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Beyond Threads: Crafting Sustainable Narratives with Christine de Vries, Founder of House of Kerry

Embark on a transformative journey with Christine de Vries, founder of House of Kerry, as she unveils the enchanting fusion of sustainable fashion, artistry, and empowering narratives in an exclusive interview.

Step into the enchanting world of House of Kerry, where fashion meets purpose, and sustainability intertwines with artistry. In this exclusive interview, Christine de Vries, the visionary founder of House of Kerry, unveils the profound journey behind the brand’s ethos.

From the rolling landscapes of Co. Kerry to the international stage of New York Fashion Week, Christine shares her passion for nature, commitment to sustainable practices, and the empowering stories woven into each exquisite garment.

Join us as we delve into the heart and soul of House of Kerry, where every piece is a testament to craftsmanship, ethical sourcing, and the transformative power of fashion with a purpose…

The House of Kerry’s mission revolves around sustainability, the planet, and female empowerment. Can you share the story of how these values became the driving force behind your brand and how they continue to shape its identity today?

The driving force originates primarily from a love for nature developed while growing up on the farm in Kerry and the conservation of resources. After training and working as a lawyer for several years, I returned to the farm later in life. Farming with my family made me acutely aware of sustainability principles, environmental care, and nature conservation, leading to my certification with Origin Green.

I believe that if everyone contributes and adheres to regulations specific to their region, the planet has a chance to thrive. Growing up surrounded by nature profoundly influenced my research into fabrics and sustainability principles for the House of Kerry fashion house.

The world around us is facing numerous issues that align with sustainability principles. For example, there is an ongoing need to focus on gender equality (a UN Sustainability Goal). Research indicates that women can be left behind in terms of equal pay due to reasons such as childcare duties and time taken off from the workplace.

While these issues affect everyone, women are particularly impacted, affecting pension and work benefit rights. Additionally, research shows that having women in leadership roles leads to greater workplace diversity, which I find inspiring. Some of the House of Kerry pieces draw inspiration from women and their impactful work.

Your commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals is commendable. How do you integrate these goals into your designs and daily operations at the House of Kerry?

Considerable research and thought are invested in each piece and design created at the House of Kerry. From the meticulous use of resources, utilization of biodegradable fabrics, to pattern cutting and incorporating leftover fabric from previous collections (including House of Kerry prints and French couture end-of-line fabric), sustainability becomes ingrained in our routine. We prioritize sourcing fabrics within the EU, where strict laws govern land use and farming practices, contributing to the preservation of life on land.

Furthermore, the use of digital printing for prints minimizes our impact on water resources. Natural fabrics, such as silk, wool, and Irish linen, are chosen for their longevity, heirloom quality, and transformation into timeless House of Kerry pieces that will be cherished for an extended period.

The House of Kerry logo has a unique connection to your family’s farm. Could you elaborate on the significance of the evergreen symbol and its ties to your farming heritage?

Yes, the evergreen is our logo as it serves as a reminder of the trees planted by our grandfather and great-grandfather. These trees provide shelter to the animals, protect the soil, and hold historical significance for our family.

Christine, you transitioned from a career in law to pursue your creative passions. How did your farming background and family influence this shift, and what role did your grandmother play in shaping your artistic journey?

Even when I left for a career in law, something was always calling me back to the farm—a beautiful place on the shores of a lake surrounded by mountains. Growing up, we were immersed in creativity, and my grandmother, in particular, left a lasting impact.

She managed a large family, assisted with farmwork, and created beautiful dresses, knitwear, and furniture. Her wisdom, love for current affairs, and her garden were inspiring. She dressed in timeless classics, and her resourceful approach, where nothing was wasted, deeply influenced my artistic journey.

Your designs are deeply rooted in the natural scenery of Co. Kerry. Can you tell us how the breathtaking landscapes of your surroundings influence the creation of your pieces, and how they reflect your commitment to sustainability?

