Mel Lechte is the type of woman who makes you genuinely inspired to lead a more conscious, ethical lifestyle. As a mum, a business owner and the co-founder of Melbourne-based apparel brand Organic Crew, Mel is a proponent for making better choices in everyday living, and with her locally and ethically-made collection of basics she has made it easy for others to do so.
We chatted to Mel about her journey in bringing Organic Crew to life, ethical choices and what makes living on the Mornington Peninsula special.
Where did the idea for Organic Crew first come, and what led you to decide to pursue it?
A few years ago I launched an organic juice brand and saw the movement towards organic in food and then skincare. The natural progression for me was apparel that is less toxic and mindfully manufactured; we wanted to create a brand that cares for the planet and the people.
How has being a mother influenced your values as a small business owner, and in your pursuit of creating a product that is organic and ethically-produced?
Being ethical is so important to me, especially after having children. In previous businesses I had seen children working in sweat shops in parts of Asia, which upset me. I manufacture in Melbourne and can visit my factory at anytime so I feel completely confident in the ethics of what we are doing. Being organic is kinder on your body and reduces the intake of harmful chemicals that stay on clothing for years.
How does the production of one of your pieces differ from a conventionally, mass-produced equivalent?
The main difference is the use of chemicals in the production of cotton when not organic. These chemicals not only damage the environment (it's the second largest polluter globally) but also harm the workers that handle the materials and will also be absorbed into the skin of those that wear the garments. I had no idea when I started out that these chemicals absorb into the skin years later! The skin is the largest organ in the human body, it makes sense to wear organic. The other difference is the true cost of these mass produced items. When produced and sold at such a low cost, someone is suffering. We choose to produce ethically and our pricing reflects the true cost of quality, locally produced clothing.
Who are some other people or businesses that inspire you (international or local) in driving positive change?
Internationally I love what Emma Watson and Leonardo DiCaprio are doing to increase environmental awareness. I also really admire Stella McCartney who has created a monumentally successful brand that has ethics, always. Locally I love spending time with Aimee Marks who created TOM Organic, she is a pioneer in the organic space and a lovely, inspiring human!
Drawing from your business mantra of 'being informed, be involved and making a difference', what are some other ways consumers can drive change and make a difference in their everyday choices/purchases?
I like to think always using the 80/20 rule and making a small difference where you can. Start by changing some food choices from mass produced processed food to more unprocessed, organic options. In this way, you are reducing your daily intake of chemicals. This adds up and makes a difference to your health and wellbeing. Organic really should be the norm and using chemicals in foods and clothing the very uncool option!
Mel's guide to the Mornington Peninsula:
Where do you live in Melbourne and what do you love most about it?
I have just moved to a place called Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsula. I absolutely adore being by the water. I feel like I am on a permanent holiday - It’s very relaxed, no traffic battles and I have all I need here. Life is great!
Favourite place to eat: The wineries nearby in Red Hill or I’ll go to Volpino for a great gluten-free pizza.
Favourite place to drink: Store 15 in Mornington for great coffee, amazing juices and stunning healthy food.
Favourite places to shop: There is a new concept store in Mornington called Spa Co which has great clothing brands (including ours) and homewares, plus a cafe where I can grab a delicious juice or salad. The IGA in Dromana is a MUST too for grocery shopping. I have never seen a concept like this in Australia. It's quite theatrical - the way the shopping experience should be!
Local rituals: My walk along the beach track is my daily ritual that I will not miss! I take my dog Maggie and breathe in the salty air, I feel so lucky to live here. When you live down here a place like Tully's is a delight. It's like old school shopping in a big barn! Tully's has several different little businesses which offer amazing fresh produce, a juice bar, a cafe with great coffee and a florist to die for.