Friday 23 December 2016


And that's a wrap! Signing off for 2016, and what a year it's been.

I'm using this holiday season to power down, spend time with loved ones, explore the great outdoors, and generally rest and refuel, ready for another year of hard work in 2017. I think it's safe to say the environmental and justice movements will need our strength more than ever following the global shifts toward conservatism (not to be confused with conservation!).

Wherever you are, and whatever you celebrate, sending you and yours warm wishes this holiday season.

Photo copyright Think Make Share blog

Saturday 17 December 2016

the thought counts in sustainable gift-giving

Hi All~

The silly season is well and truly upon us, even if many of us (myself included!) are still wrapped up with our usually busy schedules.

I want to thank you all for your continued support and readership over the years, and wish you and your friends a joyous holiday season, wherever you are and whatever you may celebrate at this time of year.

I want to share with you a blog post I wrote for the Sydney Environment Institute in case any of your are frantically worry about gift-giving at this time of year.

The holiday season can bring a lot of gift-related angst, can’t it? All the questions about who you should get something for, what they may want, how much to spend, and where to find the time to do it all can feel incredibly overwhelming. Not to mention the guilt felt when you receive a gift you don’t really love. Then there are the environmental and ethical implications of gift giving – not only because of the (often) harmful production of goods, but also because of the excess donations taken to charity shops during the holiday season.

Whether they are unwanted gifts or a donation of last year’s sundresses that have been replaced by this year’s style, there is a surge of donations that cost charity shops millions of dollars to sort and dispose at this time of year. But there is also a lot of joy associated with gift-giving. We communicate our love for people through gifts, show people that we understand who they are and what they love, and even help people through hard times. So instead of a completely minimalist approach to the season, I’d like to think we can find a realistic and sustainable balance during the holidays through more mindful gift giving. Think “It’s the thought that counts” with emphasis on the ‘thought’:

  • Seek sustainable alternatives to the gifts you want to give – from Fairtrade organic chocolates to ethically-produced fashion, there are sustainable choices for nearly everything. Often all it takes is a quick online search or a visit to Fairtrade store and you’ll have beautiful options at your fingertips.
  • Really think about the gift recipient. What do you know about them and what might they love to receive? Even the most eco-friendly or ethical gift in the world can quickly become rubbish if it’s not something desired by the recipient.
  • Vintage stores, OpShops, eBay and Gumtree all sell quality preloved items. Frequently you’ll find never-worn or used-once items for sale and you’ll be saving them from the overflowing charity bins or the landfill.
  • If buying someone clothing, you need to know a lot more than just their size. Consider their personal style, what colours suit them, and what you think will fit in with their wardrobe, then buy the best quality garment you can afford. If you can’t answer those questions, it may be best to steer clear of fashion purchases because clothing and accessories can be an incredibly personal decision. But if you’re feeling game, here are a few helpful resources for understanding the environmental and ethical standards of fashion brands and retailers.
  • Visit local markets and buy direct from the maker or designer – the gift will be more unique and have a smaller footprint.
  • Donate to a charity close to the heart of the gift-recipient (if any of my loved ones are reading this blog, this is on my wish list!).
  • If you’re part of a large family or friend group, draw names so each person is only buying for one other person – this allows for more time and thought to be put into that one gift that your loved one will cherish, rather than multiple gifts with less thought put into them because of the time and financial constraints that so many of us feel especially at this time of year.
  • Finally, it’s worth considering who you really want to give a gift to and not who you ‘should’ give a gift to. Some of those ‘shoulds’ you’ll still buy something for, but many you won’t, and it’s important to consider why you think you should buy someone a gift.
Seasons Greetings!

Thursday 8 December 2016

ethical shopping made easy

Hey! You up there. My North American friends - this post is especially for you!

Those of us down here in Australia have been enjoying the Good On You app for over a year now, and I can't even begin to explain how much easier it has made shopping for clothing. The Good On You team has been overwhelmed with positive feedback from Australian shoppers, and CEO Gordon Renouf further shared that, "Since we launched in Australia people all over the world have been asking when our app will be available in their country."

Well, you lucky North Americans - now it's your turn.

Say you're out and about and see a gorgeous dress but aren't sure what that label's environmental policy is like - type it into the app and see how they rate.

