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April 14, 2021

The ethics and aesthetics of Autark’s ‘Collection 5’

Slow fashion label Autark's latest collection draws inspiration from the Australian landscape and exemplifies founder Sophia McMahon's "minimalist maximalism" aesthetic and "stubborn" commitment to ethical principles.

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  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • BTS pictures: Nick Astanei
  • Other pictures: Dylan Starczak

Clothing designer Sophia McMahon tells CityMag when she first started her fashion label, Autark, in 2016, she had lofty ideas about what the brand should be.

As her business progressed and she moved deeper into the industry, her ideas only became more rigid.


Peruse Autark’s ‘Collection 5′ here.


“I really wanted to use natural fibres, primarily because I saw them as being more comfortable and easier to wear for the customer,” she says.

“But then the more I learned about the impact of laundering synthetic fibres, and the general impact of synthetic fibres on the environment, it solidified my ideas.”

This thinking extended to how and where the clothes were made.

“Making locally was a lot more straightforward to me, but now the brand has grown to a place where I’m passionate about continuing to do that,” she says.

“To be honest, it started out more of an idealistic reasoning – why I wanted to do these things – but as time progressed I learned more and became even more stubborn.”

We speak to Sophia on the label’s five-year anniversary, and just before the launch of Autark’s latest release, titled Collection 5.

This is a capsule collection filled with structured shirt and prairie dresses, accentuated by the look of the moment: the puff sleeve.

“I love to play with shapes and silhouettes and make them a bit more exaggerated,” Sophia explains.

“In terms of design and silhouettes, it sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but I kind of describe it as like minimal maximalism. Hopefully wearable, but with a point of difference.”

This collection is the first time Sophia has used hemp as a material, which she selected for its environmental benefits and matte look. An organic cotton poplin material from Turkey also makes an appearance.

The use of iridescent shell buttons, sourced from an ethical New Zealand business, adds affectation to the tonally pared-back palette.


The entirety of Collection 5 is available for pre-order, including the additional safari suit sets.

This sales and construction approach is, again, drawn from Autark’s foundational ethics: to do the least amount of harm to the environment.

“I don’t want to produce tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of things. It’s really wasteful,” Sophia says.

“I feel like fashion is viewed in more of a throwaway mindset by society in general. The skill of making clothes is incredible – even computers can’t do it. It needs to be valued more.”

Inspiration for the garments came partly from a trip to the Northern Territory last year, where the shapes of the rock formations and blue sky inspired Autark’s mood board.

The release comes off the back of an exciting moment of recognition for Autark; at the beginning of this year, Sophia was one of six designers nominated for the highly acclaimed Melbourne Fashion Festival’s National Designer Award.

Although she didn’t take out the top gong, being shortlisted was just as meaningful. She says it was a “huge vote of confidence” for her brand and direction.

“Sometimes I feel like you can be working away, especially if you’re doing most of it by yourself, and you don’t always know – as strange as it sounds – whether you’re doing something with your head along in the right path,” she says.

Sophia is now looking to enlist the help of machinists in Melbourne to help construct her garments.

Most importantly, though, she will continue to advocate for slow fashion.

“It’s really important that small brands show customers and also other businesses that it’s possible to work in different ways.”

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