Friday, 31 July 2020

fashion with heart

I'm so excited to share the news that my first academic publication is finally complete! Only 3 years since I submitted my PhD thesis, but whatever. Parenthood and a non-academic job certainly get in the way of those publications. Despite the time lag, there is nothing like finally seeing some of my very own peer-reviewed research out in the world.

Below is an abstract and a link to the full article. Note, you'll need a University library account to access, or you'll have to purchase access, I'm afraid it's not open source at this time.

Fashion with heart: Sustainable fashion entrepreneurs, emotional labour and implications for a sustainable fashion system

Recent years have seen a rise in the number of fashion entrepreneurs who practise sustainable fashion design, including the use of environmentally friendly materials and transparent supply chains. However, mainstream fashion practises remain unsustainable and the pathway to a sustainable fashion system is not yet clear. Using qualitative data gathered from in‐depth interviews with sustainable fashion entrepreneurs, this article examines the practise of sustainable fashion design to understand the industry's transition towards sustainability. Building upon social practise theory, the management of emotional labour is identified as a key element in sustainable fashion design as indicated by the pro‐social motives of the entrepreneurs, financial precarity, entrepreneurial risk and the management of ethical complexities in sustainable fashion businesses. I argue that the element of managing emotional labour limits the reproduction potential of sustainable fashion design by other practitioners, thus slowing the transition to a sustainable fashion system.

A special thanks to the amazing sustainable fashion entrepreneurs who gifted me their time during my research, and who have gifted the world with their compassion and innovation. You continue to amaze and inspire me to this day, and my work would not have been possible without you. I only hope to add a bit more to the dialogue to help this speed up this transition to a sustainable fashion system.


Thursday, 20 February 2020

fire feels

Recently I contributed to a new website, Fire Feels: Telling politicians how we feel about the 2019/2020 bushfires I heard about the site from one of the founders (and my colleague!) who led a climate grief workshop last month.

This important site was created in the wake of this summer's horrific fires as a means of communicating your grief, rage, horror and shock to our politicians. It actually originated between two friends writing to one another about how they were feeling, and then realising that our politicians - the ones who have the power to make the dramatic, systemic changes we need to decarbonise and to value nature - should hear how we feel. Instead of 'staying calm', we should tell them how we feel.

You can contribute, too, just visit the site for instructions. Importantly, if you need further support, please seek professional support - find more information here.

So without further ado, below is the letter I wrote to my MP, Zali Steggall

To Zali Steggall: I had hoped never to experience this fear and grief

I have been a climate activist and working in sustainable development for over a decade. The scenes from the bush fires have brought out fear and grief that I had been hoping never to experience – and fighting for others not to experience – for so many years. I attended a climate grief workshop to help me start to address these feelings, during which I drew the following two pictures.

One is the scene I just can’t get out of my head of standing on a fairly isolated beach in Broken Bay with my two year-old son as the sky was golden-orange and ash-flakes snowed down upon us. There were children in the water who were laughing and playing, trying to catch the ashes with a goal of catching the biggest one possible. Did they know what it was? It was a very apocalyptic scene. It was very hard to accept that it was really  happening, and we were not even in the worst of the fire zones.

CC-BY-NC-SA Lisa Heinze

The other is a representation of how I feel – sad and frozen, but also angry. I’m just waiting for that anger to thaw me out of my frozen state so I can start flowing and acting (and activisting!) again.

CC-BY-NC-SA Lisa Heinze

I know that you are committed to climate action, I voted and campaigned for you because of it. I am writing to remind you of how urgently Australia needs to take bold action. I will stand behind your climate efforts, but also push you for more brave and robust efforts for the sake of the future and younger generations.

