Tuesday, 24 October 2017

fashioning sustainability

sharing research insights

I submitted my PhD thesis just over a month ago (insert happy dance here). After working on the project full time since 2014, it's hard to believe it is over. Well, nearly. It is with three readers, various experts in their fields around the world, who will provide reports and probably some suggestions to strengthen the analysis. So you can't call me "Dr" just yet, but you can bet I'll let you know when you can!

It's an odd in-between feeling, and yet when I hit that "submit" button I did feel an incredible sense of relief and pride at having completed this research.

The cover page, featuring a gorgeous illustration by my talented
friend Natalie Boog - thanks Nat!
Now that I've had some time to breathe I'm working on an Executive Summary to share with the industry, NGO and activist research participants. To say it is a challenge to distill 300+ pages into bite size data that will be interesting and useful to others feels like the understatement of the century. But why did I do this research if it wasn't to support a transition toward sustainable fashion practices, right?

I plan on publishing the research more widely in academic journals and a book (or two!), but all that will take time. In the meantime I thought I'd also share some of the interesting tidbits that came to light during my research here on the blog. Over the next few weeks I'll share some insights into sustainable fashion in Australia including:
  • consumer awareness 
  • entrepreneurial leadership
  • industry action and limits
  • social movement progress and pitfalls
  • shopping habits
  • the connections among all of the above
Ultimately my thesis puts forward a new approach to sustainable fashion activism that can apply to other sectors and has ramifications for how we address the wider climate crisis.

Thanks to all of you for being on this journey with me over the past 5 years when I first published Sustainability with Style and realised just how much work needed to be done on sustainable fashion.

I look forward to sharing more info with you all on my research, but in the meantime if you have any requests for blog posts, please let me know in the comments below.


Saturday, 23 September 2017

climate optimist

This week I saw a new campaign floating around on social media asking people to pledge to be a #climateoptimist

Now, I didn't need any urging to be optimistic about climate change. Despite all the bad news that surrounds climate change, including the impacts already happening like increased extreme weather events around the world and climate refugees, I've been an optimist ever since I became an environmentalist.

Actually, I think that it's because I'm an active environmentalist that I am an optimist. I feel incredibly privileged to have met countless innovators and changemakers through my work, including through the green building industry, the sustainable fashion movement, and the many climate and renewable activists I've met along the way.  I know people who have launched social enterprises that recycle used fishing nets into skateboards and sunglasses, created transparent and ethical supply chains for textiles, made apps to help people shop more ethically, invented sustainability roles for themselves, and worked with big business and government to address larger systems and institutions. Simply put, there is so much activity, and so many people working on solving the climate (and other environmental) crisis, that there is no reason not to be an optimist.

I know not everyone can meet these people in their day jobs and hear about the latest innovations as they are being created and tested, so I thought I'd share some of the reasons why I feel so optimistic:

  • Global energy-related carbon emissions have been flat for three years in a row, even as the global economy grew by 3.1%. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a proponent for endless growth economics, but it's promising to see that we don't have to totally overthrow capitalism to address climate change (not right away, anyway...)

  • Australia's energy-related emissions decreased 2.3% in the year to June 2017, this brings us to 9.1% below 2005 emissions and 0.8% below 2000 emissions. Furthermore, emissions per capita are at the lowest level in 27 years, down 34.2% since 1990. Read all the details on the Australian Department of Environment and Energy website.

  • A global energy transition is underway. Renewable energy has grown by record levels once again in 2016, up 10% from the 2015 record to 161GW, and costs less each year, 23% reduction in investment compared to 2015. There is more investment in renewables than any other energy form. 

  • In the US, after Donald Trump announced pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, a number of cities and businesses pledged to meet the commitments.

  • Australian researchers have identified 22,000 sites for pumped hydro energy storage to address renewable energy storage concerns.

  • The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation just awarded $20 million in environmental grants (as if I needed another reason to love Leo).

  • Fossil fuel companies are being taken to court by children, cities and states to pay the damages of climate change because the industry knew about the link between fossil fuels and climate change and failed to act (similar to the tobacco industry cases).

  • The Australian green building sector has decreased emissions by 62% and potable water use by 51% (compared to traditional building standards).

  • Interest in sustainable fashion is rapidly growing. I don't have any quantitative stats to share on this, however, given my own involvement in the movement (and my recently completely PhD research) I can attest to the increased interest from consumers, governments, industry and educational institutions. While not directly connected to climate change (though the production, use and disposal of clothing certainly adds to emissions), this growing interest in sustainable fashion signals growing concern and awareness of all environmental issues, and shows that a broad range of individuals care about these issues and want to play a part in the solution.
In short - passion and innovation change the world, and I see no shortage of either. 
This is the main reason I'm a climate optimist,
but there are too many to list.