Or you (or your fella!) are on the hunt for some work attire but you're not sure which brand has stronger labor guidelines to protect garment workers - browse by 'suits' or 'pants' or 'shoes' and see which brands rank highest. The app will even tell you the nearest locations to buy the clothes.

Or maybe you're just curious about the latest news in sustainable fashion - have a read through the articles available on the app.

You're able to dive into greater detail for each brand included in the app to see how they rate on labor, environment and animal welfare, and a brief descriptions on what aspects the brands are doing well, where they can improve, and how Good On You came up with their final ranking.

And - one of my favourite features - you can send your own comments and feedback direct to the brands through the app. Whether it's to thank them for their commitment, urge them to do better, or to ask a specific question, the app makes it easy for you to contact 1000s of brands at the touch of a button.

Sounds too good to be true? Well it's not. But they do need a little help to get things started, and that's where you come in.

Head over to their IndieGoGo page to help fund the launch of the app in your neck of the woods (and also catch a glimpse of me in their crowdfunding video!).  For as little as $5 you can contribute to the app, and with 'perks' ranging from sustainable socks, leggings, shoes and blouses to a workshop with CEO (and ethical fashion and consumer genius) Gordon Renouf, there are winners all around.
Check it out now and let me know what you think!

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.

Thursday 27 October 2016

academic vs activist

Last week I attended the National Environment Meeting at the University of Sydney, hosted by the Sydney Environment Institute, Greenpeace and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (previous co-hosts were WWF Australia and ACF).

As the title of this year's meeting - Hope in the Dark - suggests, we were coming together to consider some hard realities of the struggling climate movement and the role of activists to provide hope, and remain hopeful, for the public we regularly address.

There were a number of fascinating sessions on environmental justice and sustainability in everyday life (like food and shopping), and the panels included both activists and academics. A key aim of the day was to generate research questions for academics that would provide activists with knowledge they need to effectively campaign.

Aside from the wonderful ideas and debates that I heard, I was stunned to hear during the opening remarks that activists and academics rarely come together.

Really? I thought, truly perplexed.

I'm an academic (in-training, at least) and an activist, and I see the two roles as naturally co-existing. And I know a number of other academics who would also classify themselves as activists. My field was created to address issues of social justice - how are we not activists?

During the end-of-day networking drinks I spoke with a campaigner from a leading NGO who reiterated the differences, and suggested that many of the academics speaking at the event would not be able to help with her work. I thought otherwise, and suggested she consider one-on-one conversations with select academics to discuss her specific research needs.

Look, I get it. Sometimes when a 'non-academic' hears an academic presentation you feel like the person is speaking another language. Like many other professions there are particular norms of writing and presenting ideas in the world of academia (which I haven't quite got my head wrapped around yet, either!). But underneath it all, most researchers working in the fields of sustainability and the environmental humanities truly care about improving the state of the planet and its inhabitants.

So why this separation?

I could probably write a thesis on this subject, but since I have another one to worry about at the moment I'll stop here for now and state that I am proudly an activist and an academic. In my experience, the two roles feed off one another. Higher education opened my mind to issues in the world and spurred me toward activism. And working as an activist raised questions that I need answered to be more effective in my campaigning, leading me back into the hallowed halls of the sandstone institution.

For now I'll leave you with a few images that I regularly use in presentations in both my activism work and my academic work, which may give you additional food for thought about the need to transform the way we make and buy fashion.

Roughly 85% of people working in the fashion industry are women -
a feminist issue if I ever saw one! (Photo: Kowtow)

The UN and WHO estimate that up to 77 million people suffer
pesticide poisoning each year from non-organic cotton cultivation.

2.5 billion tons of wastewater are emitted annually in China alone -
a country that produces more than half of all global textiles.

As of 2005, the average American shopper was buying
69 new items of clothing each year.

See you somewhere along the campaign trail (or lecture theatre).

Thursday 20 October 2016

eco warrior wardrobe

Long before I was an eco warrior, I was a corporate warrior. And for awhile there I was a corporate eco warrior (yep, it's a thing!).

Actually, I'm temporarily working at my former beloved workplace, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), where I spent my corporate eco warrior days. And besides the pleasure of spending time with old friends and helping advance the cause of sustainable places for everyone, selfishly I'm loving getting dressed for work every day.