From Lisa Heinze

Friday, 10 January 2020

and the fires rage on

The Australian bushfires have left a wake of devastation across the country, and the fires blaze on. Greater Sydney has experienced numerous apocalyptic days over the past few months but – aside from people with respiratory and cardiovascular issues – we are the lucky ones. Our homes still stand. Our businesses and jobs are in tact. We even had (nearly) blue skies over the Christmas break, making it possible to momentarily forget about the destruction of our beautiful country. But one whiff of smoky haze or quick social media check wrenches us back to reality.
Sometimes I think, “Well, soon all of the national parkland will be burnt and so at least the fires will stop.” Some sort of twisted rationale my mind has come up with to help deal with what is happening. Willing the smoke, the haze, the ash, the constant reminders that our nation burns as the climate fiercely changes, willing all of it, to stop. But I know it won’t, not yet, this is early bushfire season in Australia.

In actual fact, estimates suggest nearly half of all the country’s forests will have burnt by the time this bushfire season is over. Half. How do we even wrap our heads around what this means in terms of habitat and wildlife loss? Greenhouse gas emissions? People’s livelihoods? The Australian bush is varied, diverse, and so incredibly beautiful. Although I grew up in another incredibly beautiful part of the world (hello Rocky Mountains!), it wasn’t until I moved to Australia that I truly fell in love with the natural world. The bush is a place of magic and wonder, and I crave immersing myself in the forests on a regular basis. I haven’t yet ventured toward any burnt areas, safe in my urban beachside bubble, but accounts from people flying over the smouldering land and driving through the scorched earth are bracing me for a barren and blackened landscape, unrecognizable from the bush I know and love.

It’s near impossible, to imagine what the people who live in these areas of the country and have lost everything – their homes, businesses, possessions, even loved ones – are experiencing. There are beautiful and powerful written accounts, like this one by author Jackie French who praises the leaders who have emerged in place of our nation’s so-called leaders, that start to put into perspective what life has been like these past couple of months. And many others who highlight the very long, unknown, road to recovery for so many of these communities that have been decimated by the fires.

Like so many Australians, I’ve felt powerless in terms of what I can do to help. I have gladly donated money, knowing that is what is most needed right now, but it can feel like it’s not enough. There’s an ache to get out and be useful, and yet how can I be useful in a time like this? It’s dangerous. Fires still blaze. I have zero emergency skills, unlike the firefighters* and other first responders who are (as they so often are) the saviours of the nation.

There are, however, many clearheaded people who have already sprung into action and offer ways to be involved. Some of the initiatives that have caught my attention include:
  • Knitting and sewing for wildlife – mittens, pouches, possum boxes, nests, and more. Thousands of people from around the world are putting their knitting and sewing skills to help injured and orphaned animals recover. The Animal Rescue Craft Guild has more information on what is needed and patterns to help you create the needed items.
  • ThreadTogether is an initiative that collects unworn/unsold items from retailers to distribute to people in need. They have ramped up their efforts in the wake of the crisis to collect even more for those communities impacted directly. If you are a designer or retailer with unsold items, get in touch with them ASAP.
  •  Go with Empty Eskies campaign, a viral facebook post by Tegan Webber that urges us to head to the regions as soon as its safe and buy all the food and drinks (and everything!) we need from those communities.
  • Spend with Them Instagram campaign, partly inspired by the Empty Eskies campaign, which highlights businesses in effected areas that need our dollars to keep afloat. If you are in the market for something, why not start there?
  • Authors for Fireys  is a Twitter auction that channels funds directly to the firefighters with authors from around the world auctioning signed books, character namings, lunch dates, workshops and more. I haven’t put my hand up for this only because my book is old news, but I'll try and get myself organised (it ends tomorrow!) to offer a sustainable fashion workshop in exchange for donations.
  • Hearts on Fire instagram auction of experiences from fashion, food, travel and the arts to raise money. Incredible things up for auction here!
  • Yesterday more than 45 Australian retailers participated in the "All In" campaign, donating 100% of their profits to the Red Cross bushfire campaign. It was good timing for me - I needed some new work clothing so spent it all with the Iconic (which is also going to be offering its warehouse to store donated items over coming months to assist the charities that have been inundated with goods).

