Monday, 27 March 2017

Fast fashion, slow cotton

I recently provided some input on a story for the Lush Times (yes, connected with the ethical beauty company famous for their delightful bath bombs).  Here's a preview, and a link to the full article:

Amid the designer luxury of the recent Paris Fashion Week, new clothes were paraded down the catwalk, ready for the latest trends to hit the high street. But experts are calling for dedicated followers of fashion to shape a new industry trend: one of sustainable fashion and organic cotton. Stepping away from the world of fast fashion, consumers are being encouraged to think about what lies behind each garment.

The cotton growing and harvesting process may not be the first thing on consumers’ minds when they purchase clothes, but sustainability expert Lisa Heinze is keen for this to change, and for the real ‘value’ of garments to be revealed, from cotton production to the creation of clothing items.
She said: “Once we start looking at garments not just as a garment, but as a collection of stories about people who created that garment, we increase its value.”
This approach could lead to consumers approaching fashion in a more conscientious way, taking an interest in the chain of events leading up to an item’s creation, and whether it has been fair for both people and planet.
Lisa Heinze said: “Learning even a little about garment production can help us gain an appreciation of how much time and effort people put into making the clothes we wear.”
The sustainability expert highlights a number of environmental and social issues related to fashion production, including water use, water pollution, worker safety and garment waste. She said that the issue is exacerbated as the fast fashion cycle becomes faster.

Monday, 13 March 2017

getting crafty

I'm not the world's craftiest person, but I do love a good hands-on creative project. Last week I managed to work on a project I've been meaning to for - not joking - three years (at least!).

My homemade, hand-stitched cushion cover.

When I was in East Africa in 2012 I bought some gorgeous fabric. Anyone who has been to the region knows the incredible textiles that are used in dress and for decoration known as khanga, or the thicker kitenge. Typically made of cotton and woven in Kenya and Tanzania, it's impossible not to admire the beautiful colours and bold prints on this traditional cloth. The markets are filled with stalls and shops selling the cloth, and I loved seeing the women wearing these beautiful garments everywhere we went on our travels.

I only bought a few khangas (perhaps subconsciously knowing it would take me years to use them), but every time I look at the beautiful materials I'm taken back to Tanzania and the sights, smells and sounds of that magical country.

Fast-forward to last week - I finally made one cushion cover with the fabric. I made it by hand because I don't have a sewing machine, I'm not great with a sewing machine, and it was nice meditative work at the end of my busy days.

The khanga, the old cushion needing recovering, and my
calculations for measuring the fabric.

Midway through the project - I'd successfully sewed
finished seams and pinned the pieces together.

I followed the clear guidance of Hey There Home and was amazed at how easy it was to create this cover, even for a sewing novice like me. If you've been wanting to freshen up your home without spending a fortune, I can vouch for the ease of making these envelope cushion covers. I am going to make a few more to sit alongside this beauty (this project didn't even use a quarter of the fabric), and keep thinking about what to do with the other cloth I have.

How great are these colours?!

I love filling my house with memories from my travels, and was glad to reuse an old cushion that was worse for wear (and not matching my current colour scheme). Have you worked on any fun, crafty projects lately? I'd love to hear about them!

Have a great week.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

international women's day

Today I'm celebrating International Women's Day not by going on strike, but by spreading the news about women around the world who would really benefit from a fairer fashion industry.

Did you know that around 85% of all garment workers are women?*

Image c/o Kowtow

The majority of workers killed in the deadly Rana Plaza collapse were women, and most homeworkers are also women - typically sewing at home while also raising children. There have been reports of some garment factories requiring female employees to take oral contraceptives to guarantee their workforce, and according to the ILO, there is a significant wage gap in Asia's textile trade (where most of our clothing is currently produced), with two of the highest being Pakistan and India where women earn 48% and 39% less than men, respectively.**

Throughout the rag trade women hold overwhelmingly more positions than men though, like other industries, it's common to find men atop the highest paid list. According to Forbes, the 10 wealthiest people in fashion are all men, including the world's second richest person, Amancio Ortega, who owns Zara.

