JESS Dadon was 21 years old when she rolled up at New York Fashion Week with her older sister, Stef. The door to the car opened, and the Melbourne-born fashion bloggers found themselves surrounded by paparazzi. There, directly in front of her was the famed New York street photographer, Bill Cunningham. In a moment directly from the scripts of movies – and nightmares – Jess rose from the car, took two steps, tripped and crashed to the ground.
“And he was click, click, clicking in my face, which was just mortifying!” she recalls, remembering the “really high crazy shoes” she wore, “very typical of us back then”.
But with the fall came more than a bruised leg – and ego: “There was definitely a realisation on the need for some comfier, cooler footwear.”
And three years later, the sisters launched Twoobs, their line of vegan sandals.
THE foray into footwear was a natural progression for the fashion-forward duo. Growing up, they always joked they would one day own a store together called Dadon House – “and it would be like shopping in our wardrobe, because we always loved really fun, colourful clothing”, explains Jess who went on to study fashion textile merchandising, while Stef graduated in professional communication.
But when Stef moved to Paris for six months in 2012, the sisters decided to start a blog as a way to keep in touch. How Two Live documented their daily lives – and fashion choices – a fun and creative project they shared together.
“We didn’t really know much about blogs, we went in pretty blind … But we have always really been business minded, so even in the beginning we were mindful about where we could share the blog posts so that they’ll get read, and what brand we should email to show them that we were wearing their clothes,” says Jess.
Their colourful content resonated and an online following ensued. Jess and Stef were soon approached by a number of brands offering collaborative opportunities.
Working to develop sell-out designs for shoe labels Windsor Smith and Buffalo, they knew they needed to create a better alternative to the blister-inducing, clear perspex shoes they had been wearing.
More than just funky footwear, Twoobs vegan sandals was born in 2016 and was a clear embodiment of their values.
“Because we love animals, we could never imagine making fashion out of them, so that was just a given,” tells Stef.
“And then over the years, it’s kind of evolved, and as we’ve become more educated about the environment.
“Sustainability just makes so much sense and we really believe this is the future of fashion.”
Now in its fourth year, Twoobs has adopted an extensive range of thoughtful and considered ethical practices. The shoes are made using recycled materials that were saved from landfill and are delivered to customers satchel-free. The sisters have also created a recycling program where they take back old shoes, and breathe new life into them, reincarnated as playground mats.
They are measures that have struck a chord with consumers.
“Since we’ve launched our collection made from 88 per cent recycled materials just a few weeks ago, we have already received a massive reception,” tells Stef.
“Not only are our sales figures higher than they’ve ever been, it’s awesome to see that people are demanding a change from the fashion industry.”
In Australia, it is estimated that every 10 minutes 6000 kilograms of cheap, mass-produced ‘fast fashion’ items are tossed to landfill.
While Stef and Jess have reduced and offset all Twoobs carbon emissions, they are also working towards the goal of becoming Australia’s most sustainable footwear brand by August next year. Having assembled a group of experts to propel the dream into reality, the team has committed to a complete redesign of product with styles that transcend seasonality, filling smaller production orders and ensuring correct sustainable and ethical certifications across their supply chain.
“We’re so excited to be leading that and hopefully inspiring other businesses to do so as well because it’s so important and urgent,” Stef enthuses.
The business has also engaged a modest, family-run supply company in China where workers are paid well above minimum wage, and have their lunch provided daily; and, closer to home, the business has implemented environmentally friendly principles into its office with solar power, and a rooftop garden with rainwater irrigation.
The sisters are excited by the ever-developing awareness of conscious consumption they see reflected in buyer behaviour, and accelerated further by the pandemic.
Jess reflects, “When we launched in 2016, vegan wasn’t cool. And then within a matter of three years, we saw a shift where people went from not even really knowing what vegan fashion meant, to actually demanding it.
“Comparatively, I think the change towards the environment and the way that impacts purchasing habits is happening so much quicker.”
Jess credits increased accessibility to knowledge and education as driving forces, citing the recently released David Attenborough documentary, A Life on Our Planet, as an impactful wake-up call for many.
She observes, “If consumers can make a more meaningful choice with their purchase, then they will. It’s not to say that they won’t buy the thing they like – but if presented with two options of the same product – sustainable or not – they will go for sustainable.”
Stef says that while many brands are often short-sighted, fixated on how to secure the quickest returns, she and Jess made the choice to sacrifice profits now for the long-term good of their business, industry and planet.
“If we can all continue doing things the way that we are doing them, we’re not going to have businesses anymore. It takes bigger picture thinking.”
ARRIVAL at this destination of a kinder business ethos is an extension of the personal reflective work undertaken by Stef and Jess over the past 18 months. In that time, they have both looked inwards, slowed down a little and questioned their deeper purpose.
“It used to be about world-domination. We wanted our brand to be the biggest and the best, but then once we were able to peel off those layers, our ‘why’ got a little bit deeper, and we realised, we have to change things for the planet,” says Stef.
It is a move closer to their roots, the sisters honouring their parents for instilling in them the values of giving back, and looking after the environment.
Graduates of Bialik College, Stef and Jess say their Jewish values are implicitly entwined in their outlook, sharing, “I think that has come a lot more naturally to us because of the community that we are in and the way that we’ve grown up.”
Indeed, in a candid interview with Fashion Journal just months ago, the sisters talked publicly for the first time on the centrality of their Jewish identity, compelled to come out against the #JewishPrivilege hashtag that had been trending on Twitter. In a deeply personal piece, Jess and Stef shared their family’s experiences of antisemitism in both Romania during the Holocaust and in 1960s Morocco – and their own encounters with antisemitism in modern Australia.
“When we were faced with the #JewishPrivilege hashtag plastered all over Twitter, it was a stark reminder of the importance of sharing these stories with the world, not just within our own community,” they penned.
Jess comments, “I was upset that we felt the need to come out and defend Jews and this community and being Jewish in the year 2020 … but I hope that by us coming out, it just puts a face to it.”
STEF and Jess’ strong sense of self is undeniable as they carve a way forward, innovating with momentum.
They reflect on the early days, when they participated in a program for young start-ups in Israel and they were the only women in the “very male-dominated space”.
“But I definitely think it is changing and we’ve had some incredible, strong female mentors that have helped us on our journey,” Stef muses.
And that journey continues to broaden. Aside from Twoobs, How Two Live is now a popular podcast, and Jess is currently studying sustainability in business management at Cambridge University.
But what keeps them both driven?
“The opportunity to create change not just within our own brand, but also to inspire change in so many other brands,” says Stef.
Adds Jess, “Not only through the education of our customers, but by also showing that a fashion brand can actually put the environment at the forefront and still maintain a viable business.”