LOVE FROM MILAN // Leah Musch - Unmaterial Girl

Yes! Journal

LOVE FROM MILAN // Leah Musch - Unmaterial Girl

Leah Musch is a Wonder Woman.

The Brisbane native, now based in Milan, became an entrepreneur and business owner at the age of 21. After experiencing a 'fashion epiphany' during a volunteering trip to Brazil, which changed her outlook on life. 

The former 'fashion addict' now describes herself as a slow fashion activist, focussed on changing the way we shop, spend and style fashion, to make a positive impact. 

We caught up with Leah, aka @unmaterialgirl as she departs to study fashion in the world's fashion capital, Milan, with a brief stop over toe-tapping through Venice. All photos by Leah Musch.

Radical Yes x Unmaterial Girl

Leah wears our Blessed ballet flat in Navy Polkadot.

Can you tell us about your experience partnering with young entrepreneurs in Rio De Janeiro? How did the placement inform the pathway you’ve since forged?

I decided to spend two months volunteering in Brazil shortly after I sold my first business, a retail store in Brisbane’s West End called The Happy Cabin. I was burnt out and needed desperately to do some soul searching, and soon discovered a program called Social Starters, aimed at young entrepreneurs (like myself) who were looking to make a difference. I decided to invest in the experience so I could get some more clarity on what the hell I was meant to do next with my life.

In Brazil, I learned about the power of social enterprises, and how people all over the world were creating businesses that not only were financially successful, but also changed the world at the same time. This was what had been missing in my previous business – the humanitarian element. I have always been deeply passionate about helping people, and combining this love with business was it for me – I bloody loved it.

I mentored a young woman in one of Brazil's inner city favela communities who had started her own label that empowered young woman to speak out against racism, and to embrace their natural hair. Even though Maria Chantal and I didn’t speak the same language, we connected in a way that was really powerful. Together, we discovered that the best solution to her business issues was actually a sustainable one. We held a ‘bring your own t-shirt day’, where her customers could bring along t-shirts they already owned and have their favourite Maria Chantal quote/image screen printed onto them. We charged 1/5th of the price of one of Marias new t-shirts, because affordability for her customers had been a big issue. She made more money in that one day that in an entire month previously. I was over the moon.

Radical Yes x Unmaterial Girl

Leah wears our Dharma slip on in metallic turmeric.

How did The Unmaterial Girl come about? What is it that you hope to achieve through sharing your slow-fashion story?

The Un-Material Girl was born after what I describe as my “fashion epiphany”. I had been a serial shopaholic and self confessed Fast Fashion addict, and when I returned home from Brazil I had only just started opening up to the world of sustainable and ethical fashion. Then - I watched the documentary ‘The True Cost’ on Netflix and it was like my world fell apart and into place at the same moment.

I felt heartbroken, inspired, shocked and unbelievably motivated to change my ways. I suddenly looked around at my epic accumulation of material possessions and felt suffocated. I decided to sell about 80% of everything I owned, downsize into a one-bedroom apartment and completely change the way I consumed. It was during this time I started documenting what I was learning. I had always wanted to have my own show, so I pitched the concept of ‘The Un-Material Girl’ to a local production company and they loved it! Together, we created a series of short episodes for Youtube (do some digging and you’ll find them) but not long into the show and the company unfortunately went bankrupt. I decided to stick it out on my own, and I’ve been blogging and photographing ever since.

Radical Yes x Unmaterial Girl

We were so excited to hear that you’d be studying abroad in the world’s fashion capital, Milan. Can you tell us about your travels to-date? Have you found that a tangible conversation is taking place about socially conscious fashion, or is the industry still yet to catch up?

Before coming to Milan, I guessed that there wasn’t going to be much of a sustainable and ethical fashion scene here, and from my experiences so far, I was correct. Vintage excluded, there seems to be a bit of a stigma attached to wearing second hand clothing, and I am yet to find a thrift shop equivalent to the ones in Australia. There is however, a fantastic amount of products available that are made in Italy, which is something not so common in Australia (due to the high costs of manufacturing onshore).

There are also events like The Green Carpet Awards, organized by my slow fashion idol Livia Firth (founder of EcoAge) which bring sustainable and ethical fashion into the forefront of the Milan fashion scene. I tried to nab a ticket to the event, and even though I was unsuccessful, I met journalist Lucy Siegle (featured in The True Cost) in the line outside and fan-girled pretty hard.

Radical Yes x Unmaterial Girl

Leah wears our Poet Slingback in black suede.

You took our Poet Slingbacks, Resolution Slide and Blessed Ballet Flat with you to Milan. Can you talk us through some of your favourite images from this photo series? 

The Poet Slingbacks just felt like the perfect shoe to wear during my weekend away in Venice. I think it’s because they seem so romantic to me, and what’s more romantic than an Italian city with rivers instead of roads!? I also was inspired by all the socks + sandal combos I’d seen during Fashion Week and couldn’t help but give it a go myself (with super cute results).

The Resolution Slides make me feel like a Cool Girl, and as I am naturally dorky, this is a great thing! I wanted to feel like a Cool Girl the most during Fashion Week, so I wore them with pride as part of a completely Australian/thrifted outfit. They were a serious compliment magnet.

The Blessed Ballet Flats are perfect for those days in Milan that are a little grey and I need some cheering up. This city is full of women in pleated skirts, sports shoes and leather jackets, all looking unbelievable chic. I’ve toned down a lot of my outfits since being here and suddenly wear a lot of black, but it’s like I get to keep the most fun little splash of my personality on my feet.

 Radical Yes x Unmaterial Girl

Part way through your Bachelor of Branded Fashion Design and with the Unmaterial Girl garnering international attention, we’re really looking for forward to seeing what’s next for Leah Musch. Do you have a plan for the future? Will the blog always feature predominantly or are you seeking new horizons?

This might be the toughest question of them all, because although I have a feeling of where it is I want to take The Un-Material Girl, I still don’t have a solid plan yet. There is a big part of me that is itching to open another store, but at the same time I’m thinking bigger. Although I’m studying fashion design, I’m uncertain if my strength is actually in design itself.

The only thing I’m really sure of is that I want to keep being a spokesperson for ethical and sustainable fashion. I want to continue educating, communicating and talking about it as much as I can, and showing people that there are much better ways than how we’re doing things now, and style never has to be comprised. I know that I will always be entrepreneurial, so starting my own business is undoubtedly on the horizon. I’m not sure what yet, maybe because it hasn’t even been invented yet. I’m a futurist after all.

Radical Yes x Unmaterial Girl 

What does being radical mean to you?

To me, it’s about pushing boundaries. Being radical is about standing up for what you believe in, especially when it’s something that has the potential to push peoples buttons a little bit. It’s about educating people, and introducing them to new ideas, even if it’s a little uncomfortable at first. Being radical is doing something that stretches people minds open just enough to let them see a new point of view. 

Radical Yes x Unmaterial Girl

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