People: Stella Hertantyo

The first time I saw Stella IRL was at the 2019 DesignIndaba’s NightScape event – you know, when it’s after hours so all the students are there because it’s free. I recognised her from my Instagram feed but we were both busy so I decided to slip into her DMs after. We met two weeks later had a long conversation about slow fashion and haven’t stopped talking since.

In less then a year, Stella became one of my closest friends. We have had hour long conversations in the car, when we’re meant to be saying goodbye. We have been each other’s sounding boards through voice notes that are a minimum 5 of minutes long. We have had people message us as if we were the same person, or already a duo. So, doing this (cnscs_) together seemed almost like a no brainer. We’re opposites in some ways, but similar in the ways that are important to us. 

Outfit: hat – borrowed, top – thrifted, pants – thrifted

Masego: When did your slow fashion journey begin? And what did you struggle with?

Stella: Consciously *wink*, my journey only started at the end of 2018. But, before that I always loved going thrifting. Most of my clothes came from thrift shops and markets because I loved finding pieces that not everyone else was wearing. So, I guess I was doing it involuntarily in the beginning. I’ve also never liked malls, because I’ve always felt very claustrophobic in them and come out feeling more empty than when I went in.

In the beginning of 2019 I had to start a blog for a university assignment, and I wanted it to be on something that I was interested in but didn’t know a lot about, yet. I thought this would be a great opportunity to explore, actively throw myself into a new area of interest and to interview people. So, I chose sustainable fashion because it was a term that was moving around my brain a lot at the time. I’d been to the clothing swap you, Savannah and Katya had organised the previous September (2018), I was seeing more articles written about sustainable fashion and I thought, “this is something I want to look into.” When I started my blog, that was when I actively started my journey, because that was when I was researching, looking up people to speak to and learning more about what it actually meant to shop sustainably and ethically. From that point, my choices became more considered. 

I struggled with two things. The first is guilt that a lot of my wardrobe was fast fashion. When I started finding out all these things about the fast fashion industry, I immediately felt quite repulsed or embarrassed by the things that I had in my closet. So, I struggled with that quite a bit because I obviously can’t change what I have.

Secondly, I struggled with feeling like there weren’t that many people to speak to. I struggled to find like-minded young people in the beginning and when I did find a community, I started to feel a lot of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome was something I battled with a lot last year(lol). Yeah, so those were things I struggled with in the beginning.

M: You mentioned your blog, The Conscious Conversation, which is how we met last year. But, you also freelance write about slow fashion and slow living.

How do you feel writing about conscious living has affected the way you learn about the climate crisis and solutions to it?

S: I think, in the first sense, it really pushed me to learn more, because when you’re writing an article you have to do research. So, I actively had to look into not only the climate crisis but also alternatives to the way we live and alternatives to the way we think. I think that’s what a lot of people don’t realize, is that the things that we think can’t be replaced or made lower-impact, can be and it’s not that difficult. 

I haven’t grown up in a house that was 100% aware of these things, so it’s been interesting starting this journey in a household like that. Even with my friend group, they’re not necessarily all about sustainability or don’t know a lot about it, but it’s been interesting to start understand that “Oh, everything starts at home.” So, the second thing I have learnt is that there are so many things that we can change, which aren’t that difficult to change, but it take an emotional shift. Once you’re emotionally invested in the climate crisis and you really understand what it’s about, then you start to see that there are ways of adapting your habits and behaviors that are much easier than you think to incorporate into your daily life.

M & S: *both laugh nervously*

S: It takes a lot to change the climate crisis, but for me because my journey was 100% started by the small things, I like delving back into that and helping the people around me understand the small things as well.

M: So we kinda touched on, and laughed about nervously, the fact that we have 10 more years to limit the effects of global warming by reducing our carbon footprint globally. How does that make you feel and how do you deal with those feelings?

S: It makes me feel anxious, obviously. Though, I think my anxiety is less than someone who has an established life. I know that’s a weird thing to say but it’s almost like I don’t even know where I’m going to be in 10 years. For me, it’s definitely more about how the world around me will experience this phenomena, and less about how it will affect my personal life. So, in that sense, escaping the anxiety is a little bit more difficult in one way but also easier in another.

I’ve always loved spending time outside in nature. There is this inexplicable feeling when you’re in the water or you’re just walking in the forest, and you realise there are no cars, no airplanes, and no noise. I think that feeling, even though I can’t really describe it, is something that just like puts me at peace. So, I guess that appreciation is how I deal with eco-anxiety. I feel that if everybody appreciated the world around them more, we (but particularly big corporations) would think twice before making decisions that negatively impact the planet and the people on it. 

