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!

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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?


  1. Great storytelling - well done, Lisa, Gab and Megan!

    1. Thanks Robin! But all credit to Gab and Megan, can't wait to see the fruits of their adventure!