First and foremost, fabric choices are crucial—only breathable natural fabrics are used, promoting well-being and environmental consciousness. The inspiration for prints often stems from themes related to nature. For instance, the “Down to Earth” prints for the wrap dresses feature the “Fuchsia Kaleidoscope” print, emphasizing the importance of hedgerows for biodiversity.

The “Sceilig Mhichil” print celebrates the raw beauty of the Sceilig Mhichil island, a surreal landscape with a puffin sanctuary, 6th-century monastic site, and UNESCO World Heritage site. These prints serve as wearable art, celebrating the natural beauty found in my local surroundings.

House of Kerry has received several accolades, including the “Highly Commended Brand of the Year 2023” at the Drapers Sustainable Fashion Awards. How does this recognition impact your mission and goals for the future of sustainable fashion?

Receiving this recognition was an honor, and it has reinforced House of Kerry’s commitment to maintaining high standards. We are more determined than ever to uphold these standards, research additional sustainable processes, reduce our carbon footprint, and provide the best possible value to our customers.

Your designs made a successful debut at New York Fashion Week. Could you share the inspiration behind your “Joie de Vivre” collection and the significance of showcasing it on an international stage like NYFW?

The “Joie de Vivre” collection was inspired by a celebration of life, music, and culture. It emerged after the gloom of lockdowns, aiming to create pieces full of life, wonder, and a celebration of the little things. My children’s music played a role in inspiring me. The collection features surreal and playful prints like the “Accordion Landscapes” and “Tractor V Flying Unicorns,” offering a whimsical take on the landscape. The use of fabric leftover from previous collections, along with end-of-line Irish linen and French couture wool, exemplifies our commitment to reducing our carbon footprint.

In addition to your in-house prints, House of Kerry offers bespoke garments. How do you collaborate with clients to create one-of-a-kind wearable art pieces, and what role does sustainability play in this customization process?

Nothing beats the stress of shopping like having a bespoke garment tailored to your specifications. It’s also a highly sustainable model, as each piece is made to order, minimizing waste. Every piece is handcrafted, and clients can choose from an exciting array of styles and couture fabrics, including my in-house silk prints, Irish tweeds, Irish linen, and end-of-line French couture fabrics. A 50% payment is required at the time of ordering, with the remainder due when the piece is ready for shipping within 3-4 weeks. For inquiries, please contact christinedevries.hofk@gmail.com.

As a certified Origin Green farmer and wool producer, you have a firsthand understanding of the effects of climate change. How does this experience inform your commitment to sustainable agriculture and influence the choices you make in your designs?

Experiencing adverse weather conditions on the farm in the last ten years, leading to fodder shortages, was an unnerving experience. We commit to sustainability through practices such as extensive and strip grazing at daily intervals to maximise grass usage. Soil testing ensures the correct nutrients are used, minimizing the need for excessive fertilizer. These principles guide my choice of natural biodegradable fabrics, such as Irish linen, which requires minimal chemicals in its cultivation and wears well with age.

Wool, another sustainable choice, is abundant, and shearing is essential for good husbandry, providing a natural resource every year. While wool production requires high energy input, its longevity outweighs the environmental impact. Silk, a biodegradable fabric, is sourced responsibly and possesses unique properties, making it an ideal choice for sustainable fashion.

Your “We Share the Same Sky” collection is inspired by your grandaunt, a nurse during WW2. How do you weave stories of strong women into your collections, and what impact do you hope these narratives have on your customers?

The “We Share the Same Sky” collection was inspired by the work of nurses and healthcare staff during lockdown. The collection, featuring organic woven silk (woven by women in India as part of a project to empower women through work and GOTS certified) and Irish linen (Masters of Linen certified), pays tribute to the hard work and dedication of healthcare workers. The collection appeared on the New European Bauhaus platform, showcasing the stories of strong women and their contributions.