It’s hard to know what to write, and how to respond, except to say that I’m heartbroken, saddened, frightened and angry. I’ll continue to do what I can, to act thoughtfully yet forcefully for change. I’ll be at the protests today in Sydney, hope to see some of you there, too.


Wednesday, 11 December 2019

tis the season for a revolution

In previous years I've written guides and given advice about choosing sustainable holiday gifts. You know, buy from ethical, local, Fair trade suppliers and artists. Choose pre-loved items. Give someone an experience instead of an object. Cook a meal, babysit kids, plant a tree, make organic body scrub. And wrap it all in sustainable gift wrap.

I still wholeheartedly believe in those options. And - despite what the rest of this post may suggest - I really do love the holiday season. Love it. There is nothing better than enjoying delicious food and the company of loved ones under the twinkle of fairy lights. As an added bonus, living in Sydney means that Christmas is the perfect excuse for an extended summer break at the beach. Bring. It. On.

But this year, instead of hoping santa brings me a gorgeous sustainable frock and fretting over the 'perfect' gift for my loved ones, I want something bigger. I want a revolution. I want a seismic cultural and political shift to address the growing climate crisis. It's not too much to ask, is it?

My state is literally on fire. Look at these photos. That extended summer break I mentioned before will likely be spent indoors to escape the hazardous smoke pollution which periodically blankets the city. The fires have come so early and so fiercely that fire chiefs are making public declarations about climate change and begging the government to address the climate crisis. And what does our Prime Minister do? Offers platitudes, thoughts & prayers, naively comments that volunteer firefighters don't need to be paid because they "want to be there" and uses the opportunity of our nationwide distraction to axe the federal arts department and splitting the energy and environment portfolios into other, larger, portfolios, all but ensuring climate change doesn't get a look in. Shame.

The Currowan bushfire has been raging for days in a national park near Ulladulla, burning almost 50,000 hectares as of Wednesday, the RFS said.
Photo: AAP via SMH

Halfway around the world other world leaders are meeting for the annual COP climate talks. I freely admit to being particularly ambivalent about the talks this year. Which is unfair - many people work tirelessly in the lead up and throughout the talks to convince nations to make binding agreements to emissions reductions. But from my perspective (and at least one top scientist) it just looks like we've had these talks for over 20 years and global emissions are rising year on year. Countries including Australia and the United States shirk responsibility and forfeit the opportunity to become climate leaders. And remind me, how many people took an international flight (and how many business class, or private planes) to attend the talks? Not Greta, obviously, and though it doesn't make a dent in the grand scheme of greenhouse gas emissions, it does have an impact on the power of one's activism and leads to systemic change.

So needless to say, this holiday season I'm distracted. Instead of teaching my toddler about the magic of the season I'm fretting about his future. I don't want the champagne and baubles and bonbons - well, not as much as I usually do, anyway. I don't have the energy to handcraft gifts and I don't feel the same joy listening to Mariah Carey's "Merry Christmas" album as in previous years. I want global leaders to act just as that - leaders - and to take the bold actions necessary to halt the worst of the project climate disasters. We are seeing too frequent glimpses of them already, and frankly, it's terrifying.

But I hear you. You want a list. You want a guide for an ethical holiday season, so here it is:
  • Change your household energy to 100% renewable energy. There are multiple affordable options available making this option more attainable than ever.
  • Divest your retirement/superannuation. There are a variety of funds options that do not invest in fossil fuel companies but do have competitive returns. Make your money work for the future you want.
  • Ask your workplace about their own energy and investment plans, and work with them to make the necessary changes if not enough is being done.
  • Contact your politicians. Relentlessly. Let them know the climate is a top concern of yours, and if it's not theirs they will not get your vote.
  • Volunteer your time.
  • Donate your money. This year there are a variety of bushfire appeals including for Fire Services and wildlife rehabilitation. If any of my loved ones want to know what to get me, please do this for me.
  • Connect with others. Build your community and look after those who need some extra care.
  • Rest as much as you can, we have a lot of work to do in 2020.
Until then, fellow Revolutionaries, 

