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!

* * * *

To the Committee Secretary:

Introduction
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.

Conclusion
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.


xxLisa

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.
xxLisa


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.

xxLisa

* * * * 

*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!
xxLisa

*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.