Em and Kel
Sisters and self-described 'earth lovers' Em and Kel Sommerville are the creative duo behind successful ethical clothing brand Terra the Label. Their designs are infused with the deep history and stunning landscape of Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park.
Growing up in this special part of Victoria has instilled a love of land in Em and Kel, and nurtured their adventurous spirits. 'We were really fortunate to grow up at the foot of the Grampians (Gariwerd), close to Mud-dadjug [Mt Abrupt], which we can see from our parent's property,' Kel says.
It was incredible upbringing in which they spent much of their time in nature, camping with their parents, and playing, climbing and hiking in what they thought of as their 'magical wonderland'.
As they grew up and saw more of the world, their good fortune to live in such a beautiful place became clear. 'Being so connected to nature has given us the feeling of being [nature's] caregivers,' Em explains.
Respect for the environment is at the heart of their sustainable fashion brand, Terra the Label. 'We created Terra on the basis of our motto – 'Do no harm'. If we're harming nature, then we're harming ourselves.'
This low-impact ethos forms the basis of their decision-making. While globally the fashion industry is a huge contributor to environmental waste and destruction, Em and Kel chose to create positive change and address climate change issues while expressing their creativity and interest in fashion.
Sustainability informs every aspect of Terra, from fabric to compostable packaging to garment tags. 'We think about the lifespan of our clothing, how it's made … We have chosen 100 percent hemp and the garments are fully compostable at the end of their life. We don't release based on trends or forecasting with colour. We create timeless pieces that people can keep in their wardrobe for a lifetime,' Em says, adding: 'We wanted to make choices that weren't harming the planet.'
'It seemed like a great choice to come up with options for people who didn't want to harm the planet with what they wear every day.' – Em
Much of the sisters' inspiration for Terra comes from the Grampians (Gariwerd). Their print designs draw from colours in the local fauna and natural landscape.
'Most of our design ideas are birthed while we're walking on one of our local trails. It gives us a clear mind to think and dream and really make decisions in a connected way. We feel most grounded while doing that,' Kel says.
Em agrees: 'Hiking through the mountains is magic. I always feel like I'm not alone.'
Terra clothing is made in Melbourne, in collaboration with a pattern-maker and dressmaker. But it's in Em and Kel's studio in Dunkeld – from where there's a beautiful view of Mud-dadjug and Wurrgari (Mt Sturgeon) – that the creativity starts, through concept design and sketching.
'The view is a good reminder of why you're doing what you're doing.' Kel explains. 'Dunkeld has phenomenal mountain views that are humbling and a reminder of the small part each of us plays in the environment.'
Gariwerd is central to the creation stories of the land's Aboriginal Traditional Owners. History and culture here stretches back tens of thousands of years. Em and Kel talk of the Gariwerd's unique energy and of what can be learned from the land as a visitor. 'The feeling you get through the connection with Gariwerd is that it's not necessarily your place. It's here for us to enjoy and be a part of, but it's certainly not a place to possess.'
The park's huge diversity of landscape, flora and fauna guarantees memorable experiences, from wildflowers in spring to waterfalls and caves. 'You can do a hike a hundred times and every time it's different,' Em says. 'It leaves you with a different emotion and feeling, as it's ever changing.' To this Kel adds,' I think it makes you feel whole.'
The Grampians (Gariwerd) community is supportive and provides Em and Kel with a sense of belonging. 'Dunkeld isn't a big town but it has a huge heart,' Em says. Terra garments are stocked in like-minded business Dot & Frankie in Halls Gap, and collaboration with another local maker provides the label's earthy signature scent.
Small as it is, Dunkeld bursts with creativity. Local produce is abundant, served up on top plates around town. Em and Kel recommend dining at Parker Street Project and Wickens at The Royal Mail, and rave about the rye bread at historic Dunkeld Old Bakery.
Though they've travelled the world, Em and Kel's roots are firmly planted in Gariwerd. 'I love when you're at the top of the mountain and a bird flies past. Everything looks normal then you see this bird – and it's tiny. You get this depth of field and you see how far away things actually are… You see this range rolling off into the distance. It reminds you that all the little things that you worry about and get caught up on, they really don't matter,' Em says. 'You feel like you're home.'
'It's not just a view,' Kel sums up. 'It's a feeling, a connection.'