Rhianna Knight (Class of 2009) has always had a creative bent and an eye for design. In fact, during her time at Caulfield she spent many hours in the art department working on projects exploring a range of mediums and pushing her creative knowledge and aesthetic. Her childhood dream was to work in the fashion industry, in particular red-carpet fashion. Nevertheless, after studying fashion design & technology at university, and undertaking various internships, Rhianna ended up working at a snowboarding apparel company. Despite not exactly matching her dream, this position gave her great technical knowledge about the industry (including fabric innovations) and ended up changing her career focus.
In June 2018 Rhianna used the experience she had gained to found outdoors apparel label Mister Timbuktu. The brand sells clothing made from recycled plastic bottles, discarded fishing nets and other ocean waste. Rhianna says that plastic is a surprisingly easy material to work with: it is collected, washed, shredded, melted and then woven into new fabric. This process not only reduces the amount of plastic going into landfill and the ocean, it also uses much less energy than conventional fabric making methods. One thing Rhianna wants everyone to realise and understand is that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish!
The creation of Mister Timbuktu is the culmination of Rhianna’s growing concern for the environment and her love of fashion. She wanted to create clothing for women that is colourful, engaging and comfortable to wear during exercise, and that is also sustainable. Rhianna believes that sustainability is one of the fashion industry’s major issues:
“All brands should be looking at transitioning their supply chains to be more sustainable and ethical, as not only is it the right thing to do, customers are starting to become more educated about the issues and will start demanding it, and it will help to lessen our impact on the environment, which is sorely needed.”
Rhianna is a big supporter of circular design; she focusses on looking after people and the planet throughout the production process. For example, the brand’s activewear garments are sewn in a small family-run factory in Indonesia where workers are paid significantly above the minimum wage, and receive superannuation, health care and paid leave. In addition to ethical manufacturing and environmentally friendly processes Mister Timbuktu also donates 20% of its profits to charities such as Waves of Wellness (mental health) and Foundation of National Parks and Wildlife.
One of the most exciting parts of the business is that Rhianna’s day-to-day activities are always varied. They can include designing, talking to manufacturers, developing new prints, planning marketing and social media strategies, posting orders, emailing customers or working on the growth strategy. Rhianna has also been able to make her business location independent so she is able to go on holidays and it doesn’t impact the structure and productivity of her job.
Despite the perks there are definitely some downsides to running your own company. Working on her ownmeans Rhianna is responsible for everything that goes wrong as well as everything that goes right. “It can sometimes be difficult as you can’t delegate tasks to anyone, and there’s no one who understands the business intricacies to bounce ideas off.”
Other significant challenges for small businesses like Mister Timbuktu are minimum order requirements and financial constraints. In order to launch her debut line Rhianna undertook a crowdfunding campaign raising $19,000. Consequently, Mister Timbuktu has started with a small yet considered range. In the next 5 to 10 years Rhianna hopes to expand the company to include a team of people and to grow the brand significantly so that it encompasses a wider range of apparel for hiking, camping, climbing and more.
The passion Rhianna holds for the environment and the great outdoors plays a big part in the success of Mister Timbuktu and its mission. She loves getting outside, camping at Wilsons Promontory National Park, hiking and disconnecting from technology. It is this first-hand experience that gives Rhianna an insight into what her customers want and need. She sees her mission as being to
“encourage women to get outdoors and adventure more, not to be the fittest, fastest or best, but to do so for the fun, enjoyment and challenge of it. We believe everyone should adventure and want to build an inclusive community of adventurous women.”
5 Minutes with Rhianna Knight
What Inspires you?
The opportunity to make a difference, to prove that the fashion industry can be much more sustainable than it is right now and to lessen our negative environmental and social impact.
What do you do for fun?
I love to get outdoors, be active and explore national parks. Frequent activities include hiking, climbing and snowboarding.
What would you tell your 17-year-old self?
There’s so much opportunity within the world, there’s no hurry to go to university, if at all. You can travel extensively, work overseas, start a business or do anything you can think of, you just have to be prepared to commit to it 110%. I love the saying, you can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything.
What’s one thing you wish other people knew about Caulfield?
Caulfield presents amazing opportunities, that at the time I don’t think you realise the impact it has, for example the Nanjing program is incredible for the skills you develop and culturally what you learn and it’s a pretty unique experience.