House of Kerry works with mainly female artisans in Ireland. How does this focus on female talent contribute to the empowerment of women, both locally and globally?

Clothing manufacture has largely disappeared in Ireland, but House of Kerry collaborates with skilled artisans working in studios, mostly led by women. By highlighting the preservation of craft and skill, we empower women who play a central role in the craft of dressmaking.

Your commitment to ethical sourcing is evident. How do you ensure fair wages and good working conditions for your contractors/collaborators, especially when working with small to medium family-run businesses?

House of Kerry exclusively collaborates with businesses in the EU, where robust labor laws are in place. Family-run businesses often operate as teamwork-led entities, with skills being passed down from one generation to the next, creating a balanced working environment. By researching and considering a company’s policy documents, we ensure that it aligns with ethical criteria.

The gender pay gap and the promotion of women in leadership roles are key issues you address. How does House of Kerry actively contribute to promoting gender equality, both within the fashion industry and beyond?

Addressing the gender pay gap is complex, but the UN Sustainability goals emphasize its significance. While progress has been made, the issue persists. House of Kerry promotes gender pay equality in its mission statement and on social media. The use of fabrics like organic woven silk from India, sourced responsibly and GOTS certified, contributes to the empowerment of women through work. By involving everyone in the effort for change, we aim to bring sustained changes to the fashion industry and beyond.

Your involvement in community projects, such as sponsoring an art project at a local school, is inspiring. How do these initiatives align with House of Kerry’s broader vision of supporting the local economy and community?

Positive impacts often start within the community. The school project, inspired by nature, friendship, and children’s creativity, encourages awareness and appreciation of the beauty of nature. Connecting with and appreciating nature can motivate individuals to care for it, generating ideas and inspiring the next generation.

House of Kerry has been involved in fundraising efforts for various causes. Can you share some memorable experiences or projects that had a significant impact on the community or organizations you supported?

From its inception, House of Kerry has donated to local and international causes. A memorable project involved bringing together a group of five designers to support the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Even small contributions, such as providing clean water and first aid kits, can have a profound impact on survival.

Traceability and transparency are crucial aspects of House of Kerry’s commitment to conscious consumers. How do you ensure these principles are maintained throughout the production process, from fabric sourcing to the final product?

House of Kerry collaborates exclusively with suppliers in the EU, where stringent regulations on farming and trade are in place. By conducting thorough research, reading policy statements, and establishing direct working relationships with suppliers (many of whom I have met in person), we ensure traceability and transparency throughout the production process.

Digital printing and the use of eco-friendly inks contribute to your sustainability efforts. How do these choices reflect your dedication to minimizing environmental impact in the fashion industry?

Digital printing minimises environmental impact, conserving precious resources such as water and marine life. This choice aligns with our commitment to sustainability and responsible manufacturing.

Your scarves are handcrafted by a family-run company in Italy. How did this collaboration come about, and what role does craftsmanship play in the House of Kerry’s commitment to sustainability?

When starting out at House of Kerry, I previewed my scarf designs to a prestigious gallery, and Italy, particularly the Como region, was a natural choice for their production. The family-run business we collaborate with is dedicated to sustainability, utilizing digital printing for minimal environmental impact. The scarves, featuring hand-rolled edges, are exquisite craft pieces.

For someone new to House of Kerry, what would you want them to know about your brand and the impact they can make by choosing sustainable luxury with purpose?

Choosing House of Kerry means choosing quality—a piece with meaning that is crafted to be cherished for a long time.

Our readers love to travel. What destination is at the top of your bucket list?

Iceland, for its extreme and surreal landscapes. It is an artist’s paradise.

What’s your go-to quote when lacking motivation?

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott. I find this quote inspiring because it reminds us that there is always something new to learn, and we must be patient with ourselves.

Where can people find you?

You can find House of Kerry pieces on our website on Instagram and Facebook.

Model: Benedicte Akambu 1st Option Models 

Photography: Aimee Monroe Studio