Upon anticipation of having my first interview with Australian Jessica Priemus, founder of Bhalo, an Eco-Fashion line that employs Bangladeshi women to manufacture its designs, I eagerly drove back home nervous with butterflies in my stomach. Although it was to be held via Skype, I knew that the she was someone important in the Eco-Fashion industry so who wouldn’t be nervous speaking with her! After logging onto Skype, and receiving the call, I heard a cheery Aussie accent greet me through the speakers. “Hello! How are you!” After the nerve-racking introduction, Jess’s down-to-earth personality quickly showed, and I was no longer nervous.
Jessica has been aware of social and environmental justice since the young age of 6. “My parents are all about being environmentally conscious. I remember when me and mum used to make our own papers with recycled scraps,” she said. In high school, Jessica participated in protests and events for rights on environmental conservation. “I guess you can say, I have a strong sense of justice, and I don’t like it when people do bad things.”
Later on in her life, she moved to United Arab Emirates, where she worked for a construction company. She knew that it was a place for making great money and having a nice income. However, she wasn’t content in what she was doing. “I didn’t like working for the rich. I felt that there was something more that was much needed.” This is where she met a few people from Bangladesh. They traveled far from their homes to work in these factories. This intrigued her to wonder why these people were leaving their homes and family to work in a foreign place. She decided to take on a volunteer job teaching English at a village in Bangladesh.
There, she met her business partner Shimil. In that village, named Thanapura, there was a sewing center for women. “There were all kinds of women; disabled, divorced, widowed, faces with acid burns and the abused.” She spoke with these women and found that the garments they were making were all hand-loomed and beautiful. “I had the design skills, while they had the technical skills, and we just sort of collaborated,” said Jessica.
Jessica’s philosophy on ethical fashion was immediately incorporated into the label. “Sustainability was always just a must for my label. We use azeo chemical free dyes so that the water ways aren’t dirty from the factory. Many of the fashion factories are using dyes that are extremely toxic, and we don’t want to pollute the water in the village. We also create fair labor for these women by providing an income where they can take care of their family.” The little village that Jessica picked has a population of about 500 people. Of those 500 people, there was a time where 200 men were killed due to an invasion by the opposing army. All that is left are the wives, the children and the remaining men. “I would hear these sad stories of this village, where they would witness the murder of their own family. I couldn’t sleep at night thinking that I wasn‘t doing anything. I felt like I needed Bangladesh,” said Jessica.
“Bhalo is all about justice and fairness for the people who make our fashion.” She believes strongly that we should be capable of helping these third world countries. “We feel bad for these people; why not make that change within our lives?” Many fashion companies play a huge part in making these third world countries stay poor. “We are getting these items for cheap, because these people are getting paid cheap. I’m not going to be apart of that. When it comes to clothing, it is very sad how people can be mistreated just for the clothes on our backs.” After overcoming challenges and putting 100 percent effort into this label, what Jessica cares about the most is the welfare of those women in Thanapura.
Besides the inspiring story behind Bhalo, Jessica’s creations are amazing. Geometric patterns, bright colors, and a story in each piece, this label is far from boring neutrals. “This is the culture, the story of that woman in each garment.” In her upcoming collection, I got to take a peek at a few of her samples. Mustard yellows, confetti patterns and, of course, the signature geometric patterns. I’m loving the new collection. Being a former interior designer, Jessica was tired of designing for the rich. “I was designing for the 1 percent rich who are arguing in front of me about which curtains to hang on the living room windows. Now, I’m designing for the 90 percent who are poor, and I’m loving every single challenge and successes of Bhalo.”
It’s wonderful how people like Jessica can put all of her effort into giving one village a better way of living. We Eco-Fashionistas really have to stick together in making a change within fashion. We have the style, why not put in the effort in helping the rest of the world?
To finish off this interview, Jessica said something that I truly and fully believe in: “This is the future of fashion, there won‘t be this little niche anymore. Eco-Fashion will be fashion. ”
Learn more about Bhalo here.