Monday 21 November 2016

changemakers : walk sew good

Have you heard about the amazing Australian women who have just embarked on an epic journey to walk 4000km across Southeast Asia to raise awareness for a more ethical fashion industry?


Megan O'Malley and Gabrielle Murphy have just set out to walk
4,000km across Southeast Asia in the name of ethical fashion

Melbourne friends Gabrielle Murphy and Megan O'Malley met in a Sustainability class at university, and they have recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign to help them embark on this adventure to film stories of the people creating clothing in positive and sustainable ways. I recently had the opportunity to interview these two incredible (and lovably goofy!) women just as they were about to fly off.

How did you first become aware of the ethical issues surrounding fashion?

M: I love this question because everyone has a different answer. For me it was a bit of a journey. I used to be the best shopper in the world. I could have shopped for my country. I was exceptional. My closet was overflowing. I was at my peak shopping best when I was working as a dancer on cruise ships. At the time, I was working with a lot of people from all over the world and I was disgusted to see that a person’s position, pay and privileges on board the ship were closely linked to their country of origin. People from developing countries worked the longest hours, had the longest contracts and were restricted to certain areas of the ship. But I never saw the similarities between what I was seeing on the ship and what was going on in the fashion industry.

It wasn’t until I did a sustainability class at university (where I met Gab) and started my own (now defunct) online vintage store that I started to make the connections. And then I just nerded out on textbooks and anything I could get my hands to learn as much I could about the fashion industry and its impacts.

G: Back in the 90s there was a big uproar over sweatshops in China. I remember that Mum always encouraged us to wear second hand clothes, or she made our clothes herself. I guess I was more exposed to it after the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which happened whilst I was studying global development and sustainability with Megan.

Why did you choose to travel through SEA for this particular journey?

M: When we were crowdfunding for the project, some of our friends and family were asking why we were walking through Southeast Asia instead of supporting the local industry in Australia. We thought it was a good question so we wrote a blog post about it!

Originally we wanted to walk from India to China but then we looked at a map and realised huge mountains and Bangladesh were in the way. As much as we would love to tell the positive stories happening in Bangladesh because it is such a big cog in the fast fashion story, we thought it was unwise to walk through the country. Our family and friends were very happy with this decision.

G: Southeast Asia is one of Australia’s closest neighbours and is really one of the major powerhouses in the world for clothing supplies, Australia is essentially exploiting the region for the legal loopholes that allow slave labour and dumping of toxic waste to go unpunished. We wanted to focus on the people fighting against the status quo, in an area of the world where there is very little protection for them to do so. Whilst we 100% support Australian made, ethical brands; we feel that we want to encourage the entire fashion system to change and to do that, we need to start in the areas with the least amount of support.

Are there any labels you're especially excited to visit? Or is this more of a journey of discovery?

M: I think it will definitely be a mixture. We’ve reached out to quite a few brands and most of the replies we receive have been from expats living in the country. They are doing great work but it would be fantastic if we could find and interview people working at companies and organisations owned and operated by local people as well.

G: So many to choose from! I’m really excited to visit the BeeKeeper Parade crew as well as Dorsu. But I’m just as excited to meet people that I don’t know anything about!

What do you anticipate your biggest challenges will be?

M:Oh goodness, there are a few. Number one I think will be injury and sickness. We’ll be walking for a year and anything serious could throw a real spanner in the works. For me, and I’m checking my privilege right now, I’m a little bit nervous about the camping, the not showering daily, the cargo pants, the pooping in a hole and all of those rough tough things that have really not been a part of my life up until now. I’m OK for a few days but we’ll be doing this for a year! I believe there will be a bit of an adjustment period.

G: I’m definitely worried about disease and injury. But for me, I honestly think the hardest thing will be being away from my partner for so long. We are really close and he is super supportive, but it will be a challenge not having him around. Honestly I’d rather face tigers than go a year without seeing him.

I hear you, ladies! As someone who has succumbed to illness abroad and has only recently embraced camping, you have logistical issues on top of the ethical fashion work you're doing. But we're all pulling for you and can't wait to see what you have to share!

* * * *

I hope you'll join me in sending these two powerhouses so many good vibes for an amazing journey. I can't wait to hear the stories they uncover and meet the people who are making a difference throughout Southeast Asia  -there are already a couple of stories live on their website! Make sure to follow their progress on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or on as they work (and walk!) hard to show us some of the stories behind our clothes.

