When Tammy Green founded her accessories brand Prene, she was 20 years old and failing a business degree.

“I don’t have a mathematical mind,” she says. “I couldn’t pass accounting or statistics. I failed my Year 12 maths exam. But you know what, that is the best way to learn – to just get thrown into the deep end.”

It was 2015 and Green was determined to follow her passion in fashion. Previous endeavours included making Justin Bieber T-shirts to sell on Tumblr, upcycling altered vintage clothes, and renting out dresses. But it was when Green developed a sample of a neoprene bag that her idea came into focus.

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In a fashion industry where leather designer bags reigned supreme in the handbag world, Green saw a gap in the Australian market for a bag that was machine-washable and lightweight while still being stylish. At the time, she saw designers such as Alexander Wang developing garments using neoprene – the same synthetic rubber that wetsuits are made from.

“I just thought it was very cool,” says Green. “It was androgynous and a bit different.” The budding designer also decided to focus on timeless silhouettes and colours as opposed to trends in an effort to prioritise longevity. “I can never justify spending so much money on a designer bag,” she says. “It just sits on the floor and gets dirty. You can’t wash it. So the idea of a Prene bag is that it’s designed to be reused and washed. With the right care it can last you a lifetime.”

Green is also proud her Prene bags have always been vegan. In the eight years since Prene launched, the vegan movement has been gaining momentum in fashion. In 2019, Vogue Business found that stock of vegan fashion products by major luxury brands had increased by 258 per cent in the US and the UK. Soon after, major international retailers such as Macy’s announced that they would be phasing out all fur products by 2021.

“I feel like that is a really positive route for the future of the industry,” Green says. “It’s fantastic to see so many designers pivoting towards that movement, utilising new materials, and building more of a community over a commodity.”

But there’s still a long way to go. Last year, Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute issued an “urgent call” for Australia to reduce its environmental fashion footprint.

Green is particularly intrigued by innovation in recycled materials. “I feel like with the recycling movement, there’s always something new happening,” she says. “It’s just absolutely mind-boggling and fascinating what can be recycled and repurposed, like bio leather or apple leather or coffee leather. I’m working on a few samples with those products at present, essentially utilising food waste and material waste, recycling it, repurposing it. Producing a product that is still durable and can last you a long time but has had a life that existed before it.”

Green is hoping for more than just change in the products in department store windows. She says as a young female entrepreneur, she initially struggled to gather a team. Many experienced professionals older than her didn’t like reporting to a young female boss.

“Even dealing with retailers and big companies and stakeholders, I would answer the phone and speak to them as the founder of a very successful business, and they would immediately say, ‘Could you put your boss on?,’” she says. “’Could you put someone more senior on?’ I always had to prove myself.”

But the experience emboldened her. “As a young woman you need to stand up for yourself,” she says. “Anyone who does not agree with that or support you or respect you in that sense is not someone that you need to be working with. If you believe in yourself and your business, you will go far.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with BMW as part of The Next Guide. The Next Guide is a series dedicated to celebrating the people who are shaping our constantly changing culture in Australia, as well as investigating how sustainability will impact how we live in the future.