While we’re all busy breathing a tentative sigh of relief in Australia that we’ve dodged the Covid bullet – so far – there are plenty of places around the world that haven’t been so lucky. Julia Henry and her Australian family relocated from the Central Coast in New South Wales to Singapore six months ago for what they thought would be an exciting horizon expanding adventure. Instead, they got more than they bargained for ending up foreigners in a strange new land where their lives are controlled completely by extreme restrictions and a virus that’s still running amok. Julia, the cofounder of Slow Fashion Insta blog @ccfashionpack (Central Coast Fashion Pack), is a passionate advocate for sustainable fashion and the #whomademyclothes movement. We catch up with her to chat about her slow and authentic take on Instagram fashion and find out how her New Normal is treating her.
What has your interest in sustainable fashion taught you?
Through sustainable fashion I have become increasingly aware of other areas in my life where I can make more mindful choices. Suddenly sustainability seems to pop up in all these other places, like zero-waste lunchboxes, recycling soft plastics, avoiding toxic beauty products. I created @ccfashionpack a sustainable, reality based content feed for a slow fashion lifestyle. I’m also a contributor to Luxiders, a sustainable luxury lifestyle magazine. The more I learn about sustainability the more I believe that if everyone makes tiny changes in our daily lives, together we can make a big impact. I want to leave my two daughters with a beautiful non-polluted, non-toxic world. I want them to be curious, ask questions and do something! We can’t continue to live in this take-make-dispose world in ignorant bliss of the true cost on people and our precious planet.
Tell us some more about CCFashionPack. What inspired you to create it?
About three years ago I was driving to work when I heard a radio reporter saying that many young women were getting into debt spending up to $10,000 a year on clothing they’d wear once and photograph for Instagram. I started thinking about the clothes I wore – most of them were secondhand. I remembered a huge box of designer clothes I had ‘archived’ under my bed, from my early twenties when I worked in magazines (these clothes were also secondhand). As someone new to Instagram and social media in general I didn’t understand why the same clothes couldn’t be worn and photographed again and again. I thought, “I’ve got boxes of fabulous clothes getting dusty under the bed that should be worn. Why can’t I have an Instagram account that promotes wearing the same thing over and over?”
I knew I couldn’t pull it off on my own, but luckily I had a brilliant, creative friend Sarah from @losttribephoto who was interested in the idea, too, and brought all the skills I didn’t have to our partnership. The message of @ccfashionpack was really to promote slow fashion in your real life and local area. There’s so much beauty right where you are. You don’t have to travel to all these places to take photos or buy a bunch of new clothes. All the outfits we shot were clothes we already owned. Over the years we’ve invested in one or two new things, for example something from a local sustainable designer we wanted to support or something secondhand from Vinnies. We wanted to create a slow fashion account that was real and sustainable.
Last year you moved to Singapore. That must have been a massive lifestyle change? What have been some of the benefits? And what do you miss most about the Central Coast?
It’s a big exciting change – even during Covid. As a family, we wanted to experience a different lifestyle. There was a career benefit – a new job for my husband – and also family and education benefits. We wanted our two girls to have a broader sense of the world and we all wanted the experience of living in a different culture. We think we’ll be here for 2-4 years, which is a short chapter in life, really, and will fly by. We’ve already been here 6 months!
We do miss our house on the Central Coast. It was surrounded by bush. I miss the natural environment and the space and fresh produce that the Central Coast has. We miss the community, too.
How are you managing to keep @ccfashionpack alive since the move?
We promote a slow and considered sustainable life, so we apply that to our posting schedule. After I moved we slowed our posts down and reused content, different frames or unused shots from previous shoots. Also, due to the worldwide pandemic, we didn’t feel it was really appropriate to just keep posting as if nothing was happening. When we do post we want it to be positive and reassuring. It’s important to us to share things that are genuinely meaningful to us. We fully planned to continue CCFashionPack, however with Sarah in Sydney and me in Singapore and flights not really a happening thing at the moment we’ll have to see how that works out. Like lots of people we’re trying to find a work around for the ‘New Normal’. We’ll have to see how that works out.
What’s it like living in Singapore during the pandemic? How has life changed?
Daily life has changed significantly. We had a few weeks of things being relatively normal then they introduced temperature checks at school. We could still go out and move freely around the city. We weren’t too worried. Then things got worse around the world and in Singapore and case numbers grew and grew.
My husband has been working from home for almost the last two and a half months. I haven’t been able to get a job yet, which was our plan once the girls were settled in school. School closed and we moved to quite a demanding Home Based Learning schedule. Currently, we’re not allowed to leave the house without face masks to go to the supermarket. Strict social distancing must be observed at all times. There are Social Distancing Officers at the train stations. We need to be scanned with our Identity cards for entry to the mall, we’re rescanned and temperature checked to enter the supermarket. There are also Social Distancing Officers in the supermarket.