For the past two years I've primarily been in PhD student mode (read: yoga pants at home, denim at uni) . There is the occasional meeting, interview, speaking gig or teaching opportunity, but for the most part my beautiful clothes aren't getting out of the wardrobe as much as I'd like.

Until now.

Well, for the next month anyway, when two days a week are dedicated to the GBCA - and to donning my best corporate eco warrior attire. Here were this week's choices.

A treasured (and comfortable!) favourite that sees a lot of wear,
by ethical American fashion designer Heidi Merrick

A sustainable take on a classic chic look - organic cotton
blouse by KITX, ECA-accredited skirt by Veronika Maine,
and boots by Ginger & Smart (who have ECA-accreditation
on their Australian-made apparel, but these boots were not made in Oz
so I can't be 100% certain on production standards).

What does your work wardrobe look like? How do you achieve sustainability in your workday wear?

Thursday 13 October 2016

Sustainability in the House

The Sydney Opera House, that is.

Earlier this week I set my alarm extra early for a very special date at the Opera House. And though an icy wind whipped through my hair and chilled me to the bone, all my worries were forgotten as I approached our iconic landmark, standing out against the clear blue sky and sparkling harbour. I found myself attempting a selfie alongside the excited tourists, as if I hadn't seen her over a thousand times before.

Whoosh! That wind!

The reason for my special date was the official launch of the Airbnb Sustainability Tour of the Sydney Opera House. Now the public (that's us!) can get beneath the sails of the world's most famous house and not just see backstage, but also see its incredible sustainability initiatives firsthand.

I had the best time!

There were plenty of eco-facts for sustainability geeks like me, an amazing music and lighting display in the Concert Hall, and a behind-the-scenes tour like you've never experienced that included the 'expected' Green Room and staging areas plus the waste management room and seawater cooling towers, among other sites. And there is plenty of opportunity to ask questions of the Sydney Opera House team and chat with fellow sustainability fans.

Airbnb Australia Country Manager Sam McDonagh
Sydney Opera House Director of Building, Greg McTaggart (who retires
next week - thank you for all you've done for the House!)
NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy, Adam Marshall
Credit: Anna Kucera

There I am! Listening to Sydney Opera House Sustainability Manager,
Naomi Martin, our charming hostess for the morning.
Credit: Anna Kucera

Last year the Opera House was granted a 4 Star Green Star - Performance rating by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). You may recall that I've worked for the GBCA, and I know that it is incredibly difficult for older buildings to achieve today's sustainable building standards and earn a Green Star rating, so this is no small feat.

Thanks to Utzon's original design (which included minimal yet durable materials, a pioneering seawater cooling system, and self-cleaning tiles), and the dedicated sustainability and building management teams at the Sydney Opera House, our most cherished house is also an incredibly green house. A couple of the most intriguing stats:
  • The Concert Hall lighting system - which you see in action during the tour - was replaced with all LED lights with multiple colour setting, including 'heritage lighting' for those who like their symphony old school. As a result, there was a 75% reduction in energy requirements, a cost savings of $70,000 per year in electricity alone. And because the lights last much longer, they have to be changed less frequently, cutting down on labour costs and waste. 
  • Waste Management - the House went from 2 waste streams to eight recycling streams including co-mingled (glass, plastics & cans), paper, cardboard, lightbulbs, e-waste, polystrene. They also work with OzHarvest to collect uneaten but still edible food, and compost other food waste. (Seriously, if the Opera House has figured this out - can't we all?)

More of those amazing lights. And once the music began - magic.
Credit: Anna Kucera

came on board to sponsor the tours - making a connection between the sustainability benefits of choosing Airbnb over traditional hotels. Country Manager Sam McDonagh explained, "We're proud to launch this sustainability tour in partnership with the Sydney Opera House to further inspire locals and visitors to be more environmentally aware by learning about the sustainable practices for the world's most famous house."

Also in attendance at the event were Airbnb superhosts who are passionate about sustainability in their homes, as well as sustainable home 'royalty', Off-the-Grid guy Michael Mobbs, who owns the  Sustainable House in Chippendale.

That's Michael Mobbs in the hat - he's been off the grid for decades,
and right in the heart of Sydney!
Credit: Anna Kucera

If you have any interest at all in sustainability or the Sydney Opera House, this is an incredible opportunity. The tours run at 8am on Tuesday mornings for a limited time until 29 November 2016. Head over to the Sydney Opera House website to book now before it books out!