I wouldn't be true to my activist self if I didn't add a final caveat: just because I am optimistic does not mean we can be complacent. We have a lot of work to do, and we need all hands on deck - citizens, businesses and governments. So while I am optimistic - and I hope you feel optimistic, too - I don't want to give the impression our work here is done.

What do you think? Are you a climate optimist? Why? Why not? I'd love to hear from you, so let's keep this important discussion moving.


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

i heart nudie

Do you have items in your wardrobe that haven't fit for years? And you keep thinking, "maybe one day?"

Normally I get rid of those items - no need to not love everything in your wardrobe, I always say. But I've had a hard time saying goodbye to these black skinny Nudie jeans. Probably because I just LOVE Nudie. They have been committed to organic cotton for years, offer free repairs for the life of your denim, sell pre-loved jeans in their stores, recycle denim that's beyond repair, and have embraced sustainability long before it became trendy.

But, I bought the wrong size. Well, I think I'd hoped they would stretch a bit with wear, and they certainly did not. So - off to eBay for these beauties! They are barely worn, hence the sale rather than donation. Waist 29, length 30, high waisted, skinny High Kai denim.

If that happens to be your size, check them out on eBay.

Otherwise, next time you're in the market for new denim, check out Nudie and enjoy wearing high quality, organic cotton denim.

As proof of their commitment to repair - here are a couple snaps of my husband's Nudies, repaired twice now (and another pair is currently being repaired as I type).

Thanks, Nudie, for your complete embrace of sustainable values throughout the life of your products.

Friday, 11 August 2017

long live the manly food co-op

If you've read my book you'll know that the Manly Food Co-op and I got off to a rocky start. What is up with all these bins? Am I really meant to bring my own containers? What do all the different prices mean? And how much did I just spend on olive oil (while distracted from the beautiful Brazilian checkout boy)?

Fast forward 8 years and I am a Manly Food Co-op pro (it helps that it moved to a larger, brighter, swankier space). My husband and I can collect our containers from home and do a "big shop" in about an hour - including getting all the beautiful organic, local, packaging-free ingredients for two flavours of homemade muesli, stocking up on pantry essentials like rice, legumes, and nuts, and gathering whatever produce strikes our fancy. Ty has volunteered off and on over the years, and this year I've been volunteering as Director of Sustainability. We honestly don't know what our lives would be like without the Co-op.

Unfortunately we may soon face the reality of a life without the Co-op and the sense of community it brings us. The Manly Food Co-op is facing closure if we don't raise $50,000 (AUD) by 20 August. That's just over a week from now! The details of why we need that amount and what it will be used for are on the Pozible crowdfunding site, so I won't get into it here.

What I do want to say here is how important I think places like the Co-op are for building community and for offering the potential to radically change our food system.

When the Co-op was founded over 21 years ago by Keelah Lam and other local environmentals, they had a vision to offer clean, affordable food to the Manly community that was better for the planet and better for people's health. Those same values drive the Co-op today, and are as important as ever as governments and corporations seem hell bent on keeping polluting, wasteful practices as the norm. If you watched the War on Waste and saw the latest report about how some of our recyclables only get recycled 50% of the time you will know the importance of avoiding packaging in the first instance.

As we like to say at the Co-op, we never had to ban the plastic bag, because we never used it in the first place.

In addition to waste avoidance - and pollution avoidance (and health benefits) of buying organic - the community of the Co-op has enormous revolutionary potential. As I've been writing about in my thesis lately, the way to change practices (like grocery shopping) to be more sustainable is not to focus on individual behaviour change, but to focus on creating networks and building connections. Building networks provides emotional support, but also supports multiple ideas to come together to start to change the system itself, which then enables everyone to have a more sustainable shopping experience.

This week I've been blown away by the passion of the fundraising committee - including my husband. It seems I have fallen even more in love with him this week (had no idea that was possible!) as I've seen his fighting spirit come alive, and heard him speak with tenderness of the love he feels for the Co-op as he contacts some of the 600+ Co-op members to raise the funds to save the shop. In less than 2 days they have raised over $12,000. I have witnessed the power of community, the power of this network, as it is rallying together to save an institution they love.