Friday, 18 October 2019

sustainable fashion is so hot right now

For a long time the uptake of sustainable fashion could best be described as a slow burn. There was a constant increase in interest, but it moved at a snail's pace. Sustainable fashion designers struggled to make ends meet, with many working for the passion they felt as activists rather than for the money. And on a personal level, many people raised an eyebrow at my research and questioned whether it was really worth investigating.

Fast forward to 2019 and sustainability is trending, and it's making me worried.

Sustainability and climate change were key features at the recently-wrapped Fashion Weeks (including some fabulous disruption from Extinction Rebellion in London and New York), celebrity endorsements and labels are constantly popping up, the Duchess of Sussex wore Outland Denim and changed the face of sustainable fashion, The Iconic launched their ethical edit, 'Considered', and I feel like I'm seeing nearly as many Vejas as Stan Smiths these days.

Image via Instagram

In fact it was a Veja-spotting that inspired me to write today.

I was on the bus home from work this week, holding onto the swinging handle for dear life as the bus took a sharp turn, when I spotted a pair of Vejas on a young woman seated near me.  A quick scan and I saw she'd paired those white sneakers with some jeans, a Gucci crossbody handbag, a white Tommy Hilfiger tee and some lovely large gold hoop earrings. A few days later I saw another chic woman wearing Vejas with a long silk skirt and tee and a stunning oversized Dior tote. For all I know these designer additions were quality vintage or consignment pieces, but I'm going to make the assumption based on their pristine appearances that they were not.

I've read plenty of articles - scholarly and mass media - talking about sustainable fashion being a status symbol. And there is a lot of weight to the argument that sustainable fashion is primarily available for the upper middle class. These young women personified these criticisms in a way I hadn't yet seen in person.

I don't mean to point fingers at these ladies and blame them for the state of fashion today. However, seeing these bright young things wearing some of the world's most sustainable sneakers with trendy designer pieces demonstrated something I've been suspecting and fearing for awhile...we may be raising general awareness, but nothing is really changing.

Sure, sustainable fashion is so hot right now. More and more people actually know what it is. It's being written about in the pages of Vogue on a regular basis. There are podcasts, blogs, websites, online shops and sustainable stylists and designers all working to raise awareness of the issues and shed light on alternatives. But the fact that designer labels decided to adopt it for their latest runway shows makes me feel we are just swimming in circles, so does seeing a stylish woman who is matching sustainable sneakers with designer labels.

Fashion Editor Vanessa Friedman has an incredible critique in the New York Times about this current turn toward sustainability during the most recent Fashion Weeks. Of her many compelling arguments one that stood out to me was the fact that just last year the brands were addressing the repercussions from the #MeToo movement, and this year some models are reporting it's worse than ever.

In addition, fast fashion continues to pervail, despite some positive signs it was crumbling (like Forever21 filing for bankruptcy, mainly due to not being able to compete on style with H&M and Zara). Zara profits remain high and growing, with plans for worldwide online sales from next year. H&M recently announced its first increase in profits in two years and continue grow their store numbers to more than 5,000 around the world - it also has plans for further online reach in the years to come. More garments will be produced this year than last, and the same thing will happen next year again.

The fashion system is broken, and has been for a long time. It relies on constant renewal to survive, and it relies on us buying into new styles season after season, year after year, and so it injects billions of dollars into marketing to ensure that we make those purchases. In other words, just because people know about something - even the fast fashion companies themselves, which are making promises toward sustainable fabrics and transparent processes - doesn't mean the problem is solved. As long as clothes continue to be designed and produced at these fast rates in vast quantities, it cannot be sustainable. As long as labels want me to buy their new collection each season, or even each year, it cannot be sustainable. Until we can curtail this system that generates constant desire, it cannot be sustainable.