And if you need any final convincing, you get a super cute
Frank Green SmartCup, because disposable cups are SO last century.

Friday 9 September 2016

global change award take two

My fascination with H&M and sustainability continues . . .

Are they are a fast fashion mega-retailer merely seeking the largest financial bottom line? Are they true sustainability champions? Can high-volume fashion stores ever be 'sustainable', no matter what fabrics are used?

One thing is for certain, H&M support sustainability innovations that have the potential to transform the fashion industry in a way I don't see from any other international fashion brand, and that's enough to keep my interest piqued.

H&M have recently launched the second generation of their Global Change Awards with a focus on supporting a circular fashion industry. This year the Awards are accepting applications for:
  • Circular business models covering ideas on how to reuse, repair, share, digitalize or extend the life of products
  • Circular materials looking for ideas on new fibres, recycling techniques, leather substitutes, etc.
  • Circular processes aiming to find new methods around chemicals, water and dyeing, as well as 3D printing, demand-driven manufacturing, etc. 
Applications are open to anyone, and they encourage early innovations and ideas. Five winning applicants will be selected by a panel of expert judges, and they will share a 1 million euro grant and participate in an 'innovation accelerator' program with the H&M Foundation in partnership with Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Last year brought 2,700 entries, but I suspect this year will bring even more now that they are looking beyond technological advances and are welcoming ideas around business models as well. (Hmmm, maybe I'll submit an idea . . .)

If you have a brilliant innovation bubbling away in your mind, get your application in before the end of October. I'd love to see a SWS reader's name up in lights, and to see your ideas brought to life in a way that can transition this industry in need of change.

Find all the details on their website - and good luck!

Sunday 14 August 2016

woman versus machine

Earlier this year the World Economic Forum released a report to help us prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, marked by "development in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology". 

The future is here!

So I suppose it shouldn't have come as a surprise to hear a story on Planet Money (I adore podcasts, lifesavers for my long commutes) titled "The Sewing Robot", talking about SoftWear, the company that may have created automating sewing.

No human required.
Image copyright SoftWear Automation

Machines have taken over manufacturing jobs since the first Industrial Revolution, including the fashion industry with the introduction of mechanised looms replacing the labour-intensive practice of weaving textiles by hand. However, the actual sewing together of garments has remained in the hands of skilled people - machinists - who sew each and every garment we wear today. All the seams, all the zippers, all the buttons and button holes, all touched by human hands.

It makes sense when you think about it - fabric is flimsy, soft, slippery and flexible, it can easily become bunched up or shift position on the machine, even when the most skilled hands are involved. How can machines ever compare with the quick-thinking and reactive hands of a talented sewer? That's exactly what SoftWear is trying to figure out.

I'll let you listen to the podcast yourself to hear all the details, but this story raised so many questions in my mind about what this would mean for the fashion industry and for our relationship with clothing, I just had to write about it.

Of course I know technology creates wonderful advances (hello Blogger!), but there is no hiding from the fact that when robots move into factories, humans move out.

Though it is incredibly hard to track the exact figure, there is an estimated 58 million people employed in apparel and textile manufacturing. Most of them are women, and most of them are located in developing countries. Garment manufacturing is one of the easiest businesses to begin due to the low cost of entry, and is one of the primary industries found in counties in the early stages of development. It's hard to know exactly what jobs will replace the hands-on work of sewing in these regions with little availability for re- or up-skilling should machines truly take over this role.

Image copyright ALAS

Also, I love knowing that my clothing was made by people. For years I didn't pay much attention to the 'Made In' tags on my clothes, but I do now, and I know that real people sewed my clothing. And because of my commitment to sustainable and ethical fashion, I'm starting to get a clearer picture of who these people are. Labels like Carlie Ballard, ALAS, Cloth & Co, Threads of Peru, and IOU all provide incredible detail about who made their fashion, and Fashion Revolution has opened up the doors to factories sewing global fashion brands through the #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign.

Some of the talented women making Carlie Ballard pieces.

In this age of blossoming radical transparency from fashion brands, I don't know that I'm ready to say goodbye to the personal touch of hand sewn garments. I'm just beginning to understand and make connections. And surely there is something lost when a machine takes over an artisan skills like handweaving?

