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A Q&A with Jo Carney from by Audrey and Grace

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A Q&A with Jo Carney, Founder of by Audrey and Grace

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Image: Jo Carney selling her designs at a market.
Hi Jo, please tell us a bit about yourself!

Hi, my name is Jo Carney, and I am a Melbourne-based Designer and Founder of the clothing brand by Audrey and Grace. I was born and raised in Melbourne but have spent some time living and working as a Costumier in Asia and South America. I am now settled with my small family in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges.  

Our home is surrounded by nature, and I’ve set up my home studio, which is where I design and create all of my garments. I have a love of classic and elegant styles, which inspires me to design timeless pieces that can be integrated into one’s wardrobe. Comfort, quality and sustainability are what guide and drive me when designing and making garments for myself and others. 

How did you create your brand, by Audrey and Grace?

It’s a bit of a blur, and I honestly can’t remember exactly how it happened – ha ha ha! by Audrey and Grace is my second clothing business, so I guess that running my own ethical brand is something that has always appealed to me. A few years ago, I returned home from South America, where I worked as a Wardrobe Technician on a beautiful show – Corteo, by Cirque du Soleil. My husband and I moved to The Hills and resumed working in the musical theatre world. I set up a home studio to do some projects, which started with my own wedding dress. This led me to make a friend’s wedding dress, and by Audrey and Grace was born during one of the fittings!

My cats, Audrey and Grace (named after Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly) were keen to keep an eye on the process, and both my friend and I thought it would be fitting to name my new business after them! I made more made to-order pieces, and did some freelance costume work, but the travel became difficult, and I wanted to spend as much time with my young bub as possible.

Around this time, I started creating my own designs again, then I made a website and started going to markets to sell my clothes. In 2023, I decided to focus on the brand and stopped doing specialty orders and repairs so I could focus on design, production, and growing the business. Now I have a much clearer vision and I can put more energy into making sustainable and ethical clothing.

What led you to work in the textile, clothing and fashion industry in the first place?

The women in my life, including my mum and grandma, were responsible for nurturing my creative side, learning how to sew and making my own clothes. I always loved coming up with ideas and doing fabric and pattern shopping with my mum. I made formal dresses and even designed and made a ballet costume when I was in year 12. I wanted to do fashion design, but had little guidance at school in how to make this happen, so pursued my passion for dance and acting.  

After that, life experience and my creative personality carved a unique path for me. I started my first brand in my 20’s to try and earn some money on the side. I don’t think I could have found two industries more challenging to take on! Since then, I have had many life experiences and learnt a lot and I find myself back here again, creating. 

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Image: Jo making a garment in her home studio.
Why is it important to your business to manufacture ethically? What are the benefits and challenges?

I have always been passionate about equality and not gaining from others’ misfortune or mistreatment, so manufacturing unethically was never an option for me. I could not go forward with closed eyes and ignore the realities. This commitment has been with me long before the Rana Plaza tragedy, which put a spotlight on horrors of the garment industry. 

The benefits of manufacturing ethically are plentiful. Being an ethical manufacturer gives me a platform to share my knowledge of the garment industry and why ethical production is important. It also gives those who want to do the right thing an option. If I can change the way one person views clothing and the fashion industry, then everything I am working towards has been worthwhile. 

That being said, it is a commitment that throws up lots of challenges. Sourcing sustainable and ethically produced items is a constant battle. The textile industry in Australia is small, so there are not a lot of options, and often when there are, they are out of reach for small business. There is a lot of research that needs to happen to make sure the item you are purchasing is sustainable and has been produced ethically. It is not a given that who you buy from is committed to doing the right thing, even in Australia. 

Perception is another challenge. In a world where fast fashion has dictated what the norm should be for clothing – lets say a $5 poor quality T-shirt – it is hard for people to then look at a garment that has been produced ethically and see its true value. It is perceived as being expensive because cheap is the new normal. The shock on some people’s faces when they see a skirt with a $325 price tag is a little heartbreaking – not just for me, but for the world. 

by Audrey and Grace has just been accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia at the end of 2023. What made you decide to get accredited in the first place, and how have you found the process and being accredited so far?

I have been aware of Ethical Clothing Australia for a long time, and I’d noticed the accreditation attached to another brand. When I started by Audrey and Grace, it was my goal to be part of this community, and to be part of an industry that commits to doing things the right way.

The process of being Ethical Clothing Australia accredited was eye-opening, and it introduced me to the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union. There were many aspects of the supply chain I had not considered and have learnt so much through the accreditation process. Ethical Clothing Australia were super supportive through the entire process. It wasn’t always easy, but I’m so happy to have made this step.

My accreditation shows my commitment to an ethical industry and has introduced me to other likeminded business owners. I have really enjoyed the support and learning opportunities Ethical Clothing Australia continually offer to their members.

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Image: Jo cutting garments in her home studio.
Can you tell us about your customers, and why they prefer to buy locally and ethically made garments?

I have a lot of different kinds of customers! My customers have their own style that is not dictated by the latest trends, they are looking for sustainable and ethical options that allow them to express their individuality while feeling comfortable and confident. Many love that they can purchase a piece that has been made here in Australia and want to support a local business. They are a discerning shopper. I also have a lot of customers who are new to the world of ethical and sustainable clothing and are keen to learn more about the industry and do the right thing.