So there, I've said it. I've been thinking it for awhile, and there it is. For all the incredible work my fellow sustainable fashion activists have done over the past decade, particularly the past five or six years, the system remains firmly in tact. I know that progress has been made and I don't want sustainable fashion designers or activists to feel like their work has been for nothing, because it has undoubtedly shifted the conversation. But I feel an increased sense of urgency that just isn't being addressed but the launches of new sustainable fashion lines and the embrace of sustainability on major Fashion Week catwalks. It all feels like more greenwashing to me.

A few years ago, seeing two pair of Vejas in one week would have filled me with glee. Unfortunately, knowing what I know now, it fills me with dread. It appears they are being used as a status symbol, a recognisable and coveted name brand, that may even assuage guilt of some people about the dismal state of the climate and the planet.

So yeah, sustainable fashion is so hot right now. What will be so hot next year? (besides the planet, obvs).

Thursday, 5 September 2019

sustainable work life


It's been awhile, and I'm just going to level with you - this working parent business is hard! I feel like calling every parent I have ever worked with to say, "I'm sorry if I ever gave you the side-eye for leaving work on time! And please tell me how you managed to be so put together for work while wrangling a small child at home." 

Though they probably wouldn't have even noticed my side-eye if they are like me, one eye on my work and another on the clock to ensure I time my commute-daycare-dinner-bath-bedtime routine just perfectly to minimise the likelihood of a meltdown from my mini-one.

I am managing to complete (and enjoy!) my paid work each week, but my labours of love (like this blog and other sustainable fashion activism) have taken a backseat. As so many women have experienced before me, I'm learning firsthand that you can't "have it all", at least not at the same time.

Lucky for me my paid work is incredible. I have the opportunity to meet and work with dedicated, passionate and clever people, including bringing people together with various backgrounds and ideas, all in the name of sustainability. And I was able to write a blog post about it for the Sydney Environment Institute. Here's a sneak peek, and head over their website to learn more.

Living Lab Series: Sustainability Across Campus, From Wave Flumes to Waste Fighters

Lisa Heinze takes us on a journey through the University as she explores past projects and future plans for the Sustainability Strategy.

Image by Vital Sinkevich, via Unsplash

Did you know that the University of Sydney has a wind tunnel and wave flume in its Centre for Wind, Waves and Water? Or that students can take units titled “Building a Sustainable World” or “Poverty Alleviation and Profitability”? Or that we have both a community garden and a food co-opright here on campus?
Over the past few months, I have had the great pleasure of getting to know some of the people behind these initiatives as part of the University’s sustainability strategy development project. The Sydney Environment Institute has been supporting the development of the University’s new strategy, and I have the lucky job of connecting with people who are working hard to make a difference through their research, teaching and actions at the University. In particular, the SEI has been responsible for creating an Advisory Group consisting of staff and students from across the University, and overseen the development of over a dozen sub-groups, to help establish a sustainability vision, identify priorities, and determine guiding principles across a range of sustainability issues at the University.
So what exactly does this mean? And what does it look like on a daily basis? I began by poring over faculty websites and staff profiles, seeking sustainability connections through research or teaching, and sending inquisitive, hopeful emails, asking for participation in the project. I’ve had my fair share of coffees, meeting people to find out more about their work and interests, sharing details about how the working groups’ insights will feed into development of the strategy, and connecting people into various groups to focus on categories like Energy & Emissions, Social & Culture, Water, Built Environment, Landscapes & Biodiversity, and more.
I’ve had the distinct feeling I was standing inside the (thankfully idle) engine of an Airbus A380 as I stood inside the awe-inspiring Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel at the Centre for Wind, Waves and Water...

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

recycle your clothes

Over the years as I've taught lectures on fashion and sustainability I've shown my students the below ad from H&M about recycling your clothes.

