Dharma Bums: Behind the Brand
Born in and inspired by the stunning setting and scenery of Sydney’s beaches, Dharma Bums will have you dreaming of warmer climes. It brings fun prints and beautifully engineered designs to your yoga wardrobe. We caught up with founder and CEO Debbie Lawson to learn more about their move to 100% sustainable production.
Tell us a bit about how you launched Dharma Bums and how you’ve grown it so rapidly since? Also, what career path led you to starting your own business?
I have a career background in fashion and design which saw me travel all over the world visiting makers and fabric mills. I witnessed the terrible conditions many workers faced in the name of fast fashion and the impact it was having on the planet. In 2012 I took some time away to reflect on my role in the textile industry.
I had been practicing yoga and was very committed to the practice. In my time away I completed my training and started to teach. I began to shop more consciously and wanted my yoga and activewear to be made ethically. I was simply unable to find a brand the catered for this, thus began my journey of making ethical activewear a reality.
I believe the brand has grown so quickly as a result of people loving the garments and the design but also as a result of people becoming more aware of the costs to the people and the planet of non-ethical, non-sustainable practices. It has never been more important to make the right consumer choices.
What’s your proudest Dharma Bums moment so far?
Our biggest passion is sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint on the planet. From January 2020, 75% of our collection is sustainable or recycled. This is an incredible achievement and has taken 18 months of hard work and dedication from the design team at Dharma Bums. We are all very proud of this!
We are aiming to be 100% by 2021.
Dharma Bums has always been positive and playful in its designs, with lots of fun prints and cut out details – tell us about the inspiration behind these designs, and why your Sydney location is so important?
We have a very dedicated team of four designers. They are inspired by nature, the ocean and the wildlife we are surrounded by here in Freshwater, Sydney. We are exceptionally lucky to have our HQ based near the ocean. If we ever find ourselves stuck creatively, we step outside and venture into the beautiful landscape we call home and find inspiration very quickly.
We also live in a very active community. The beach is a hub of activity from early in the morning to late at night. There are runners, group training, people doing yoga. You can observe every type of fitness activity and what people are wearing to do it. This allows us to understand exactly what our customers are looking for.
Do you still have any production in Australia? Why was important to you? As you’ve become larger, working with big factories, how have you maintained that original focus on ethical production?
We do still have 35% of our production based in Australia. This is important as it allows us to support local business and the economy of the country.
The decision to move offshore was a difficult one driven by the need to keep up with customer demand for our product. We have a strict criterion when we work with new makers. They must have accreditation to ensure they work ethically. Our team visited them every few months to ensure we were happy with how they operated and treated their team of workers. We currently work with three factories based in China, all of whom are BSCI or WRAP accredited. We have built strong relationships with them over the last 18 months and continue to visit them on a regular basis. They lead the way in ethical, with onsite nurseries and salaries that are 30% above the minimum wage.
Dharma Bums has made a big move towards more sustainable production, with recycled nylon, organic cotton, sustainable bamboo, and careful dye and water use. Sustainability is becoming more and more important to The Sports Edit’s customers, so could you explain more about what you are doing in this area, and what customers should expect?
Over the last 18 months we have seen 75% of our collection move to either recycled or plant-based sustainable fabrics. We are aiming for a 100% by 2021. We want to increase our usage of plant-based biodegradable products which will help with the problem of micro plastics in the oceans.
We are also currently working on organic cottons which can translate into durable, performance leggings as well as exploring new ways of working with hemp.
There is so much innovation happening right now with sustainable fabrications, it is a very exciting time to be working in this field.
With so many new activewear and yoga brands appearing since you launched, how do you stay ahead and make sure Dharma Bums is unique?
We have a fantastic in-house design team that ensure all our products are exclusive and unique to us. They understand what our customers like and design with this is mind. We watch catwalk trends closely and look for commercial ways to brings these trends into wearable activewear pieces. This, combined with our unique print designs and use of sustainable and recycled fabrications, make sure we offer a point of difference from other brands.
Do you see Dharma Bums as a yoga brand, or is it now broader than that? What do you particularly love about yoga?
When we began our journey most of our customers were yogis. The range has expanded as has the customers who shop with us. They now include runners, women who favour HIIT and Gym workouts, as well as people who wear our products as athleisure pieces.
Our garments are designed for all activities which makes them very versatile. We will be expanding our collection further in 2020.
There are many things I love about the practice of yoga. The benefits to both the mind and body are amazing. For me I practice cultivating a sense of stillness. I am at my most creative best when my mind is free from stress and my body is free from aches and pains. Yoga can deliver this in a short twenty-minute practice at home. I love the fact it is accessible to everyone.
Who is the 'Dharma Bums girl'?
A Dharma Bums girl is a conscious consumer who wants to contribute towards positive change. They are adventurous and passionate about life. They are active and feminine. They feel empowered in their bodies and want to wear garments that are unique, look great and are comfortable to wear.
Australia, along with LA, has become the epicentre of ‘wellness’ and active lifestyles. It still feels like London and other European cities have a way to go to catch up; how do you see the wellness trends in Sydney translating to the UK and Europe?
I think London and Europe are catching up quickly with us!
We have the benefit of the weather which motivates us to get up and get active, outside group workouts are very popular. I believe this trend we have seen in Australia for group workouts will start to gain pace in the UK. They really keep you motivated.
Australia has seen huge growth in the number of people practising yoga. It is accessible everywhere. In the UK it can be limited outside of the city centres. I believe this will change with more smaller studios opening and different types of yoga being offered.
Here in Australia we are fans of Class Pass which offers people a pick and mix, on demand access to gyms and classes. You can try many different gyms in different locations offering different workouts. This makes things very accessible and keeps workouts fresh and interesting. I believe this will continue to increase in popularity.
Quickfire about yourself:
Hometown? Billericay, Essex in the UK
Dream destination? Where I currently live, Freshwater Sydney
Favourite way to sweat? Power Living Hot Yoga
Best yoga studio in Sydney? Mind, Body, Life
Favourite way to chill out? Beach walks with my Akita dog, Bear.
What is your favourite Dharma Bums design of all time? My favourites would be the Aliyah Animal prints leggings and bra. I love animal print!
Shop the ethically made Dharma Bums Collection online at The Sports Edit