All common areas in our apartment block such as the pool, basketball courts, tennis courts, benches, exercise areas and the little park are cordoned off and you are discouraged from lingering outside. We must stay in our own neighbourhood.
They have recently reopened hairdressers – very exciting – and as of June 2 we can now get colour and treatments done. Hopefully we’ll see some retailers and restaurants re-open for dining in very cautiously. At the moment some restaurants are still open for takeaway or delivery only. It is going to be a very slow process and they’ll tighten restrictions again if there are new spikes in case numbers.
How are you feeling about school being back?
We’re very excited that school is back. My Kindy aged child has gone back Monday to Friday as normal, but my Year 3 aged child goes on rotating weeks: one week of school, one of home-based learning until the holidays start in July and then the school will update us. Returning to school is a big deal, all students and teachers must wear masks or face shields while on campus. Only one adult per family is allowed to do drop off or pick up. There are staggered arrival and departure times and very limited movement around the school. We have designated gates we’re allowed to collect children from, but adults aren’t allowed to move around the campus. There’ll also be contact tracing of all children and accompanying adults, temperature checks and weekly travel declarations to say we haven’t gone anywhere and that no-one feels unwell. Despite this we’re all overjoyed to go back to school and get a little bit of normal routine back. The Safe Singapore Plan saw Phase 1 begin on June 2, which was the Safe Reopening of some activities. Phase 2 is a broader re-opening of social and economic activities. Phase 3 is Safe Nation – this will take some time to get to…
What are you doing to keep yourself occupied at the moment?
On the days the kids are home we try for a daily walk or scooter trip in the neighbourhood to get exercise for the children, but we aren’t really allowed to go out as a family group, so it’s usually one parent and two children. We do jigsaw puzzles, read a lot, watch TV. The girls play with their toys and then it’s just day-to-day stuff, like go to the supermarket, plan meals, Zoom call family and friends to stay in touch.
Have you had any interesting realisations living under the ‘New Normal’?
It’s been an adjustment going back to school and being out and about and seeing a lot more people. I realise that some days are great days and other days are really hard, sometimes without a specific reason – and that’s okay. I realise how lucky I am and how very much I have and I try to give thanks by being kind and understanding to others. I believe what you put out into the world is what you attract back, so kindness even if it’s a smile behind our masks or nodding and acknowledging someone passing you on the street is important and has value.
How is your family coping and adapting to the difficulties imposed by this time?
I think we’re coping pretty well. Mostly the kids are pretty happy and my husband is doing okay. He works really long hours in his office at home. As a family we’re all still friends, which I think is an achievement. Sometimes we have a bad day, but other days are really happy and filled with laughter. The days don’t feel long. They go past pretty quickly. Sometimes, it feels really boring and mundane. But life sometimes comes down to those really small things. The dreary tasks are the price to be paid for the luxury of spending much more time together, sleeping in a little and reading during the day.
What are the things you’re looking forward to when more restrictions lift?
We moved to Singapore to experience new things, new foods, new places, a different culture. There are so many places I’m looking forward to exploring in this beautiful city and I can’t wait to meet new people and re-connect with other mums. Most of all I’m looking forward to knowing… There has just been so many things we haven’t known. Everything has been so uncertain for so long now. Like when will we next be able to come visit Australia? It’s impossible to plan anything because you just don’t know what will happen. We’re really hoping to visit Australia for Christmas, fingers crossed.
What do you think the future holds for fashion, sustainability and the world more broadly post Covid-19?
The Fashion industry has been on the edge of a big shake up. There’s been a call for systemic change for some time. Fast Fashion isn’t sustainable for people or the planet. The clothing and garment industry has a huge impact on waste and the environment and people. For some time I’ve just felt there’s so much of everything, so much more clothing than you could ever wear or need in a lifetime. There needs to be less stuff.
I’m heartened to see that some luxury brands moved to only two seasons per year. It all really needs to be slowed down. Covid19 has enforced a ‘go-slow’. Whether that will continue when restrictions are lifted I don’t know… I can only hope that change of some type happens. That we’ve changed as individuals. That we’re more thoughtful as people about what we need and what we want and what we buy. For sustainability, I think this experience may get people asking questions and being more thoughtful about their consumption. I worry that with Covid19 so many people are using so much more single-use plastic as it’s disposable and ‘safer’. I’ve made a conscious effort to invest in reusable washable cotton face masks. We’ll be going through a good few and disposable ones seem so wasteful.
I really do hope that this experience changes us all a little bit and reminds us how little we need. We really don’t need to constantly pursue more stuff in our life. Less is more.
All Images courtesy of Julia Henry & CC Fashion Pack
CC Fashion Pack Photography by Sarah Ward @losttribephoto