M: In this decade what do you want to work on in your own sustainable journey and what ways do you want to see the country take action?

S: I’m struggling with working out how to travel with a lighter carbon footprint, because travelling is something that I really want to do but I know that it has such a huge carbon footprint attached to it. For me travelling falls into the camp of appreciation. I mean, can you really give up seeing the world?

I want to keep my carbon footprint as low as possible. I’m hopefully moving out of home relatively soon, so when I do that I want to try and have a home that is as low-impact as possible. That’s in terms of things I buy, but also in terms of where I’m situated and where I end up working. My main thing, in terms of fashion, is to buy less this year. Last year, at the beginning of my journey, I was like, “you can buy what you like, as long as it isn’t fast fashion.” Now, I’m like, “you probably shouldn’t buy as much stuff, even if it’s secondhand. You have enough.”

For the country, I would like to see laws passed about the way businesses manufacture products and the materials they use. I want to see systems implemented that teach us better habits, about the choice we make, from a young age. I’m all about educating consumers, but also, the better choice needs to be the easier option.

I would like to see more pride in local production, and more of a demand for our own brands, but I don’t really know how to foster that.

Change is two fold. It’s about incentive and convenience.

M: What are some tips you’d give someone starting their slow fashion journey?

S: You don’t have to be wealthy to be able to have a sustainable wardrobe. Firstly, the most sustainable wardrobe you can have, is just to use what you already own. If you can style the clothes that you have now, in new ways, then that’s the most sustainable you can be – and have fun with it. I think there’s a lot of options, that people don’t know about, for creating a sustainable wardrobe. For example, clothing swaps. For me, swaps are so fun, because you get to shop other peoples’ wardrobes and it gives me a sense of excitement inside. Thrifting is really fun, because you get to find pieces that you never even knew existed. 

Secondly, you don’t have to do it all at once. It takes time. In fact, it would be unsustainable if you threw away your whole wardrobe, just so you could start over. So, be patient, rethink the way you buy, but don’t rebuy everything in order to make your wardrobe more “sustainable”. 

Lastly, follow people, because having a community helps. It helps keep you accountable, but also inspired. So, follow people whose style you like and have a sustainable approach to it. 

 M: Favourite item in your wardrobe and why? 

S: At the moment is definitely my Meso tepi-tier dress and raindrop dress, because I wear them the most. I feel like I can wear them with so many things. I love their versatility and they are so cool for summer. I once dressed the tepi-tier dress up for an event, but I dress it down all the time too, because I don’t go to events that often. Last year, I really wanted to buy something from a local designer that I love, and those dresses were the first things I bought, when they were on sale.

M: We love a good local sale! 

S: We do love a good local sale! It’s just special to me because I saved up for this them, got to support a local designer, and now I just get to wear them and I enjoy it every time. They are real investment pieces.

M: Favourite cost-free place to go?

S: Definitely a walk on the mountain, or in the forest. It makes my head feel at ease when I’m feeling stressed, and I like to go to Newlands with my mom and our dogs.

M: Where do you go when you want to treat yourself? 

S: I usually take myself on a solo date. I love going to Dalebrook tidal pool for a swim and after, I’ll get an ice-cream. I think it reminds me of when I was travelling alone and it makes me feel very refreshed and independent. Sometimes, if I REALLY want to treat myself, I’ll buy a book. Books are really expensive, so it’s not very often that I’ll treat myself that much.

M: What accounts inspire you right now?

S: @sisiliapiring – She’s my all time favourite style crush. I don’t think she’s ever worn an outfit I didn’t like, to be honest. 

@amyayanda – I just think she has a really beautiful account. Also, she owns Lili & Frank, which is one of my favourite slow fashion brands in Cape Town. I admire how much she does and how well she does all of the things she does.

@sustainablesarah –  Her captions are great. She talks a lot about everyday things, but she words it very well, and in a way that people understand. It’s helped me learn more about sustainability, locally. 

@mariz_ – For local travel inspo. Everywhere she goes, I want to go too. She makes each place she travels to look like a dream.

M: What’s on your local brand wish list?

S: The Miss Celie dress in green by Sindiso Khumalo. I love the detail of Sindiso’s prints. In December, I read a book (The Eternal Audeince of One by Remy Ngamije) and the cover was designed by Sindiso Khumalo –  I’d be lying if I told you that wasn’t part of the reason that I was drawn to the book. 

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