Me wearing my stunning - handwoven - Threads of Peru scarf

Does this make me a luddite? Pining for a romantic past that was never really was? Or too optimistic, thinking we can make affordable clothing that is safe and respectful for workers around the world?

Should we embrace technology, knowing that at last no one is being harmed or treated unfairly to make our clothing? Or should we fight to keep some traditions even if it means (gasp!) inefficiencies and lower productivity than a machine would enable?

What do you think?

And just because it's a beautiful reminder that, at least for now, many people's hands make our clothing, enjoy (re)watching this short clip c/o EcoAge, Handprint.

Friday 29 July 2016

teaching the teachers

While Hillary Clinton was busy kicking her own #careergoals today (#imwithher, in case there was any doubt), I was experiecning my own career highlight - presenting on sustainable fashion to a conference of high school design and textile teachers.

Some of my slides discussing challenges, innovations, and leading sustainable fashion brands.

Those who know me well know how much I value education (and I suppose the fact that I'm midway through a PhD program would be a clue to others!). I was always the one sitting in the front row raising her hand, and I didn't count down the days until school let out for summer. And while I was between careers (you don't go from marketing to environmentalist overnight!) and working as a temp, my favourite gig was at a Catholic girls' school in Sydney. Though I could have worked at any number of temp jobs in convenient location of the CBD, I opted for the extra long commute and the hallowed halls of learning.

It was during that temp job that I saw firsthand the energy and commitment of teachers and other school administrators. Sitting amongst them in the tea room and assisting them with administrative tasks was an experience I'll not soon forget. I don't mean to paint all teachers as saints, but the vast majority cared more deeply about teaching and their students than I'd ever imagined, and my respect for teachers grew exponentially during those few months.

So when I was called to be a guest speaker at the conference, I jumped at the opportunity.

Anytime I can talk about sustainable fashion or lifestyles, I do it. I suppose that's my role in the activist world. But I felt privileged to be asked to teach the teachers what I know about this fascinating and evolving world of sustainable fashion. Through their lesson plans and sparks of inspiration they are training the next generation of fashion designers and producers who have exciting challenges ahead as the industry transitions to more sustainable modes of production. It's no small feat we task teachers with today, I suspect they'll rise to the challenge. It's what they do.

So today I did my best to share insights, knowledge and ideas with those people working the front lines of shaping the future of fashion. I hope I got an A . . .


Monday 11 July 2016

Eco luxury or extravagant greenwash

A tree-saving tale 

I typically don't 'call out' brands on this blog for doing the wrong thing, but I had to share with you the most extreme case of greenwashing I'd seen in awhile (a discussion on greenwash follows this tale).

I was contacted by a wooden watch company asking me to write an article about their latest product in exchange for a watch valued between $1000 and $5000 (this price point was the first red flag). The key selling point? They were going to, and I quote, "Take down the world's oldest tree", Old Tjikko, who resides on FulufjÀllet Mountain in Sweden.

Yes, you read that correctly - they wanted me to write about a watch made from killing the world's oldest tree - currently aged 9,558 years.

Between you and me - I don't know that this tree could
even make 500 watches! Old Tjikko is part of a clonal
system, meaning that even if the trunk dies, the roots
are still alive and a new trunk can grow. He is also playing
an important role in some climate change research.

Look, I get it, wooden things are made of trees. But no conservationist in her right mind would propose using an old growth tree for making consumer goods. And why in the world would a company contact an environmentalist to spruik a product made from a tree that is over 9,500 years old?!

After I made sure the media release was not dated April Fool's Day, I wrote back to the company asking for more details on why Old Tjikko was coming down, admitting that I was quite shocked to read that this was their plan. I suppose I was hoping that perhaps Old Tjikko was dying and being cut down anyway, and that the company wasn't just trying to make some cash off of what they perceived to be a lucrative opportunity (because whether I like it or not, there is definitely a market who wants products with this type of notoriety).

The response I received from the company was another head scratcher - without telling me anything about why Old Tjikko was coming down, they wrote of the substantial "regulatory hurdles" and that they planned on going to environmental court the next month. Also telling me "I hope to have some good news for you over the coming weeks".

Good news for me would mean the tree was not being cut down . . .