If you are passionate about stopping food and packaging waste, supporting organic farming, and the idea of changing the food system to be more sustainable, equitable and healthy, can I ask you to do me a favour and donate to the Manly Food Co-op fundraising campaign? If you are a local, you can contribute while getting (or renewing) a membership, or take advantage of some awesome rewards (like a sailing excursion or a tour of Keelah's house and beehive!). If not, consider it a donation toward a space that is trying to set the standard for a new way of providing food.

Long live the Manly Food Co-op!

Monday, 31 July 2017

aloha good day girl

This weekend I had the absolute pleasure of attending Good Day Girl's Summer fashion show. (If you haven't heard of them already, check out this post I wrote about their incredible business model earlier this year.)

This may have been the most fun I've had a fashion show ever. There was such a good vibe in the room, which was filled with their dedicated clients, and Sophie and Alexia turned on the charm with tiki-themed music and cheeky pineapple sunglasses (you can spot a few atop the heads of the guests above!) as they told us about the collection, their collaborations, and their use of sustainable materials.

This top was definitely one of my faves - and the cute
tote is by Made in Mada, handwoven raffia as part of
a Fairtrade certified organisation in Madagascar.

One of my favourite elements of the show was that clients were able to feel the fabrics of the various looks - this was not fashion for fashion's sake, but fashion for people who love to wear beautiful clothing, and reminded me how much Alexia and Sophie understand how women choose clothing. What is the first thing you do when you see something you love? You reach out to feel the fabric, of course (followed by a glance at the price tag, but we feel the fabric first...).

The cupro fabric was an absolute show-stealer. Looks,
feels & wears like silk but is made of a cotton 'waste' product.

I also loved the diversity of the three models showing the collection - a beautiful reminder that beautiful clothes are for every one, no matter your shape, age or ethnicity. Thank you, Sophie and Alexia!

The scarf featured here is part of their collaboration
with Cloth & Co, hand-loomed silk and cotton - pure luxury.

I wish I had better pictures for you, but I was not on my A-game. Check out the entire summer collection on their website, and if you're in Sydney, Melbourne or Perth, schedule yourself in for a private styling session to view and try on the collection in person.

Sydney: 31 July - 19 August
Melbourne: 21 - 23 August
Perth: 24 - 26 August

Once you've made your selection and been measured up, your made-to-order beauties will be created just for you and delivered just in time for summer.

Bring on the heat!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

plastic microfibre pollution

My latest sustainable fashion obsession is the trouble with microfibre pollution.  If you haven't heard of this before, the Story of Stuff have done a great video explaining what it is.

Essentially, tiny microfibres come off our clothes when we wear and wash our garments. You know, those little bits of fuzz and fluff. It's normal, of course. Fabric is woven from threads which were spun together using millions of pieces of fibre of varying lengths. It makes sense that they would fray and shed over time.

These microfibres are tiny, visible only through a microscope.

The real trouble comes with synthetic clothing. When these minuscule synthetic fibres break off our clothes, they never break down. Natural fibres like cotton, wool, linen and hemp have the ability to biodegrade, but just like plastic, synthetic fibres cannot naturally biodegrade. Most of the fibres are captured by our washing machine filters and by wastewater treatment plants, but unfortunately many of these fibres are too small to be captured and have been found in our water ways, our ocean, and inside fish, where they occasionally become embedding in the fishes' bodily organs. Just like other microplastics, whatever eats any of these fish, eats the plastic - including bigger marine creatures, sea birds, and (of course) humans.

One of the most painful ironies for me with this situation is that so much research has gone into creating recycled polyesters or other fabrics made of recycled plastic (including many labels I love and have recommended over the years); now it seems we may have just been recycling plastic into a form that makes it easier to send microplastic pollution into the world.

This week I am participating in an online conference called the Lives and Afterlives of Plastic, and have uploaded a video presentation - it's available on the conference website and on my YouTube channel (my first video!). It's about 20 minutes long, and gives an overview of the problem, the early proposed solutions, and my thoughts about where we need to go from here. If you've ever wanted to come to a guest lecture of mine, this is the next best thing! I'd love for you to take a look and let me know what you think!

In the meantime, it's a good time to start to really look at the fabric of your clothes, particularly if you're making a new purchase. Of course it's really hard to avoid all synthetics, but if we at least start paying attention we can start to ask why synthetics seem to be used in so many goods, and seek other options when possible. And there are a couple interim solutions, like the Guppyfriend washing bag, that you may want to consider if you currently have a lot of synthetic fabrics in your wardrobe. But, as I say in the presentation, this is not one for the wearers and buyers of clothing to solve. This is an enormous industry problem, and will require much collaboration and continued innovation.

