There's an urban legend among city dwellers about the hardworking, successful professional who leaves it all for a simpler life in the country. They're happier, healthier, and more grounded for it — the legend goes. It sounds lovely in theory, but, c'mon, does it really happen?
According to Tiana Wallace, the answer is yes. Tiana was at the apex of a career as a fashion stylist, consultant, creative director, and publisher of her own magazine in Sydney, Australia, when she decided to move 480 miles north to the small progressive town of Mullumbimby to open her dream store. Coven, which sells a beautiful, eclectic collection of ethically-made clothing and lifestyle products opened in 2016 and aside from the occasional styling or consulting gig with her favorite clients, she hasn’t looked back. We trekked all the way to Australia to talk to the glowing then mother-to-be about her fashion utopia, ethics, and life in the countryside.
So, Tiana, where do you live and what do you do?
I’m Tiana Wallace, I live in Mullumbimby, it’s a hinterland town near Byron Bay in Australia, and I have a shop here called Coven.
Before you opened Coven you were a stylist. Can you tell me a little more about your career as a stylist?
I started out styling when I was 21, and worked in magazines, I worked at Australian Vogue for about four years, and then was working as a freelance stylist for 15 years or so. My styling career was amazing, but I became interested, in a more conscious way of approaching the industry and I got involved with an organization called Clean Cut.
You got involved with Clean Cut in 2013, was there a particular moment when your attention shifted to ethical fashion?
My journey of beginning to work in a more conscious and ethical way in fashion began gradually. I’ve always had a sense of social responsibility and approached the fashion industry more as a creative and commercial outlet — a great job that I really enjoyed. But eventually, I started to apply my personal values to my work, and I began researching small labels and brands that were doing really interesting things like Lauren Bush’s Feed. As I had all these windows open on my computer, I got this call saying, "I really want you to meet these two girls who are wanting to put on an event at Fashion Week in Sydney." I met Kelly and Carly, who turned out to be just a wealth of knowledge and just amazing, inspiring women. So we set out to bridge the gap between these two disparate industries which were co-functioning, but one was unaware of the other.
There were these brands who were doing their own thing in their own little world, and they had found that they were sort of preaching to the converted, and they weren’t really getting any traction in the mainstream industry. And so that’s where I saw the opportunity to bridge that gap, and for us to all work together.
What is the mission of Clean Cut?
In 2013, Clean Cut was in the process of putting together what became Australia’s first sustainable fashion showcase at fashion week. I was styling the show, and it was while I was backstage doing the finishing touches on the show that I realized it was a very historic moment for fashion in Australia. It was definitely a groundbreaking time where people became aware, for the first time, at that level, in the industry, of people doing this work.
The mission has shifted and changed over the years, Clean Cut at this stage is a consulting body. You can approach the organization to help with brands on a project basis. But initially, it began as a project to build awareness and provide knowledge and resources for people wanting to get more information on how to gear their businesses towards a conscious model.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style has evolved a lot. I guess is a mood-based balance of masculine and feminine, would be how I best put it. I’m deep into pregnancy style. But yeah generally I like to have a mix of textured fabrics, and masculine tailored pieces mixed with something really feminine.
As a stylist, someone who’s a professional at dressing, is there any advice that you would give to someone who is just learning about ethical or conscious fashion, but feels a little overwhelmed and isn’t sure how to sort of integrate their values into their style?
I would recommend when people want to shop more sustainably or ethically, that, research is the first thing. There’s definitely more available now than there has been over the last couple of years. Also, ask questions because there are some designers who are doing great things, but it's not necessarily public. Ask where it was made, ask who made it. Is it naturally dyed? And the more questions we ask the more the feedback gets back to the designers that people are interested in that and wanting that.
Can you tell me a little more about Coven? It's a beautiful store.
Coven is conceived as a lifestyle concept store based on women, connection, and nature. And it’s a curated selection of limited edition pieces which all have ethical and sustainable elements, or something that is contributing to your well being like crystals. I source locally, which is really important, and also globally too. So, it’s very much a coming together of my aesthetic, my fashion aesthetic expanded into a lifestyle.
I’m sure we can both agree that the fashion system as it stands right now is not ideal, and it needs a lot of work. If you could imagine fashion utopia, what would it look like to you?
I think that many people are trying to bring their values into their work. There are so many creatives who are interested in the social purpose, and as creatives, it is part of our responsibility to bring in new ideas to society.
I guess I’m building my own fashion utopia, in a way. I ended my work with Clean Cut after being a volunteer for four years last year, feeling like I had been a big part of building awareness in the industry locally here. Then, I started Coven and decided to focus entirely on this business as being my personal expression and outlet of my values and my aesthetic. So I guess I’m creating my own fashion utopia. I’m going to do my own collection, and start introducing my own products, and everything in here is values-based from like having a no-plastic policy, not printing receipts, our business cards are printed on recyclable paper that has come from sustainable forests, so sustainability and consciousness are reflected in the business.
Awesome. That’s a great answer, I love that.
* Since our conversation with Tiana, she gave birth to a healthy baby named Nirvana Sun. Congrats!
*interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
Photographer: Mike Naumoff
Words: Laura Jones
Copy Editor: Sonjia Hyon