The World Economic Forum does not expect the gender pay gap to close until 2186 if current trends are maintained. I don't know about you, but the idea of equal pay for equal work is fairly elementary. The issue of parity is one that needs our full attention, both at home and abroad, and fashion industry is a prime target for improvement.

So what can you do to embrace this year's International Women's Day theme of #BeBoldForChange?

  • You can demand fair treatment and gender parity (in terms of pay and opportunity) from the brands you buy. Fashion Revolution Week is coming up next month, which is a great opportunity to ask #WhoMadeMyClothes? But why wait until then? Contact your favourite fashion label today to talk about the women in their business.
  • Support labels that are already choosing producers that empower females. Australian labels Carlie Ballard and Cloth & Co are two of my favourites that work with women in India to create beautiful, handwoven garments, and give women opportunities not often found in other workshops/factories (like the female tailor in the workshop that makes Ballard's pieces!). 
  • Head over to the Project Just website and download the Good On You app to see how your favourite brands rank on ethics. Though they don't always go into the level of detail of gender pay, it's a start, and you'll discover some great labels that are well on the way to being safer, cleaner and fairer places to work.

However you acknowledge International Women's Day, let's support one another today. Only by joining forces and working together toward a common goal can we hope to smash that 2186 estimate and create a better world for all women and girls.


* * * * 

*From The True Cost. These statistics are notoriously difficult to pin down because of the unregulated and undocumented nature of many clothing factories.
** This is a very complex subject, and I have pulled out the two highest, but I urge you to read the report to get a fuller understanding of how issues of marital status, education, and age all play a part in this gap.

Monday, 20 February 2017

good day girl love

I just spent a wonderful hour with the delightful duo behind Good Day Girl, Sophie and Alexia.

I've had my eye on this label ever since I started seeing their quirky social media feeds and read about their slow fashion, made-to-order ethos, and was thrilled for the invite to be fitted for one of their classic white shirts. (Is it just me, or is a well made shirt the ultimate wardrobe must have?)

We chatted about our experience and insights in this burgeoning space of sustainable fashion in Australia, our shared hatred of clothing and textile waste*, and I loved hearing their firsthand experience of launching and running Good Day Girl (celebrating three years!). Two designers who used to be competitors, these women found they shared common values including a strong desire to make their customers feel great in beautiful clothes, made of quality fabrics, that fit properly, are functional, and are available in the right size and colour, plus abhorring the waste of the traditional fashion system. Enter Good Day Girl.

Twice a year a collection is designed  and clients can either order direct from the website or they can arrange a fitting session to try on the entire range and be fitted for their correct size. The collections are designed to work with previous seasons so clients can continually, and slowly, build a curated wardrobe that suits their lifestyle.  The styling sessions are perfect for busy women who don't have much time to shop (sound familiar?!), because after an hour and a half of personalised assistance you can place your order and know that you'll have pieces to suit your style, your body and your lifestyle. And because they only produce the exact number of pieces they have orders for, there is no waste or excess to be dealt with at sample sales, discount stores, charity shops, and (ultimately) the landfill.

The catch? You don't take anything home on the day - we all have to wait until all orders are collected and then they will be produced (at an Ethical Clothing Australia-accredited factory, of course). Nothing like a little delayed gratification to make you love a piece of clothing even more, am I right?

You have until 9 March to visit the shops in Sydney, Melbourne and (for the first time!) Perth to view the collection. If you're like me, you'll end up running your fingers over every delicious fabric sourced from Italy, Spain and Japan (and don't miss the incredible superfine merino scarves they stock from Love Merino and hand-knit jumpers by Daniel Chiel's Koko Global project - both destined to remain firmly in my radar).

I'm already counting down the days until I see my new white shirt, but I wouldn't be surprised if I popped back in to order one of their stunning ponchos or their Chicago trench coat . . . so many beautiful, classic, well-made pieces. . .

Have you been to Good Day Girl? I'd love to hear your story!

*In case you missed it last Friday, here's a picture from the giant pile of unwanted clothes dumped in Martin Place by ABC as part of their War on Waste program. 6000kgs to be exact - the equivalent of how much is thrown out by Australians every 10 minutes. Yes, you read that correctly, 6000kgs every 10 minutes. You're seriously considering a slow, zero-waste wardrobe now, aren't you?

