At the risk of stating the obvious, the clothes we wear matter. And not just in the sense of sartorial splendour and self-expression, but for those across the supply chain and beyond working towards a more sustainable fashion future. To celebrate these creatives putting people and planet first, we’ve introduced a digital series called Nice Rack! (…get it) so we can go behind the seams with some of our favourite sustainable brands, together.
We’re sure you’d agree that animals are the best. Melbourne designer Dana Lenko certainly thinks so. Through her eponymous brand Lenko, she makes cosy animal sweaters adorned with hand-cut and lovingly embroidered appliqués that have swiftly earned her a cult following. Best of all? The animals are chosen each year by an online competition (giving a nod to the especially weird and wonderful little guys), are made in Melbourne in very limited numbers, and $20 from selected sweaters is donated to conservation projects. “I look to highlight animals that have amazing quirks, behaviours or bizarre physical features,” Dana says. “I love the conversations that come about from wearing these sweaters, especially when they’re species that are not very well known or misunderstood.”
To get your paws on these beauties, Dana will be hosting a pop-up shop from 21–23 July! Head down to Fitzroy this weekend and say g’day to this year’s animals while shopping tufted artworks from Tipsy Tufty and Lenko’s collaboration with Argentinian designer Vale Simon.
Tell us about yourself…
Hi, I’m Dana Lenko and I design the Lenko animal sweaters!
What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
Having a few high-quality items in your wardrobe that you love and can wear for many years and even pass down, rather than replacing your whole wardrobe every season with items that will end up in landfill.
These days I’m more and more inspired by animal carers and researchers and their passion for vulnerable species.
Why were you inspired to start your label and what continues to inspire you as a designer?
I started my label when I was a teenager as an extension of my love of doodling. I’d draw on t-shirts and then sweaters and people would ask me where I’d bought them. I never had planned to work in fashion; I actually studied film-making and animation, but I kept feeling encouraged to continue making clothing and decided to give that my full focus. I’ve been working on my label ever since.
The animal sweaters were a last-minute addition to a fashion week show when another outfit fell through. The ‘Last Minute Llama’ was what I called it. These days I’m more and more inspired by animal carers and researchers and their passion for vulnerable species.
How do you incorporate sustainability/ethical practices within your brand?
I make all my sweaters here in Australia – cruelty-free, sweatshop-free and in small batches. I’m not looking to mass produce and I like supporting local makers.
Tell us about any standout moments in your career…
Every time an animal carer or researcher sends me a pic in a sweater, my heart goes squee. To have that positive feedback from the people on the ground doing the real work is so rewarding to me.
Every time an animal carer or researcher sends me a pic in a sweater, my heart goes squee.
What are your favourite animals to wear?
I have a special love for slow animals; I’m not sure what that means about me! I like to wear my sloth, koala and snail sweaters as they remind me to slow down and take in the moment.
Who are a few of your favourite local designers?
Suku Home is dreamy and Chrissy [Lafian] is a creative powerhouse. Collective Closets is always a joyful experience of colour and confidence. I also love the animal-themed cut-out works of Pete Cromer; he has a great way of expressing so much in a few pieces of paper.
What do you think needs to change in the Australian fashion landscape?
Generally, I think Australians are quite passionate about supporting local labels which is pretty unique. We are spoiled for choice here and don’t have to shop at fast fashion outlets. That’s something I’d love to see continue. As a maker, it’s getting increasingly hard to manufacture locally – we have challenges with fabric supply and machinists – so that support is vital to the survival of the local production scene trying to keep more makers on shore.