For anyone over the age of 25, the phrase “teenage fashion” conjures a bleak image – glittery $15 viscose dresses likely made in sweatshop-like conditions, designed to be worn once and then discarded.
This kind of consumption, known as fast fashion (and certainly not limited to teens, though they seem to be the target market), contributes seriously to our country’s waste problem – a large part of the 2.25 million tonnes of fashion waste created in Australia each year.
Adding insult to injury, these clothes simply don’t look very nice. (I’ve often wondered if parents despair at the Kardashian-lite stylings that seem to dominate the fashion sphere for those aged 13 and up. Well, it turns out they do).
Sydney-based mother-of-three Pauline Su was frustrated at the lack of age-appropriate, sustainably made clothing options available for her two teenage daughters when she decided to take matters into her own hands. Enter stage right: The Teen Age.
“As my girls hit their early teen years, I really struggled to find them clothes,” Su says. “The choice seemed to be either little girls’ clothes – with unicorn prints or frilly, flowery details – or adult’s clothes in small sizes; there was nothing in between. I started speaking to other parents about it and realised that everyone was dealing with the same problem.”
A primary school teacher turned event stylist, Su had no formal qualifications in fashion or manufacturing when she undertook the daunting task of creating her own brand from scratch. She did, though, have experience designing clothes for herself. As a teenager she too had struggled to find clothing she liked, and would sketch designs that her mother then sewed.
Su’s focus for The Teen Age was to create a hyper-curated line of wardrobe staples for teens that were simple and minimal – a cotton-linen summer dress is available in shades like vanilla, berry and sage, and elasticated knee-skimming shorts are made in navy and cream. Shorts retail for $80, T-shirts from $55 – which edges towards the higher end of the kids-wear spectrum. But Su hopes the pieces – made with durable cotton – will be kept for years and passed on to younger siblings. “They’re a long-term purchase,” she says. “You won’t wear them once and throw them away.”
This sensibility – known colloquially as “slow fashion”, an antidote to the humdrum of high-street bargain buys – has permeated every step of Su’s business. All her clothing is made with materials sourced from a sustainably run mill in Japan. The fabrics – cotton, linen and Lenzing modal (sustainable fibres made from wood) – are dyed without toxic chemicals, and packaged in reusable fabric bags before being posted in waterproof compostable satchels.
“Over the last few years our family has become more aware of the environmental impact of fast fashion,” Su says. “When I started the business, it was essential that I tried to be as sustainable and ethically responsible as I could.”
It’s been a tumultuous first six months for The Teen Age – their launch month coincided with the devastating bushfires, then Covid-19 broke out and the world went into lockdown. But as stores begin reopening and a semblance of normality looms near on the horizon, it certainly looks like the best is yet to come.