Friday, 10 February 2017

mainstreaming sustainability

Hi there!

Today's blog post title is actually the same title as one of the chapter's in my thesis, which I'm desperately trying to complete by the middle of the year. Wish me luck! So you may not see as much from me in the coming months while I prioritise that very important project.

Today I was struck by this short article in Retail Wire asking, "When will sustainable fashion go mainstream?" It was specifically discussing H&M's Conscious Collection, which you know I have some qualms about. At the end of the brief article the author asks for comments and thoughts as to whether sustainable fashion will enter the mainstream, and the biggest factors to addressing this shift.

Here's my (quickly drafted!) response:
Sustainable fashion will undoubtedly continue to gain traction in coming years. H&M's Conscious Collection plays a major role in raising awareness of sustainable fashion, yet their overall business model will preclude that organization from becoming truly sustainable.

Contrary to some previous comments, many sustainable fibers have a better look and texture than the synthetics and blends that have come to mark much of the fashion industry in recent decades; this is especially true when comparing to H&M's (and other fast fashion retailer's) standard lines in which the fabric pills and breaks apart after a few washes. Fabrics including organic cotton, wool, silk, hemp-blends and others have greater longevity, and Tencel/Modal offers draping and texture found in synthetic rayon/viscose products without the environmental footprint. 

Sustainable fashion designers are already addressing fabric innovations and style, and in my experience as a sustainable fashion writer and researcher, price will remain a primary barrier because consumers are not used to paying a complete or true cost of fashion.  In addition, the rapid change of styles encouraged by many retailers will have to adjust so consumers do not feel the need to buy new pieces as frequently, or dispose of the old.

We cannot solve 'sustainable fashion' with a 'fast fashion' business model - it's not only fabrics, style and texture, but quality, price and tempering the desire to consume.

However, in agreement with other comments, the millenials are all over this, and are demanding sustainable, stylish, quality and lasting clothing. It's not an unsolvable problem, but it likely won't be solved by the likes of H&M or their Conscious Collection alone.

What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear them! The above was a quick 'brain-dump' style response, and I'm sure there are more thoughtful ideas to consider.

Comment here or on their article to keep this conversation going and ensure the future of fashion is undoubtedly sustainable.

Friday, 3 February 2017

2017 predictions

Pure Pod at Undress Runways

I was recently asked for my predictions for ethical fashion in 2017.

It's a tough question. It's like being asked to look into the future when we all know that there is no 'sure thing' in life. Just look at the 2016 US Presidential election predictions; all the so-called 'experts' and political pundits were so very wrong, and many of them have more years experience in politics than I have in sustainable fashion. Because the truth is, we just never know what is coming around the corner, and it's hard to know what we don't know.

Sure, I have some expertise in ethical fashion, especially regarding consumer habits, social movements and the workings of fashion businesses. But I don't know what is currently under development in innovation labs,  which labour market may take a leap forward, what budding changemakers will graduate design school this year, or which governmental regulations will be proposed that dramatically impact production, trade, or consumption of fashion.

So I'd rather we use the term 'hope-predictions', instead. This term encompasses recognition of my expertise, my optimism for the future, plus a healthy dose of acceptance that I don't have all the answers.

