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Australian label ELK on being guided by radical transparency and sustainability

Photography By ELK

When I interview the founder and creative director of clothing and accessories label ELK – three days before Christmas – I’m admittedly fighting end of year fatigue.

But within minutes of starting the Zoom call with Marnie Goding to dig into ELK’s story, I feel energised.

Relaxed in her Melbourne home, Goding speaks with the kind of candour that makes the next hour feel less like an interview and more like a coffee confessional. It’s a given she’s lovely but perhaps it’s also because with 2021 fast approaching, we’re both revelling in the opportunity to scrub the slate clean.

With her optimism intact, Goding is confident that her business – a pioneer of independent Australian design founded with husband Adam Koniaras in 2004 – will flourish in the new year ahead.

It was actually Koniaras, a fine jeweller by trade, who brought his experience in the fashion industry to the initial stages of establishing ELK. Goding’s professional years had been spent in the marketing and events world, though she says both she and Koniaras came from similar backgrounds of small, family-owned businesses. “We always had that desire to work together,” Goding says. “There are couples who think they could never do it, but we always wanted to.”

With the idea to collaborate in the back of her mind, Goding began to look at her husband’s business through a different lens, exploring ways they could develop their own unique offering in the fashion and accessories space. After teaching herself silversmithing, both Goding and Koniaras began fielding requests for custom made pieces for runway shows from friends in the fashion industry and selling a small range of their products through fashion labels. “We had customers coming back every year or every few months. And I think that was probably where the business started to change direction.”

Nearing two decades from the initial launch of ELK, the clothing and accessories label now distributes an extensive range of sculptural accessories, hand-made leather and ready-to-wear collections, each manufactured with a commitment to ethical and environmental practices. Its bi-annual and seasonal collections use quality raw materials wherever possible and ELK is committed to working with independent manufacturers around the globe with traditional skills and techniques.

“We wanted to build a business that creates opportunities for others,” Goding says. “After seeing what happens behind the scenes in factories, we made a decision from the outset that we were only going to work with likeminded people and we laid ethical foundations around treating them fairly from the beginning.”

As far as sustainability goes, that was an area of their business they started questioning about seven years ago. “For us, it wasn’t just about the product: it was about the impact you’re having on the communities that you work in, right through the supply chain and looking at the entire production process including the waste that’s being created and what happens at the end of life.”

In 2019, ELK released its first Transparency Report, publishing its second in November last year. It details how the brand operates as a fashion business and highlights its ethical and environmental journey. Overall, both reports serve as a public statement around ELK’s commitment to running a business with transparency, honesty and integrity at its core, and tracks progress towards their 2025 goals.

“We wanted the opportunity to talk about our journey because if you are a conscious consumer, and you really want to make a decision about whether to buy a product or not, or buy from a certain brand, you need to know about what they are doing,” Goding says. “It’s important for us to share the knowledge we’ve gained and explain what it means to buy or produce sustainable fashion.”

Detailing its 2025 goals, one of ELK’s key aims is to become zero waste, which relates to the production process as well as the end of life for its products. “Our carbon footprint is a big focus for us, trying to reduce the impact that we have in greenhouse gas emissions,” Goding says. And, upholding the mission they began seven years ago, ELK wants to continue mapping its supply chain “right back to tier four” in hopes of achieving full transparency.

ELK is also getting creative about the ways in which it can exist within the circular economy. In 2021, they’re hoping to launch what they call their “Rewear Program”. Through this initiative, ELK will look at taking back products and reselling them through a different channel. The team is currently in the process of setting up a workshop where garments and accessories can be repaired and reworked before being resold. Bang on trend!

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