Do you have any suggestions on where Gabrielle and Megan should visit?

Thursday 10 November 2016

the morning after and the fight ahead

Heart sick.
Gut wrenched.

I'm very tender this morning as I gaze upon the hopeful pantsuit of yesterday.

My husband sweetly consoled me as we said goodbye today: "I'm feeling sad, too, but not as viscerally as you are." The non-writer in the family once again providing the words I could not find.

As I watched the electoral counts roll in yesterday I felt the wind knocked out of me. Every value I hold for equality, fairness and freedom - my supposed 'American idealism' - stomped into the deep red earth of my homeland.

As a female environmentalist and social justice activist I have always felt the Trump campaign hostile toward my entire being - in my body as a woman, and in my job as an activist (and I am a privileged white woman! I can't begin to understand how others feel). He is the embodiment of the dying patriarchal hyper-capitalist world that must end if we are to survive, and he went kicking and screaming through the end of the campaign to hold on to this 'power' for a little bit longer. As the results were finalised I felt knocked to the ground.

I just kept thinking, "What do I do now?" with a US President who is a climate denialist? There is so much work to be done. So much more work than I'd even imagined.

But even while mourning, I felt enraged as well.

In the midst of my despair I attended an event I'd previously booked featuring my hero, Naomi Klein. From her books No Logo and Shock Doctrine, to her recent work on Capitalism vs the Climate, she's long offered me new ways of addressing some of the problems I see in the world. She pointed out that the election was the result of a system in collapse. The neoliberal system has failed too many people, and we see the effects through this election, Brexit, and even the GFC in 2008. And if we don't fill it with something that people can believe in, fascism will fill that void.

She also reminded us that we must dust ourselves off, gather, communicate and organise. This is our opportunity to halt not just the climate crisis but so many global injustices that become more apparent with the effects of climate change.

The event also featured a panel of inspiring and committed women working in the field, including Maria Tiimon Chi-Fang, a woman from Kiribati who spoke of the impending loss of her culture, her people and her identity along with their land should climate change continue to go unchecked. We also heard from Murrawah Johnson, a Wirdi woman and spokesperson for the Wangan & Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council, campaigning to stop the proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine. She also spoke passionately about the environmental movement as a fight for her life, her culture, Aboriginal survival.

The evening was a reminder that challenges can divide or unite us, and as the title of the evening suggests, "To change everything, we need everyone."

This is not the time to be afraid or to deepen divides. It is not the time to flee America or turn our backs on its people - my people. It is a time to come together, to talk, to listen, to really understand one another, so that we can continue the progress we've already made. The stakes are way too high to ignore it.

This morning, in the clear light of day, I am heartened by the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. And by the fact that I know people voted for Trump who do not agree with his misogyny, racism, bigotry, or climate denialism. I know that so many of my countrymen and women do believe we are stronger together, and hold similar values to my own.

So I'll mourn, but just briefly.

As I type this I'm already dusting myself off, drying my tears, and gathering strength for the fight ahead. It really is the fight of our lives. If you haven't been involved in the climate movement yet, we need you now more than ever. Every single day of the Trump presidency and the Republican-held Senate and (likely) Supreme Court, we have to fight harder than we ever have before. It's time for all of us to put our hearts, minds and bodies on the line to create the world we all believe is possible.

And this time, the system can keep its pantsuits. We'll win wearing whatever we damn well please. 

Wednesday 9 November 2016

love trumps hate in pantsuit nation

My favourite fashion story this week is also my favourite political story - Pantsuit Nation.

Starting as a private Facebook group for Hillary Clinton supporters to share their stories and praise for their candidate during this deeply divisive campaign, popularity has exploded in the past couple of days - at the time of writing there were nearly 3 million members.

This morning as I completed my routine wakeup Facebook check, my heart swelled from reading voter stories.

Women in deeply 'red' districts proudly donning pantsuits (frequently with daughters-in-tow!)  to vote for Clinton, commonly amidst jeers and negative comments from their fellow Americans.

My dear high school friend and her girls voting in California today.
Loving ALL these pantsuits!
(No jeers for her - that I know of!)

Dads for Clinton talking about their vision for a compassionate and fair future for their children.

Older women wearing white in honour of suffrage and all the women before them who could not imagine being able to vote for a female president.

Women who don't own suits borrowing their husbands' for the day.

Husbands wearing their wive's pantsuits to head to the polls.