Take care until next time,

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

thala beach getaway

Last week I escaped the winter for some much-needed R&R with my beautiful hubby. We decided to head to lovely Tropical North Queensland, a favourite region of ours. In fact, this was our fifth visit since moving to Australia 13 years ago.

This was meant to be a relaxing holiday - no action and adventure for us this time around - and so I was delighted when I came across Thala Beach Nature Reserve and Lodge. Eco-certified for Advanced Ecotourism and recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, the lodge and bungalows set amongst the trees offered the perfect site for our winter escape. Just 15 minutes south of Port Douglas, I don't know how I'd missed this gem on previous visits.

Driving onto the Reserve we wound through a stunning coconut grove that the owners planted when they bought the land in the 1970s.

The owners of Thala have worked tirelessly to replenish the grounds after about two-thirds of the 145 hectare property was transformed from a definite sugar plantation into the natural wonderland it is today. I am in awe of the dedication of the owners who lovingly restored the land to the point that local plants and native wildlife now thrive on their property. We were spoiled by multiple nature walks on-site (they offer complementary guided walks, too, which we didn't take advantage of), as well as a stargazing evening where I saw the longest shooting star I have ever seen in my life, plus the rings of Saturn and the red stripes of Jupiter through their telescope.  I was truly in nature and science heaven.

We got lucky and were upgraded to a one of their Coral Sea bungalows, and honestly this was the view of my dreams. A charming bay surrounded by a eucalyptus forest, and perfectly positioned to enjoy afternoon sun and the beautiful colours of dusk. The lodge was built using sustainable building practices and materials, and designed specifically to fit into the environment. Apparently the space was approved for 6,000+ hotel rooms! They settled on less than 100. It's no wonder this resort was awarded the highest possible Eco-tourism certification.

Now that I'm back home I sure am missing the sound of the lapping waves while I fall asleep...

Many days we walked through the lovely forest trails to Oak Beach, a long stretch of natural beach with white sands and a stunning backdrop of green headlands. There are fallen coconuts scattered throughout, and a few hammocks strung in the shade of the coconut trees, and I was content to simply stare out at the beautiful surrounding for hours.

That's me! And the closet bikini shot you'll get of me on a public website.
If you were able to see it, I'm wearing an adorable suit by ethical, surfer-chic,
California-made label The Seea.

Looking down the beautiful coastline - the drive from Cairns to Thala is
incredibly beautiful as it hugs the coastline on the beautiful turquoise sea.

I was surprised how little "beach reading" I did, actually. I'm an avid reader, but I found myself just staring and daydreaming more than anything. I truly found my bliss spot at Thala Beach Nature Reserve and Lodge, and I hope to return in the coming years.

Despite the pristine nature of the beach, there was still some nasty plastic bits that made it to the beach - here's our little collection.

* * * *

Enjoying some forest bathing in the Daintree.

We did spend one day in the rainforest exploring Mossman Gorge, but otherwise this was a super-chilled break. Out of character for the two of us, but so appreciated!

This tiny snail was probably 1/4 cm, and a delightful reminder of the
importance of slowing down and observing the wonders of nature.

* * * *

We did not spend a day on the Great Barrier Reef this time around, though I have had the pleasure of swimming and snorkelling the Reef a number of times on previous trips.  A couple of years ago I wrote about the Great Barrier Reef. The situation is even more dire today, particularly in light of the Federal and Queensland governmental support of the Adani Coal Mine. This mega mine poses direct physical threats to the Reef as coal is transported out of Australia, but the biggest threat to the Reef is rising global temperatures. The latest reports suggest the Reef is officially dying. Warmer waters are to blame for the past two years' coral bleaching on the Reef, and we have lost 50% of the Great Barrier Reef over the past 30 years due to pollution and warming. However, I'd urge you not to think this means the region is not worth a visit. The Reef is still spectacular, and once you are amongst it personally the value of this magnificent World Heritage Area really become apparent. Besides, between the Reef and the other World Heritage site - the Daintree Rainforest - you are truly amongst some of the world's most beautiful natural sites.

If you're as frustrated as I am about the Adani project, head over to the Stop Adani website and learn how you can get more involved. You'll be armed with further information about just how problematic this mine is - it's taking more than it's giving to Australia, and will undoubtedly steer us away from our climate targets.

Until next time~

* * * *

P.S. - I know some bloggers accept free holidays to destinations in return for articles, but this holiday was completely organised and paid for by yours truly. My opinions above are an unbiased, honest reflection of how much I loved our stay, and I hope some of you get the opportunity to stay in this magical place.

The views from the bar and restaurant were spectacular!