Leah Kelly, Designer and Creator of Organic Wearable Art, just finished showing her beautiful gowns at the 2021 London Fashion Show. They were met with rave reviews. Margaret River Hemp Co. shared this beautiful video of some of the show.
We first met Leah and her beautiful gowns on the runway at Eco-Fashion Week Australia 2018. (The 2022 Eco Fashion Weeks schedule is set to open November 4, 2022) Her creations are made of pure organic hemp, bamboo, hemp silk, and pineapple silk. The pineapple silk garnered excited interest as many are unfamiliar with the fabric.
The diaphanous material is woven from pineapple fibers. When you rub the gloss off the tops of pineapple, there are millions of tiny fibers are woven into a thread. The cloth, known as piña, was popular in the 14th century, reaching far into Greek and African countries from the Philippines. In the courtesan courts of France during the 16th century, the cloth was prized for its softness, delicate sheerness, and luxurious sheen. The gossamer-like fabric though is long-lasting, durable. Popular into the 19th century, the lower prices of cotton and mass production led to its demise. Only in the last twenty years is the prized material making a comeback.
Leah Kelly started using it to make French knickers and now counts it as a key option for brides looking for eco-friendly, sustainable, and unique fabric choices.
The House Leah Built
The unusual fabric is only part of Leah’s intriguing story. Leah has built her business while living off-grid in the rainforests of Australia, raising her family. It is hard to imagine a life much further away from the runways of fashion, yet her very story draws the two worlds together.
Her house has half walls and for many years did not have a front door. She doesn’t have main power, water, or internet and needs to hike to certain spots for cell reception. She lives on 5 acres of land, northwest of Cannes and halfway up a mountain that she bought it 20 years ago. As she points out, the piece of land she bought with her ex-partner was exceptionally cheap. Known to be an area with cyclones her house is solidly built and the bright point is it is easy to clear away the debris after a storm.
“I always wanted my own piece of land. I built up the house out of trees I took down on the property. It was a huge task but it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I grew up camping by creeks and in the outdoors.”
She has raised three children, 27, 22, and 20 taking them down the mountain to the closest bus stop for school. They are settling into lives and careers close by.
One might think it sounds isolating but in fact, it is quite therapeutic. Leah is involved in many activities but she also draws many up the mountain to benefit from the amazing surroundings. Leah is part of an all-girls band and Tuesdays finds them sitting in her garden, around a fire with the cello, singing and writing songs.
Uniting Fashion And Music
Leah’s artistic prowess is evident in many ways. She is in another band, and speaks and sings an aboriginal dialect, Djabugay, the indigenous language of the Kuranda area.
“I started taking a class with an aboriginal friend of mine when my daughter was young. Aboriginal children at missions were beaten for speaking their own language in the 1960s and many dialects started to die. In the 1980s there was an effort underway to get the languages documented and back in use again. Music and singing were natural which led to performances.”
One Of A Kind Creations
Leah has been designing and sewing since she was little, learning from her grandmother and mother.
“Embroidery was like painting to me. My mom made clothes from bits around the house.
It seems like I have always been quite an individual. I once made a pair of shoes for myself and I wore those shoes for a couple of years. My sisters were probably quite embarrassed. I thought they were the coolest shoes though.
I couldn’t put myself out into mainstream work because I wanted to be home for my girls. A degree in environmental health aligns with eco-fashion. So I started my business. Then I started making lingerie because it seems that instead of wrapping our bodies with plastic we should be using breathable anti-bacterial materials. The fabrics I work with are comfortable, easy to wear, and good for you and our world.”
Leah creates heirloom pieces customizing each creation to the desires and story of the woman wearing it. She recounts the story of incorporating fish bones into the dress of one woman saved from the catch of her and her husband’s first fishing date. Another woman’s string of pearls handed down in her family for generations adorned her dress.
Any creation you envision, Leah can deliver. That the creation happens on a mountainside in the pure air and sunshine bodes well for those who wear it.
Four Fast Questions
Why is singing important to you?
My father was a musician who worked with many singers including Tommy >>>>>>. We all gathered into the kitchen. I had a wonderful childhood filled with music and singing. I played the piano ½ hour in the shed every day. Music was a family affair.
What was the best advice you have received?
Many things have influenced me although I often recall “Laugh and the world laughs with you cry and you cry alone.” And “Work without love is slavery” by Mother Theresa
What achievement gives you the most pleasure?
The most pleasure is watching my girls laugh and talk. The connection of family is beyond achievement.
Is there a key piece of wisdom you would like to share with women contemplating a renewed self?
Just because you are a mother or a daughter or a wife, doesn’t mean that you stop what you are. It adds another ticket to your qualifications. Every job requires a ticket. You are an individual, first and foremost and you cannot lose that. You just hit pause while you went to get the next ticket.
Get inspired. Read more Audacious Women profiles.