, and we have a shared passion. I think you need to think about who you are partnering with. I certainly wouldn’t go into business with just anyone.”

Kate says, “I feel very lucky to have Sara not only as a best friend but to work with as well. We get each other – we bounce the ideas off, and it’s fun!”

Kate and Sara encourage people to donate to op shops, and they’re also delighted to receive donations of clothes, materials and trims.

Cactus Revival children’s clothing is available on their website and at the Emu Plains Market in Balnarring.

Peninsula Essence – March 2024