When a friend complained about a lack of quality men’s socks, designer Edwina Walsh took on the challenge to create a pair that would solve that pesky age-old problem in every household: keeping socks fresh and odour-free. “My son’s socks can almost walk on their own – smelly, sweaty feet – and I have a basket of odd socks which drives me insane. So the first challenge was to find a fibre that could possibly minimise sweat and neutralise odour. A lot of socks are made from nylon and cotton/polyester which don’t breathe well”, says Walsh. After discovering the impressive functional and ecological benefits of bamboo, Walsh was inspired to champion its research and use it as part of her launch brand Bamboo Monkey.
“The more I researched bamboo the more impressed and amazed by it I was. Especially compared to the toxic requirements of growing conventional cotton”, says Walsh. Her Pozible campaign won a competition by an international PR agency for projects championing positive change and with the PR support, enough funds were raised for Bamboo Monkey to make its way into the world with a launch range of socks.
As a 20-year veteran of the fashion industry (having worked for some of Australia’s biggest retailers such as Myer and Target), Walsh is now on a mission to provide great quality alternatives to every day wear commonly made from cotton, synthetics or plastic. She is quick to proudly assert that Bamboo Monkey is not a fast fashion operation, and instead focusses on “wardrobe staples e.g. a really great track pant, socks that last more than one wash, an eco KeepCup, items that reduce consumption and carbon footprints by providing longevity via better quality materials and construction”.
Sustainability is a driving force for the brand, especially pertinent given the increasingly dire environmental impact due to overconsumption. Walsh is hugely passionate about climate change and is keenly aware that our collective approach to consumerism must change. “The number one issue of climate change is the increasing levels of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere trapping heat and raising the earth’s temps. So my focus is on how we can work to absorb and reduce these harmful gases in the atmosphere while we also educate people on consumption and pollution minimisation and move towards conscious consumerism”, says Walsh.
“The reality is, if you walk into a major retail chain and paid $20 for something that required a pattern to be made, fabric to be woven and printed, buttons, zips, someone to be paid to make it, packaging, shipping to Australia, TV/magazine advertising, a 50-70% markup and is for sale in a prime location… it’s a pretty sure bet that people on the raw material and manufacturing have been paid pretty poorly”
And bamboo could be a part of this positive change when harnessed the right way as part of the natural ecosystem. As Walsh explains, “Bamboo as a crop absorbs 5 times the amount of greenhouse gases and releases 35% more oxygen into the environment than an equivalent stand of trees. However unlike trees it reaches maturity in 2-5 years, versus 10-30 years. Bamboo is a self regenerating grass, so it grows naturally, requiring no chemicals, in beautiful naturally occurring forests.
Unlike trees or cotton crops, you don’t cut down the whole forest leaving barren tracts of land, and destroying fragile habitats. The root systems of the plants remain intact, as the plant is cut at its base, thus rejuvenating soils left barren from overgrazing and the devastation of deforestation”. Being a relatively new fibre, bamboo is also more commonly produced by modern factories that have purpose-built water treatment facilities to recycle water into drinkable form, making it more sustainable, safer and ethical than conventional cotton production.
Fundamentally, it’s this sharing of knowledge and education about alternatives to traditional fashion, that Walsh believes will be the key to positive change. “Being a conscious consumer is a serious mind reboot, and is a learning process”, says Walsh. Fast retailers have created a consumer behaviour where a good bargain is seen as a good buy, no questions asked. “The reality is, if you walk into a major retail chain and paid $20 for something that required a pattern to be made, fabric to be woven and printed, buttons, zips, someone to be paid to make it, packaging, shipping to Australia, TV/magazine advertising, a 50-70% markup and is for sale in a prime location… it’s a pretty sure bet that people on the raw material and manufacturing have been paid pretty poorly”, says Walsh.
Walsh’s ongoing focus on positive social and ethical change has inspired Bamboo Monkey’s latest collaboration with Dinadi, a social enterprise in Kathmandu that teaches disadvantaged local women to knit and rebuild their lives through financial independence, education and social support. Together they have created a range of hand knit beanies that are each signed by its original maker.
And what helps keep her inspired in a competitive retail industry with the challenge of a small business? Receiving customer feedback direct from the source. “Having your own business means you are at the coal face, and we have been really lucky to have had amazing feedback and support. Even recently driving in Melbourne, we pulled up at some lights, and some tradies next to us, in true Aussie form, yelled out, ‘hey mate, your socks are f-ing awesome!’ Doesn’t get better than that!”