Ethical fashion with designer & photographer Samee Lapham
After spending 2 years in London and changing her purchasing habits to support ethically made products, Samee moved back to Australia with a new mission
As both a designer and photographer, where does your heart mostly lie?
This is an interesting question! Though I classify myself as a designer, I have been gravitating much more towards photography in the last year. It’s just in the last six months that I’ve been trying to rotate my work load from being primarily design focused into gaining more photography work.
Since early high school I’ve generally always had a camera in my hand — from shooting pictures of my friends on film, to when my folks bought me my first DSLR, to when I finally caved and got an iPhone (and now there’s always a camera in my pocket no matter what!).
With this I’d have to say my heart mostly lies in photography, but perhaps that’s because it’s been more of a hobby than a job until recently.
I studied Graphic Design at a community college in Sydney, and since then I have been working in the digital space on both apps and web design. I kind of fell into UX and UI work straight after finishing my Diploma by scoring a job with a small digital studio. We worked a lot on bringing printed publications across to the iPad — which was really surreal at the time because I hadn’t even touched an iPad before I started working there!
I found it really fascinating and rewarding to work with inspiring content and bringing that to life in a whole new way. It was all about imagination for me; realising how content could be experienced through on-screen interactions. It was a challenging and interesting learning curve.
Prior to studying I worked as a junior designer within a small in-house team producing print collateral and press ads for a property company. I had taught myself how to use Adobe Creative Suite and had been working on a lot of volunteer work to build up a portfolio straight out of high school, which helped me to get the job.
The junior role was also a great learning experience, dealing with quotes and paper stocks and newspaper specs; it was quite intense and you had to be really exact in everything you did. When I transitioned into digital design I think I found it more exciting because it’s much more iterative and fluid and adaptable.
What’s the idea behind The Kind Guide?
The Kind Guide will be an online directory of brands and makers who are working in ethical and sustainable ways. What this means is companies who are transparent in the way they produce their products/clothing and how they run their business.
I’m interested in brands who are aware of their supply chain; who pay living wages to their workers; who are minimising their impact on the environment; who are innovating and advocating for change in an industry that desperately needs it.
It will launch with fashion brands at its core, but I hope to extend this into homewares and beauty in the future too — there is so much good stuff out there but only if you’re willing to look for it, so I hope to bring it all together and make it more accessible. The overall aim of the site is to get people excited about sustainable clothing, and to communicate and educate how important our choices are as consumers.
Why did you decide to start The Kind Guide?
The Kind Guide was something that came into fruition after relocating back to Australia from the UK. I had worked with an ethical boutique in London called The Keep, redesigning their website and learning a lot about the brands they stocked.
It was through this connection and after seeing the documentary film The True Cost that I became acutely aware of the negative impacts of fashion and how disconnected we are from the people actually making our clothes.
It was definitely something I had questioned before, but hadn’t considered it in such depth. If I needed something new I would turn to The Keep because the brands were trustworthy and the clothing was made really well. When I returned to Australia with this knowledge and after two years abroad, I was suddenly faced with the uncertainty of knowing where to shop locally.
As a result, I started doing a stack of research and finding a lot of Australian based brands that were producing ethically — it was really exciting!
I was accumulating quite a lot of information around fabrics and farming and industry reports, on top of really inspiring brands that were challenging the status quo. Fashion has become such a disposable thing to society now, it’s really scary how much we’re consuming and in turn how much we are wasting unnecessarily. I think it’s really important to educate people about this, to become more conscious of our choices and to really take care of the things we own.
It was a bit of a light bulb moment when I realised I could make a website to keep track of everything I was finding. I really hate spreadsheets, so building an online directory made complete sense since it’s something I know how to do!
You take such beautiful photographs! What is it about photography that you love?
Thank you, that’s very kind! The thing I love about photography the most is how it requires movement. In comparison to design, which takes place primarily inside and at a desk for me — photography makes me physically move, getting out and about, appreciating the light of the day, and interacting more with people.
I’m really energised by this and would much prefer to be out taking photographs than pushing pixels hunched over my laptop!
I also love how it requires observation; it’s a direct result of how someone sees things. I tend to see everything around me as a potential photograph — I am constantly looking, even whilst I’m cycling or driving (which can be a little dangerous!). I love that photography keeps my eyes open to inspiration.
You’ve worked on a range of projects from Game Design to Web Design — this must keep things quite interesting!
Definitely! The game design was a challenge! It was part of two interactive children’s books based around road safety education. They were first released as printed editions, so it was really fun coming up with ways to animate the illustrations and then take the core messages of the books and turn them into enjoyable games.
It wasn’t until I moved to London in 2013 that I really dived into web design. I thought it would be relatively simple having worked in app design for the two years prior to arriving, but it was another learning curve and another I was glad I took on.
UX has definitely evolved since I started diving into it, I am constantly learning new things. Most recently I’ve been working on existing products or websites and building on certain elements to improve the experience.
I love being able to make something more enjoyable to use; when an experience with a brand is made easy and intuitive and fast. Design is a really powerful tool when it achieves these things, and I am still working on getting that magic right.
How do you juggle your time between running your instagram account, working on The Kind Guide and freelancing?
I can’t say I’ve mastered it, not at all! I’m a big list maker, whether it’s pen to paper or notes on my phone, it’s the best way to see how much progress I’m making (or not making) in a week. I generally try to allocate certain days to certain things, depending on deadlines, but I can’t say I stick to it strictly enough at the moment.
It’s difficult to manage a balance between working on a passion project you want to spend all of your time on, to working on projects that actually pay the bills! As The Kind Guide is very much a passion project I do feel a bit guilty working on it sometimes, but that in turn fuels me to work on paid projects so I am able to continue on it.
Instagram is the easiest one of the lot, as I generally always have a backlog of potential photos I can post when I feel like it!
Do you have any advice for young designers like yourself, looking to make the jump from their day job into full time freelancing?
When I made the jump from full time work to freelancing most recently, I had a number of good leads and a good buffer in my bank account. As it turned out, the leads I had fell through or were put on hold, so the buffer was a really good safety net and something I would highly recommend having as insurance.
In the past I have often freelanced whilst working full time, which is beneficial in building up your clientele, gaining momentum and gauging demand. Be very careful of burnout in this situation though!
I think it’s really important to be present online so people can find you, but to also be present within your local community too. I often make a point to go to a lot of industry events and make friends. I think it’s really important to be in a location that offers this.
LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram have all been really great resources — don’t be afraid to send a message or an email! There are so many avenues to make freelancing work for you, it’s a matter of being self-motivated and proactive.