DAVID ADAMS chats with Neridah Morris, director of Australian-based online ethical fashion marketplace Thread Harvest, about fashion, faith – and Holy Spirit encouragement…
Neridah Morris is a director and chief marketing officer at Thread Harvest, an Australian-based online marketplace for ethical fashion and recent winner of an Australian Good Design Award for Fashion Design. She talks about fashion, faith – and Holy Spirit encouragement…
Firstly, congratulations on winning a Good Design Award for Fashion Design. What does the win mean to you?
“Thanks David! The win for us means so much as we have been working on building Thread Harvest for the past four years. It has been a for the most part a labour of love so to receive such prestigious recognition is truly humbling and exciting.”
What exactly is Thread Harvest?
“Thread Harvest is an ethical online fashion marketplace that brings the best local and international ethical brands into one place so that the everyday shopper can find great product that hasn’t caused harm to people or planet.”
GOOD DESIGN WIN: Neridah Morris (left) and the Thread Harvest team – Henry Chen, head of operations, Ben Vance, head of IT, Dan Buckingham, head of social impact and development, and Davyn de Bruyn, managing director. PICTURE: Supplied.
NERIDAH MORRIS – IN SHORT
A Bible verse that’s influenced me?…”‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy’ – Proverbs 31:8 – and ‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?’ – Isaiah 58:6-8.”
A person whom I admire?…”I would have to say Lisa Messenger. She began her Collective Hub magazine when the print industry was dying a slow death and managed to build a movement (and very profitable business) out of it. I admire her ability to look at an industry that all the experts are saying has no hope and where they see regression, she sees opportunity. It inspires and challenges me to look at the giant that is the fashion industry and though it seems impossible and too big to conquer, maybe, just maybe, with a few stones of hope, belief and courage, we might just see Goliath fall.”
A place I’d like to go?…”The world. Seriously. I have a deep love for travel and there are many places I have yet to see!”
And for those who may not know, what is “ethical fashion”?
“The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, second only to oil. ‘Ethical fashion’ refers the shoes, clothing and accessories that have been responsibly made, minimising the impact on exploitation of people and the environment. By this we mean the manufacturer pays its staff a living wage, is not discriminating against women or employs people of all ability, ethnicity or working age. The material that the product is made out of has been harvested, created ethically without using GMOs [genetically modified organisms] or is fair trade certified or GOTS [Global Organic Textile Standard] certified. In short, it means that no human was harmed in the making of the product and the planet has benefited from the production process rather than being harmed by.”
Can you explain how the “Impact Badges” system works?
“Our Impact Badges play two very important roles within our business ethos. The first is that they act as standards for our brands. There are no global manufacturing practices so we needed a way of determining what brands we would partner with. This meant we needed standards for them to reach otherwise how would we sort the wheat from the chaff?
“Secondly our Impact Badges act as our way of communicating what ethical fashion is to consumers. Your previous question of ‘what is ethical fashion?’ is a common one and through the development of our Impact Badges we have a way of communicating clearly what we mean by this so that customers are educated through the purchase process.
“Our badges are divided up into two categories: ‘People’ or ‘Planet’. On the ‘People’ side we have ‘Empowering Women’, ‘Fair Trade’, ‘Living Wage’, ‘Employing the Marginalised’, and ‘Cause Supporting’. On the ‘Planet’ side we have: ‘Organic’, ‘Upcycled’, and ‘Eco-Friendly’.”
How did Thread Harvest come about?
“Thread Harvest was started by two Christian impact investors who saw a need within the emerging ethical fashion market for a platform that helped the ethical consumer to be able to shop all they needed in the one place, without having to have a complete understanding of everything that is involved in making something ethical. Our customers can shop with ease knowing we have done all the hard work for them.
How do you come to be involved personally?
“The team and I began our journey through wanting to start a fashion label that would use the profits for purpose. We went through the Seed Entrepreneur Incubator program in 2015 and were asked by one of the mentors where and how we were sourcing our product. It was pointed out to us that we couldn’t plan to do good on the front end whist exploiting on the back end; it would cancel out the good we were trying to achieve. So we hit reset on our entire business and began the journey of understanding what ethical fashion was and why it mattered. So that’s how my journey into ethical fashion began.”
Tell us a little about your own faith journey – how did you come to be a Christian?
“I grew up in a Christian home in the suburbs of Sydney and decided to own my faith at 15 on a youth camp. So, whilst not a perfect journey, I have had a constant connection with Jesus from a young age. I believe the greatest journey we can ever embark on is one fully surrendered to God and allowing Him to direct our steps. That’s how I’ve ended up in the fashion industry. I studied acting at a Christian university, have worked in small business, done marketing for a novated lease company, been the general manager of a large women’s online retail store and [am] currently following God into the war zone that is the fashion industry. It’s been a truly challenging, dynamic, hard journey but my faith in God grows deeper with each step and I get to see and do some pretty awesome things, all because of a deep desire to love God the best that I can and love His people.”
Has addressing the issues of exploitation and slavery always been something you’ve been passionate about? Did you faith play any role in that?
“I wouldn’t say I exited high school with a deep desire to change the world. But through my journey God has opened my eyes, and subsequently my heart, to see the great need in the world. Evil succeeds when good people do nothing. As I became more and more educated on what the fast fashion industry was doing to people and the planet, it became apparent I couldn’t ‘unsee’ what I had seen. I was responsible. There was a reason God was opening this world to me and a response of nothing or not my problem or I’m just one person would not only allow evil to continue, but it would also show that I really didn’t believe what I said I did. You can’t truly encounter Christ and leave unchanged. He is too glorious, too magnificent, too revolutionary to leave you the same. So if addressing the exploitation and slavery in the supply chain was where he was pointing, then that is where I was going.”
“One foot forward is one step closer to where God is leading. I didn’t set out to be in the fashion industry (I still find it strange that I am!); what I did set out to do is to go where God led…With God at the centre, no matter where He points you can be guaranteed it’s going to be adventurous, you just have to take the one next step in the direction He is telling you to go. The rest will figure itself out along the journey.”
What’s a story that you’ve heard recently that’s encouraged you in your work with Thread Harvest?
“To be honest, it is receiving the Good Design Award for Fashion Design. When you’re in a business and hustling hard to get it off the ground and build momentum it can feel like you’re not making a difference at all. But when we received the request to apply for Good Design Awards it felt as though all of the hard work was paying off. They had found us and asked us to apply. In that moment when I read that email, I felt the Holy Spirit encouraging me, encouraging our team, like He was saying ‘See, I know what you’re doing, I see the hard work, and so do others. Don’t stop. You’re doing a good thing’. This award has certainly fuelled us to keep going, to keep pushing for change within our world and it has heightened our belief that it is possible.
What advice can you give to someone who’s passionate to see the world become more just but doesn’t know where to start?
“Just start. One foot forward is one step closer to where God is leading. I didn’t set out to be in the fashion industry (I still find it strange that I am!); what I did set out to do is to go where God led. I have a print that sits on my shelves and it’s this beautiful image of compass and the it says ‘there’s adventure in every direction’ and I truly believe that. With God at the centre, no matter where He points you can be guaranteed it’s going to be adventurous, you just have to take the one next step in the direction He is telling you to go. The rest will figure itself out along the journey.”
Thread Harvest will be showcased to the general public during Vivid Sydney, the world’s biggest festival of light, music and ideas in Sydney from 25th to 27th May, 2018, at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, Circular Quay.