Lisa's 2017 hope-predictions for Sustainable Fashion

  • 2017 will bring more growth in the sustainable fashion sector, particularly from entrepreneurs and new businesses who recognise the vast consumer demand for ethical, transparent and planet-friendly fashion. I think we will continue to see design progress both in terms of aesthetic styling as well as innovations such as zero/less-waste patterning, upscaling the practice of upcycling, more fabric innovations, and more engagement with the sharing economy. The trend toward small-run artisanal and bespoke pieces will also continue as more individuals choose to hone their personal style and focus on curating a somewhat minimal, yet still unique and fashion-forward, wardrobe. 
  • The major brands will continue making shifts be less unsustainable by experimenting with sustainable fabrics and/or improving transparency in their supply chains. There is enormous potential for the larger labels to make significant positive impacts throughout the supply chain, yet consumers and activists should maintain pressure on these companies to encourage firms to change faster than they may think is possible. The major brands that are able to make bold steps and communicate them openly and transparently will be rewarded by the growing group of ethical consumers who care deeply about these issues.
  • In light of global political events, 2017 will bring increased activism throughout society as people brimming with frustration seek outlets for their desire to create change. Enacting values through lifestyle and consumption choices will play a major role for many citizens because this is something we each have individual control over. This should manifest itself (to an extent) in the sustainable fashion movement, which will encourage everyone - from start-ups to established brands - to continue towards sustainable fashion practices. Activism is always more fun (and effective!) when done with others, and NGOs and other groups working in this space should grasp the opportunity to facilitate larger scale projects with this group of engaged and energised citizens at this unique point in history.
What do you think?

Do you agree? Disagree? Have anything to add?

Leave a comment below - I'd love to hear your hope-predictions at this fascinating time for ethical and sustainable fashion.


Monday, 16 January 2017

book review : eating the ocean

What did you get up to over the holidays?

I ate a lot, swam a lot, enjoyed not sitting in front of a computer, and caught up on some reading, including Eating the Ocean, by Elspeth Probyn (who happens to be my Associate Supervisor at the University of Sydney).

Reading Eating the Ocean while at the ocean - the best place to read!

I absolutely devoured this book (pun very much intended) and learned a lot about how entangled we humans are with fish, the ocean, and the world's fisheries. Eloquently written, Probyn's vivid detail brings us along her journeys following (and eating many) oysters, swimming with tuna, covertly eating endangered bluefin tuna, and tracking the history of herring quines and women's roles in fishing. She encourages us to consider not just the ocean and all its inhabitants, but the people "who spend their lives in and on the sea" in her quest to "figure a different kind of relating of people, oceans and fish."

Probyn takes as a jumping-off point marine science descriptions of our 'simplifed sea' - because we have fished through the food web to the detriment of biodiversity - to challenge assumptions on sustainability because, as she suggests, "what constitutes sustainability is a fraught and complex set of issues."

For instance, have you ever wondered why it seems harder to care about tuna compared to a panda. Is it because, as Probyn suggests, "It's hard, though not impossible, to cuddle a fish"? WWF and Sea Shepherd both thought so when they launched the below campaigns (both discussed in the book).

And through her story of Loch Fyne Oysters in Scotland my own assumption that 'employee-owned is better than corporate-owned' was challenged when employees exhibited a visible look of relief at no longer having major financial stress after the company was bought out, and the town continued to have a near-zero unemployment rate thanks to the success of the business.

I was particularly struck by her description of swimming "on the water rather than in the water", most definitely my mode of swimming. I tend to stay halfway in and halfway out, floating on the top, looking down on the sea and its life below. But what might I learn by swimming in the water? How would my perspectives change if I just dove a little deeper and thought with the ocean, rather than about it? If I was lucky, I'd come to similar conclusions as Probyn about the "relatedness of all entities" and reconsider my own consumption habits (seafood or otherwise).

This book is so much more than a dictate on "eat this, don't eat that" that so many sustainability experts offer (including plenty of my own suggestions!), and she successfully avoids moral overtones throughout the book. But when Probyn is asked by people what we should be eating, she does have an answer, it "is always little fish - those that reproduce quickly, don't live too long, and humble and abase our gargantuan appetites for the disappearing top predators of the ocean". There are human health benefits as well as oceanic biodiversity benefits of this suggestion - you may even reconsider popping another Omega-3 tablet and reaching for a tin of sardines instead. If you're like me, you'll feel compelled to heed Probyn's advice to "eat the ocean better" and "to eat with the ocean".

I've greatly oversimplified the content of this book, offering a teaser to encourage you to read it yourself. I learned so much about the state of our oceans, where our seafood comes from, the danger in always choosing tuna and salmon, and the role of aquaculture (which provides more than half of all seafood consumed by humans!), but most importantly, I was encouraged to think differently about what 'sustainability' means, which I think is so important as a person who works in this sphere.

Now - off to make some lunch. I think I'll have a salad with some anchovies.