Wednesday, 14 June 2017

future of fashion manifesto

A few weeks ago I was asked to participate in a fabulous conference titled Hacking the Anthropocene*.

The structure of the conference meant that many short "hacks" were presented to the group - creative and outside-the-square thoughts to help us work toward productive environmental actions/solutions/ideas.

I was invited to present a hack on the topic of fashion and "weathering" - how do we weather the impending climate crisis? What role does fashion play during uncertain times?

I decided my 7 minute hack would be a manifesto for the future of fashion. There are plenty of other fashion manifestos, (see for example Mistra's Future Fashion Manifesto, Li Edelkoort's Anti-Fashion Manifesto, and Greenpeace's Detox Fashion Manifesto) So why write another one? I was influenced by all of these, but also wanted to consider my own research with the Australian sustainable fashion movement and spell out more clearly what I felt were the truly revolutionary ideas. I also wanted to think about what is productive about fashion - I don't want to change it entirely, but instead consider the best elements of fashion that we can use to our advantage. Below I've included excerpts from my presentation, including the key points of my manifesto.

This manifesto is by no means complete. In fact, I'd love your input. I don't think that one person, or even one organisation, can write an effective manifesto for the future of fashion. So consider this a starting point and an invitation - read it, ponder it, and share your thoughts with me. I think we can create something really powerful if we all put our heads together.

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 What to Wear to Weather the End of the World as We Know It
In 2015 trend forecaster Li Edelkoort declared “fashion is dead” in her Anti-Fashion Manifesto. She suggested the industry has become too insular, students are only taught to be individualistic catwalk designers, the pace has accelerated too rapidly, textile design skills have been lost, sweatshops plague the industry, and fashion bloggers have taken over true fashion critique.

I agree with many of her grumblings about the industry, but I disagree with Edelkoort’s conclusion that we should distance ourselves from "fashion" and focus on "clothing". I don’t think fashion will ever be dead, and I don’t think we should want it to be, either. It is far more productive to consider the creativity and innovation that are hallmarks of fashion as invaluable skills for solving the many shortcomings of the industry, particularly the social and environmental devastation it causes.

These productive traits of fashion are also useful for weathering the end of the world as we know it – which itself is an ideal time to change the way things are done.  Depending on where one lives, weathering the future storms will include adjustments to warmer or colder, wetter or dryer climates, as well as socio-political upheaval. Future fashion solutions may be able to offer both physical and social comfort as we adjust to uncertain times.

Future of Fashion : A Manifesto
  1. (Re)Create
    Rethinking waste is one of the most impactful means of weathering a future with overflowing landfills. Experimental label Maison Briz Vegas was influenced in part by Gay Hawkins’ Ethics of Waste and actively work with waste to overcome the guilt associated with it and work towards an enchantment with waste. As Carla Binotto, one half of the duo explains, “A constant motivation for the two designers is transforming the humble and discarded into something rich and beautiful.” The pieces are created with secondhand clothing that are broken down, block printed by hand, and recreated into new pieces, often embellished with other waste including plastic bags and milk cartons.

    Other examples of (re)creating with waste include labels that use excess, deadstock or offcut fabric, like Sheila Forever (pictured below), and the recycling of waste into new fibers, including brands like Patagonia, Teeki, and Adidas in using recycled plastic bottles and ocean waste in their polyester fibers.

  2. Collaborative Kinship
    Weathering an unstable future will be made possible by forming strong social bonds – in the fashion industry this can be seen through collaborative kinship - viewing others as partners in a way forward, not strictly as competitors.

    Patagonia has broken tradition when it comes to dealing with the competition. When the organisation engineered new wetsuit material using a natural rubber called Yulex, which is made from tapping trees in sustainably managed forests, they shared the technology via open-source so their competitors. This way any brand that wanted could make a wetsuit with a significantly smaller footprint when compared with the usual neoprene.

    In my research with the sustainable fashion industry in Australia I have found collaboration to be a hallmark of the movement.  Sometimes this is at the top of the market, but primarily amongst entrepreneurs who work together in a range of activities to further the cause of sustainable fashion. This is also represented by the generosity of the labels sharing time and samples with me – an activist researcher – as we all pull together to create change.
  3. Clothes for Living
    Creating clothes for living and designing outside of trends is a powerful tool, including designing and constructing quality garments meant to last. Engendering a sense of pride in quality pieces and a confident, stable style is a revolutionary act to counter the endless changes of style from today’s fast fashion market.

    Australian label Pure Pod operates in this way, creating high quality pieces designed to outlast seasonal trends that make the wearer feel great about themselves.