I gave them one more chance and asked again what the reason was to 'take down' Old Tjikko. In response I received more of the same, with the added bonus of being told how much they've already paid in legal fees ($100,000USD), that they expect to go to court at the end of the month, and how much they expect to spend in legal fees altogether ($670,000USD). All of this to produce 500 custom watches.

But don't worry, they plan on planting 100 new trees for each watch sold.


At this point I was incredibly irritated and took to the internet to find out what I could about the tree.

Thanks to the magic of Google, a good Swedish friend, and a kind Swedish artist who has spent time with Old Tjikko, I got in touch with a representative at the forest. He was as shocked and appalled as I was - well, probably a great deal more, to be honest - and over the course of the day I received three emails from him assuring me that Old Tjikko is well protected and not coming down, that his boss agreed the tree was well protected, and that his boss checked with her boss at the Swedish EPA who also confirmed there was no way Old Tjikko was coming down (particularly not to make watches).

"As the tree is within the national park, it is protected for all foreseeable future."

I cannot even express the relief I felt at learning this news. I think with all the troubles in the world right now (with greedy companies taking advantage of people who want to save the planet just a tiny part of the problem), I really needed to hear some good news and to know that there are true environmentalists doing the hard work of protecting nature from the likes of this watch company.

Feeling like a tree-saving sleuth, I eventually emailed the wooden watch company and told them that my environmentalist values had led me to contact the forest representatives and what I had learned about the protected nature of Old Tjikko.

I also told them that, "At any rate, I cannot in good conscience support the cutting down of this tree to make any product unless there is a sound reason to do so, which there does not appear to be."

Within a day, the media release announcing this product was off their wesbite and the Wikipedia page of Old Tjikko was returned to normal (some 'marketing genius' from the company had added a sentence to the page stating that the company was going to make watches from the tree).

So . . . the moral of the story? I guess there are a few.
  • Beware of greenwashing, it's everywhere (and usually not as blatant as this example)
  • If something doesn't seem right to you, ask about it. And ask about it again. And if you're still not satisfied, don't buy the product. For every decent, well-intentioned brand, unfortunately there are many more willing to scam you, and the good brands have no trouble being transparent.
  • Love old growth trees - and perhaps plan a trip to Sweden. You may not get to see Old Tjikko, he's very well protected, but it's nice to know he has some serious guardians protecting him from the likes of this watch company.
I decided not to tell you the name of the company here, though if you tried hard enough I'm sure  you'd find it (the media release is still on other news pages). They claim to plant a tree for each of their current range of wooden watches, but those watches aren't made of sustainably sourced wood, either. So if you're truly in the market for an eco-friendly wooden watch, stick with the original WeWood, and feel good about your decision. And don't reward blatant greenwashing and attempts to make a quick buck off your environmental values.

* * * *

I never heard from the watch company again, so I can only assume their motives were purely financial whether they actually used Old Tjikko or just wanted to create hype with a media release talking about it in this way. I feel very confident this company is not about the environment but about their bank accounts and an attempt to take advantage of the so-called 'cashed up green consumer'.

It's reported that 'green' consumers will pay 10-20% more for products that have an environmental benefit, as those who endeavour to live a green lifestyle know all too well. There are multiple conferences dedicated to promoting products to this group of shoppers, 'sustainability' experts who are really just green marketing experts, and as a dedicated environmentalist, I often feel I'm fending off greenwashing attacks at every turn. Becoming a writer and a blogger has made this all the more apparent.

Sometimes it's worth it - I'm happy to pay more so the person sewing my clothes is paid a fair wage and works in a safe factory, or that my produce is organic and free of toxins. Other times it can feel like a scam, as in the case of this 'eco luxury' wooden watch and other goods painted with a similar 'green' hue but not created with environmental values at their core.

But at the end of the day, I know that living a green lifestyle is less expensive than my previous mode of existence mostly because I don't buy what I don't need or love - so these greenwashers can't touch me

* * * *

What is greenwashing?

In short, it's when companies claim to be more environmentally-friendly than they really are - and it's everywhere. There are some great articles about the '7 sins of Greenwashing', including one by my friend Robin Mellon at Better Sydney, which describe the varying degrees of greenwashing:
  • The hidden trade off
  • No proof
  • Vagueness
  • Worshipping false labels
  • Irrelevance
  • Lesser of two evils
  • Fibbing
This watch company was using a mixture - the hidden trade off (planting new trees though cutting down an old growth tree), vagueness (no information about the wood used in their current range of watches), worshipping false labels (planting trees with a certified company though not using certified wood to create watches), fibbing (probably . . .)