A father honouring his daughter who died while serving in the military.

And story upon story upon story that remind me of the love and compassion I know resides in my fellow Americans.

My other dear high school friend (another Lisa!) on the left here, rocking
her blazer and 'Pussy Grabs Back' t-shirt, just back from her weekend
campaigning on the ground in Nevada. Rockstars!

Living abroad this election cycle has been especially difficult. There were many times I wanted to jump on a plane and campaign, door knock, anything to help Clinton win. I have friends who have gotten involved in the campaign, and I am so proud to know them. And I have been incredibly frustrated with the Australian media, which paints a picture of an America so divided that no one should want to live there.

But that's not the America I know.

Of course Americans have different views and opinions, and there are serious issues to be addressed by the next president, but we also value the right to free speech, the right to vote and to have a say more than any other country I know. That doesn't make us divisive, it makes us diverse.

Stories on Pantsuit Nation and the love that filled my facebook feed today remind me of my America, in all her beautiful, diverse, and caring glory. I'm confident we will see this love reflected in polls today.  And if for some reason it's not, I still know that it's there.

I voted weeks ago, but today I'm still pulling out a pantsuit. Sustainable, of course.
Organic cotton blouse and black blazer by KITX, blue Veronika Main trouses, which
are ECA-accredited. You can't see my secondhand black loafers, but if you look closely
on my phone-holding hand, you'll see two rings - wedding rings of my departed grandmothers.
I don't know who they'd be voting for, but I suspect they'd both be thrilled to see a woman on the ballot.

#ImWithHer  #LoveTrumpsHate #PantsuitNation

Thursday 3 November 2016

fashion stats : waste

You know that awesome feeling you get when you go through your wardrobe, clear out the things you don't wear anymore, and take a big bag of clothes to the local charity shop?

Well, I'm about to make it not such a nice feeling anymore.

Only 1/3 to 1/5 of all clothing gets resold in the country where it was donated because we are donating way too many clothes. And all the excess must be dealt with at the cost of the charity stores themselves. Some of the excess gets turned into rags, insulation or sofa-stuffing (excellent recycling!), some of it gets thrown out altogether because it's in such poor condition, while the rest gets bundled up and sent to developing countries.

Many countries have a bustling trade in secondhand Western clothing. The photo I've included here was taken on my travels through Tanzania in 2012, where the secondhand market I visited was about the size of a football field and filled with used western clothing at super cheap prices.

Aside from the fact that many of the goods were meant to be donated but were confiscated somewhere along the line to be sold (though some charity shops sell bundles to secondhand sellers and it can be nearly impossible to make the distinction), the local textile and apparel industries have been devastated as they simply cannot compete on price with these goods. 

This is also devastating from a cultural perspective, because for all the good that comes with free trade and globalisation, we also see a watering down of local cultures as we move toward a unified international 'look'. I remember feeling so surprised while in Africa to see so many people wearing clothes I'd see in Australia or America. I don't mean this in an 'exoticisation of others' kind of way, but more from the perspective that I value diversity and difference, and wished to learn more about a different culture. (And from a purely aesthetic perspective - I don't really want a world where everyone wears jeans and t-shirts all the time!)

Things may change in the future, however. As Huffington Post reports:
In March, the East African Community (EAC), which is made up of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda, proposed banning all imported used clothing and shoes by 2019. The goal is to stop relying on imports from rich nations, boost local manufacturing and create new jobs
The proposal is facing intense scrutiny and may not pass (in large part to American interests in keeping the secondhand market booming). But it's certainly enough to make me reconsider my annual wardrobe clean out with fresh eyes.

If you have clothes sitting in your wardrobe that you're needing to clear out, why not participate in a clothes swap instead? You can organise one with your friends, colleagues or other social groups, or find one supported by a local council or organisation.

In fact, I'll be presenting at a clothes swap next week for Willoughby Council - if you're in the area, I'd love to see you there!

Of course I'd not advocating you never donate your used clothes to charity. Quality secondhand clothing makes a real difference to these shops and to people who are in genuine need of decent clothing. But before you donate your clothes make sure they pass the following test:

  • Is the quality high enough that I'd give the item to a friend?
  • Has it been freshly laundered?
  • Is it free from tears, stains, loose buttons?
If so, donate with a good conscience.

And remember, we can all improve on this issue by reducing the number of new items we buy each year, too. If you're not buying large amounts of clothing, you won't have large amounts to clear out. It's a win-win-win.