  4. Clear Connections
    “Transparency” has become a buzzword as fashion brands start to uncover their deep, global and complex supply chains. But a truly sustainable future of fashion means not only knowing who and where your suppliers are, but forming connections with them.

    Carlie Ballard's eponymous label demonstrates the potential of creating connections with her producers. Through regular visits and frequent communication with the team on the ground her pieces created to the standard she needs and she also has learned how the team prefers to work and has adjusted accordingly. Since there is regular and clear communication, the team in India also feel comfortable sharing their knowledge with Ballard regarding technical aspects of weaving, dyeing, or tailoring that may add cost and/or time to her production. The mutual respect between designer and producer offers a connection on a deeper than merely having traceable supplier lists.

  5. Challenge & Provoke
    The creativity of fashion can be used to provoke new ways of thinking about the world. Maison Briz Vegas offers an ideal example of this through their poetics of waste, which provokes the viewer of the garments and challenges her notions of waste. Feathers made of plastic bags, sequins and embellishments made of trash, and secondhand clothing block printed all provoke new thinking not only about the way we view fashion, but the way we view waste – provoking fashion leads to provoking thoughts about life.

In closing – fashion is part of life. To claim it is “dead” and should be forgotten neglects the magic it offers and its impact on how we view the world. Let’s not toss it all away, calling it frivolous, wasteful or self-serving.  Tapping into creativity is essential for weathering the climate crisis. Inspiration for responses to the Anthropocene can and must come from all aspects of social life, and fashion offers a prime opportunity to provoke new ways of thinking through its ability to attract, bewilder and inspire.

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So, what do you think? What would you add or change? Share your ideas and together we can create a more complete manifesto.

I also want to say another big thank you to the labels who generously provided samples for me to have on hand at the conference - it made all the difference for the attendees to see up close the possibilities and beauty of sustainable fashion.

Pure Pod, Patagonia, Carlie Ballard, Sheila Forever, and Maison Briz Vegas.


*In case you haven't heard of the term, 'Anthropocene' is what we are calling this current geological and climate age - the era during which human activity has had the greatest impact on the earth and climate.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Modern Slavery Act

Recently the Australian government asked for submissions addressing an inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia (an act was established in the UK in 2015). At the suggestion of a fellow sustainable fashion activist, I submitted my response - this was a first for me! I have never made a Parliamentary submission before, but I felt it was the perfect opportunity to flex some civic engagement muscle on a topic I know and care about.

The submissions have all been posted online now, and you can view each of them here. It's great to see submissions of support from global brands like Adidas  and Wesfarmers, as well as from concerned citizens and fashion design students. I haven't read all the submissions, but I was heartened to see so much support for this important issue.

Modern Slavery exists in a multitude of forms, and is by no means only connected to the fashion industry, but that was the focus of my (admittedly hastily written!) submission. You can read my response below. Let me know what you think, and if you've ever written one of these!

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To the Committee Secretary:

I am an ethical fashion advocate and a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, and I am pleased to make a submission to the Senate inquiry into modern slavery. I am currently completing research on Australia’s fashion industry and the challenges facing companies and consumers in the endeavour to create a more sustainable/ethical fashion industry, including the particular significance of transparent supply chains. I welcome this inquiry and support the idea of creating a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.

Nature and extent of modern slavery
Significant research is required to determine the nature and extent of modern slavery in Australia and globally. Statistics on this issue are difficult to come by and definitions are often vague. According to the Global Slavery Index, 36 million people live in modern slavery, and many of them work throughout the supply chain of brands bought in Australia. In terms of the textile and apparel industry, a number of organisations are working to determine the extent of the issue and taking action when possible. These organisations include Baptist World Aid Australia, Clean Clothes Campaign, Fair Wear Foundation, Labour Behind the Label, Oxfam, Stop the Traffic, and Fashion Revolution.

Supply chains
I will specifically speak to the textile and apparel industries in this section. The majority of companies have very little information on the specifics of their supply chain, particularly when it comes to their Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers. Most notably, child and forced labour has been reported widely throughout cotton agricultural production. Until recent years (as a result of increased activist pressure following the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh), most companies had little information on their Tier 1 suppliers, either. When companies are not required to know the full story of their supply chain, decisions often come down to the financial bottom line and aesthetic preferences. At this time, Australian consumers have little opportunity to “choose ethical” products, or feel confident they are not supporting unethical practices such as modern slavery, because the companies offering goods do not know and/or share the details of the supply chain. As a result, Australia is complicit in any multitude of modern slavery activities through the suppliers of companies in operation in Australia.