I haven't always had kind things to say about H&M, but I love this ad from 2015. It's provocative, has great imagery, promotes body and cultural diversity, and whoever is doing the voiceover is mesmerising.

Typically the ad generates a lot of discussion from students. Fashion or clothing is something most people feel comfortable talking about, and H&M elicits a range of responses and emotions from different students. There's always a lot of support for the diversity shown in the ad, though it's often tempered by criticisms of overconsumption (this is a fast fashion company, after all), and there is always discussion about the role fast fashion companies play in providing fashionable clothing at a low cost for those with those on constrained incomes. But the message about recycling is what really gets people fired up. (Watch it and let me know what you think!)

So here's the deal - you can take any of your used clothing and textiles to H&M and they will recycle it for you. There is a range of things that may happen to the items. If they are good quality, they may resell or donate them. If not, they may be recycled into their base fibres to be remade into fabric again, or perhaps ragged and used in various industries. This is a global campaign, so no matter where you live, you can take things to any H&M store for recycling. And (naturally) they give you a discount for your next purchase.

Despite seeing this ad dozens of times, I've never taken my used clothing to H&M, mostly because I don't usually shop there. I appreciate the strides they have taken toward sustainability through research and innovation, but I don't like to support their overall fast fashion business model. Then last week I found myself with a number of used garments that just did not feel good enough to donate to a charity shop - and some items that are not meant to go to charity shops (hello used bras!) - so I thought I'd take them to H&M since I knew they would not end up in landfill this way, or cost a charity money to dispose of properly on my behalf.

It was very easy. There was a huge sign behind the counter, and the cashier kindly helped me put my bag of donations in the very large (and empty!) bin. She then handed me a coupon for 15% off one item from the store.

And, you know, since I was there...I shopped. Actually I had planned on picking up some long sleeve tops for my son now that winter has finally set in. I know that H&M have a decent range of Conscious Collection basics for babies made from 100% organic cotton. I've written before about building a sustainable baby wardrobe mostly using secondhand items and special pieces from small businesses, but I tell you what, now that he's eating and walking and going to daycare - the mess! Multiple outfit changes are not unheard of in a given day, and I'm getting a glimpse into the rips and stains that will surely mark my 'parent of a toddler' years. My early supply of hand-me-downs have slowed (probably because everyone else's children are wearing out their clothing), so affordable sustainable basics are a good way to add to his wardrobe. (In other words - I finally really understand what people who have attended my workshops in the past have been talking about when they talk of the difficulty in sourcing sustainable children's clothing.)

I bought some long sleeve tops, which were all on a "Buy 3 for the Price of 2" promotion and seemed like a money-losing deal to me since the full price was already so low. I briefly hesitated. Even with all the work H&M claim to be doing to improve working conditions and transparency, how can a garment be made for such a cheap price? And out of organic cotton? Who made those clothes? How much were they paid to sew these adorable nautical-themed onesies?

2-pack long-sleeved bodysuits - Dark blue/Anchors - Kids | H&M CN 1
I really am a sucker for stripes.

And yet, I bought them all the same.

And then I made an impulse purchase of an item that I didn't even know that I needed until I saw it - an adorable shoe organiser that hangs on the back of my son's door and has a bear face. His shoes had been making clutter and driving me crazy, so perhaps I subconsciously was looking for a solution, but it was definitely an impulse purchase. No denying the fact. Since this was the highest-priced item in my basket (at a whopping $25), it was the recipient of my 15% discount.

Image result for hm wall tidy bear motif grey
I mean, c'mon, the adorableness of being tidy!

And so, to sum up, I've basically been putty in the hands of H&M's marketing geniuses - they've received my used clothes, from which they will make money through recycling, and they've also received more of my dollars from buying brand new items.

Some sustainable lifestyle guru I am! I literally have a PhD on the topic, teach university students to think critically about the offer, and yet take me to a well-presented retail space and I get blinded by the lights.

At least I followed the one unbreakable fashion rule - I recycled my clothes.