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How ILIO NEMA Co-Founder Ariane Leondaridis Styles Her Sustainable Wardrobe

Published August 10, 2022
In PeopleStyle

Ariane Leondaridis is the co-founder of Sydney label ILIO NEMA, alongside Katia Kelso. Both of Greek heritage, the pair met in New York where they held senior positions in design.

What I love even more than ILIO NEMA’s minimal-romance-meets-tribal vibe is the brand’s sustainability ethos; It aims to counteract trend-based consumption by reintroducing timeless and traditional craftsmanship to modern life. Passionate about ethical production, Ariane and Katia work with artisan communities in Delhi and Marrakech, showcasing traditional practices that have been long overlooked by the fast fashion industry. The first collection used cotton only, with a sizeable portion of pieces made on a handloom and cut by hand, as one of a kind. Wherever possible, the designers use remnant or surplus fabrics, which are often left over from other collections and destined for landfill.

The wellbeing of ILIO NEMA’s supply partners is crucial – their partners are family-owned businesses in rural locations in countries that are too often exploited for cheap labour, including child labour. The youngest employee in their supply chain is 20 years old.

Ariane’s strong affinity with sustainability isn’t limited to her brand; Below she gives us a glimpse into how sustainability shapes her own personal style, and gives some excellent tips for shopping more mindfully along the way:

“I have always been inspired by those free spirited women that are effortlessly chic,” says Ariane.

“I love sustainable fashion.

Sustainability is the only way forward, as fashion is one of the biggest polluting industries in the world.

My style is very Jane Birkin meets Talitha Getty! It’s a bit cliche, I even have bangs, but I have always been inspired by those free spirited women that are effortlessly chic.

So I like a classic Levi’s with a basket, a vintage ethnic blouse or a little crochet top, a Greek sandal with a unique caftan, or a sexy vintage slip dress worn with a denim jacket over it.
Really, sustainable fashion is so much more personal, stylish, unique and is the best way to create your very own style.

(And in the main picture with this story I am wearing vintage white Levi’s 501, an ILIO NEMA handmade cotton blouse made of remnant fabrics, an ILIO NEMA handwoven cotton caftan worn open as a jacket, second-hand Chanel pumps.)

In general, my tips for styling sustainable fashion are to mix high and low.

Vintage Levi’s and second hand Chanel shoes for example. New and old, such as my grandma’s blouse with an ILIO NEMA mini skirt. Artisanal with modern – a handmade caftan with Veja sneaker.

Mixing something new with a vintage blouse, like these passed down from her grandmother, is one of Ariane’s favourite ways to work sustainability into her wardrobe.

I have a few tips to shop sustainable fashion:

1) Know your style and buy only pieces you really love and will wear for a long time. I focus on buying timeless pieces, and on buying good quality only. Because if it has to last, it has to be well made.

2) Don’t do impulsive online buying late at night! If I put things in my cart while internet shopping, I try to leave it in there for a few days to make sure I really like it. If a week later I still have the envy for it then usually it means it’s not impulsive.

3) Mend and repair. It’s important to throw away less pieces – on average, Australians buy 27kg of clothing a year and dispose of 23kg the same year! Things can be over-dyed if colours are fading or stains can’t be removed for example. Patching and mending often brings incredible style and personal touches to garments. All my cashmere sweaters got attacked by moths when I came back to Australia, so I spent most of the lockdowns embroidering over them, and now I have really cute sweaters. Sometime I cut clothes for my kids out of an old dress that doesn’t fit anymore but which I still like the fabric.

4) Donate, pass down to a friend, or resell on second shops. There are lots of great second hand shops: Vestiaire Collective, The Real Real, Deluxe-Fashion, Imparfaite Paris…etc

5) Wear natural fibres.

It just feels better for me, I can’t wear synthetic, it makes me sweat and I feel like I’m being enclosed in a plastic bag. Even yoga leggings are tough for me! Obviously synthetic fibres are a disaster for the planet, and most cannot be recycled, and if they can, they can only be recycled 3 or 4 times. I try also to prioritise organic cotton, and handmade pieces, using less machines and carrying more emotions in them! With ILIO NEMA we have created a versatile collection of cotton handmade garments that are unique and timeless.

6) Buy vintage/second hand. I swear by my vintage Levi’s’ jeans, and spend a great amount of time tracking them down on eBay or Etsy. I know my size, the fit is perfect, why would I get anything else? I have them in all colours, sometimes they are from deadstock or sometimes were previously owned. I also inherited from my grandmother’s closet, so I have all her beautiful silk satin slips, silk blouses, crochet cardigans, fur coats and so one… it’s amazing the way her clothes have been kept immaculate, she used to care for them properly, it was another time. But also, it’s just so unique – I know I will not walk into a room with someone wearing the same outfit.”

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