Identifying international best practice
Pursuant to the above sections, Australia should identify best practice employed by governments and organisations to prevent modern slavery throughout supply chains. In addition to learning from the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, there are a number of apparel companies leading the way in transparency throughout their supply chain including Patagonia, Honest By, People Tree, ALAS, Kowtow, Levi’s, H&M and Zara, to name a few. Organisations Fashion Revolution and Baptist World Aid Australia (via their Ethical Fashion Report) have developed some guidelines for measuring transparency throughout apparel supply chains. However, some of these only examine Tier 1 suppliers, and there is room for improvement to establish full examinations of Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers.

Australia has a moral imperative to work to end modern slavery, and Australian citizens have a right to buy goods from companies working in Australia without wondering if their purchase supported modern slavery here or abroad. In light of these facts I fully support the creation of a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.

Friday, 28 April 2017

it's a revolution, baby

Happy Fashion Revolution Week!

It is hard to believe that it's been four years since the devastating Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that sparked a Fashion Revolution. On that day, over 1,100 garment workers were killed and more than 2,500 injured in a completely preventable disaster. And it's essential that we're clear on the fact that this devastation was a direct result of changes in our fashion production system that demand ever-faster production at ever-lower prices.

There remains so much work to do to make sure this doesn't happen again, to ensure that no one has to put her or his life at risk so I can feel great in beautiful clothing. But today I want to focus on some of the positive changes I've seen since the global Fashion Revolution campaign began.

I must admit, I haven't been able to participate in nearly as many events this year as I would like to - I am definitely placing  most of the blame on my PhD (getting so close!), but some of it on the fact that this year, in Sydney, there were so many events to choose from! Amazing work, Sydneysiders! There have been lectures, panel discussions, film screenings, clothes swaps and even a yoga session.

I participated in two events this week - one was a panel discussion/cocktail event at the beautiful Darley Store with my friend and fellow sustainable fashion advocate Carlie Ballard and designer Hang Osment-Le from the beautiful label All the Wild Roses.

We talked about why we each got involved in the movement, the challenges of being a sustainable or ethical fashion designer, the things that keep us up at night, and the things that inspire us. The crowd was a delightful mixture of fellow advocates, designers and interested fashion lovers and citizens. We even had some guests brave the icy wind all the way from Wolli Creek - you are amazing.

Incredible ethical Gin Gin Mules, made with Fair Gin
and Fair gingerale c/o Noble Spirits.

Last night I hosted a "Who Made My Clothes?" workshop with Willoughby City Council, and was delighted to be joined by the dynamic duo behind the Possibility Project and Slumwear 108, who spoke about the power of working from a place of gratitude and belief that we each have the power to change the world. By the end of the evening we had guests learning to use the Good On You app, checking out the Project Just website, debating some of the grades of labels in the latest Ethical Fashion Report, and helping one another think about the clothes we wear each day.

The gorgeous Possibility Project women (Kim far left, Kath far right)
with The Only Way is Op blogger/Instagrammer extraordinaire, Ellen.

A real highlight for me was seeing a guest who had attended a previous event I hosted with Willoughby City Council - she brought her teenage daughter along (who Instagrammed the event - thank you for spreading the word about sustainable fashion!), and also told me that after attending the previous event, she and a friend hosted a very successful clothes swap in their church. Fabulous!

I have been so fortunate to spend the past five years immersed in the world of sustainable and ethical fashion, and I can honestly say the tide is turning. More people are more engaged in the issues than ever before. Citizens are aware of what is happening and eager to play their part. Up and coming designers and design students are starting their labels with sustainable business models. Young people want to know how to get involved in activist work. Sustainable fashion entrepreneurs continue to trail-blaze paths toward ethical production without ravaging the planet's resources to make their beautiful garments. And some of the big fashion players are taking truly revolutionary steps to change the way they make their clothes.

The women from the Possibility Project are so spot on when they say:
There are 7 billion solutions to our problems when we remember how powerful each of us are.
So I will leave you with that powerful message - it doesn't matter who you are, or where you are, or whether you are involved in the fashion industry or not. We can each help solve the issues of the world, we just have to get started. If you're not sure how, you can start simply by taking a photo of yourself today, sharing it Instagram, tagging the company that made your clothes and include the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes?

Some of the fabulous guests last night - one who told me she was
"proud of me", even though she knew how odd that sounded since she
doesn't know me - I love it! I'm proud of you for coming along :)
And another who is working on a denim upcycling project, can't wait
to see her creations come to life.

Not on Instagram? No problem. Call or email the company instead. The more we ask, the more they'll change, it's as simple as that.


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.


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*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?