JESS KNELL

APPAREL DESIGNER

Jess Knell has a passion for fashion – as long as it’s fashion that has been made responsibly, with sustainable materials, in a place that cares for its employees. “I want to design humanitarian clothes that are made for people, not just for profit,” declares Savic’s single-minded apparel designer.

Since Jess raised her first supplier order for Savic Clothing in 2021, she’s dedicated her days to developing a brand that’s synonymous with integrity and sustainability: sourcing materials from a factory she knows intimately, investing in recycled packaging, and continuously lifting the recycled content of its products.

Jess is “super proud” that our 2022 winter collection is headlined by a puffer jacket and a bomber jacket that are both made from 100% recycled polyester – created from offcuts, bottles and other used plastics that are melted down to create a soft woven fabric.

Like all Savic garments, they’re made in a factory in Hang Zhou, in southeast China, that Jess has visited more than 30 times. “The owner is a really lovely guy, and I know him and his family really well,” says Jess. “Allen [Lin] and I have done rigorous quality controls of the factory, which really looks after its workers. They take small orders from us and really care about our products – even though there’s not yet much profit in it for them.”

The issue of profits and “fast fashion” comes up time and again with Jess, whose experience working in “for profit only” fashion troubled her continually. A trained milliner, she started her career making wedding dresses before moving on to sourcing menswear. Constantly trying to push clients to put a little extra money into an order to ensure it was made sustainably, and debating issues of cultural appropriation in print design, she collaborated with Gumarra Experience, a First Nations artist who was properly compensated for his work.

Hong Kong-born Jess says she’s “always wanted to give back” – particularly in the world of fashion, where she’s been horrified to find so many Australian stores buying garments made in sweatshop conditions.

Her unlikely salvation was a chance chat with Dennis Savic, who she met while working for a menswear wholesaler next door to the Savic workshop. “Dennis was sweeping leaves, and I was looking for my next opportunity,” laughs Jess. “The next thing I knew I was building the first winter Savic collection with Michael and Sam!”

For Jess, the ultimate goal is to create world-class clothes that – like Savic vehicles – have no impact on the planet. “Although our suppliers are great friends of mine, using textiles from overseas is never going to be fully sustainable,” she says. “Our ultimate goal is to get to a place where everything we do is recycled and sustainable, and ideally helping to regenerate manufacturing here in Australia. It’s going to be challenging, but given the current social and political climate, I think it’s getting more appealing to bring textile manufacturing back onshore.”

Since 2016 Jess has also worked as a lecturer at RMIT, where she teaches various degree modules on sustainable fashion. “I started teaching basic millinery, but these days I’m teaching courses with names like ‘Transform’ and ‘Material Alchemy’,” she says. “We look at manipulating fabrics with heat and dyes. I’ve even had students bury fabrics to see how they react with soils. It’s a space where the students get to really push their boundaries, so that by the third year they’ve moved far beyond tailoring to the transformation and creation of new materials. It’s very exciting!”