Have you been greenwashed lately? I'd love to hear about it . . . we can vent with each other.

Also, a special thanks to Robin, who was an excellent support and sounding board during this stressful time of Old Tjikko - thank you!

Wednesday 6 July 2016

winter vintage love

Just a quick post today to mention how I've come to terms with the onset of Sydney's winter . . . by dusting off this gorgeous vintage coat.

Follow me on Instagram for more peeks into my wardobe.

I 'borrowed' this coat from my mother when I was 16. I first wore it as a Halloween costume, and then by midway through my undergrad degree it was a regular feature of my wardrobe.

Here it's paired with a gorgeous embroidered top I picked up at a clothing swap last year, and my Diesel flares, which I have had almost as long the jacket.

It doesn't typically get that cold in Sydney to warrant rugging up in this seriously heavy and warm coat. But today it was just the ticket to keep me warm as I braved the windy streets of Manly.

How are you staying warm this week?


PS - Thank you, Mom, for your wonderful fashion sense and for gifting me this coat (whether you realised I was going to keep it forever or not).

Wednesday 29 June 2016

are you a 1 million women woman?

As many of you already know, I'm a huge fan of the climate advocacy non-profit group 1 Million Women.

I write about my experience volunteering with 1 Million Women at the Easter Show in Sustainability with Style (and being somewhat starstruck by their inspiring founder, Natalie Isaacs). And last year I helped host a successful clothes swap on their behalf in Sydney's Northern Beaches.

Now they are expanding their reach even further with the development of an app to help women plan their eco-lives and track their carbon reduction commitments.

With an estimated 17% of all global carbon pollution emissions coming from our homes, changes to some everyday activities are essential to solving the climate crisis. As such, the app will focus on everyday carbon-cutting activities including: 
  • home energy savings and clean energy options
  • minimising food waste
  • reducing over-consumption
  • wise investing and divesting of your money
  • sustainable fashion and food choices
  • low-impact travel.

My favourite feature of the app is that it makes it easy for you to track how much carbon pollution you’ve individually saved. 

I love this concept! Now I'll know just how much of an impact I have every time I choose a veggie burger over a beef burger, or make a sustainable fashion purchase (or non-purchase), or use up all the food in my fridge.

In order to make this app a reality, 1MW are running a crowdfunding campaign through Tuesday 7 July. And the really great news is they've already reached their target goal - awesome! There is no doubt in my mind that the climate movement is a movement of the people.

There is still the opportunity to help them reach their stretch goal to make the app as great as it can be (and anyone who's ever commissioned a tech project knows the likelihood of a budget blow out). So just head over to their Start Some Good page and make a contribution. Depending on your commitment, you can get a profile on their blog, a Facebook shoutout, or an invite to the launch party.

The app will be available later this year to women (and men, and children) around the globe.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

harvesting liberty : legalize industrial hemp

This blog was written with my American readers in mind, though I suspect there is plenty of good stuff in here for all of you.

Harvesting Liberty is a short, 12-minute documentary, that tells the tale of the Growing Warriors organisation – consisting of farmers and veterans – and their campaign to the US federal government to amend restrictions to growing industrial hemp. It’s beautifully shot and directed, and I’d be hard pressed to find anyone not moved by this tale of love of land and love of country.

I hope you'll watch this clip, and then sign the petition that will be presented to Congress on the 4th of July asking them to legalise industrial hemp.

The documentary features a US flag created from the hemp that has been hand-processed (with the aid of a special tool purchased with a grant from sustainable pioneers, Patagonia), including hand-spun thread that has been naturally dyed, and hand-woven fabric, created with the help of Fibershed. The flag was made to signify the collective history and future of a people who are suffering a lost connection with the land, a loss of community and, as Mike Lewis of Growing Warriors says, “our sense of place”.

Photo credit: Donnie Hedden

It's highly likely the first American flags were made of hemp. This crop was mandated to be grown by all of Britain’s colonies at the time because of the multiple uses of the one plant. George Washington was known to extol the value of the crop, as was Thomas Jefferson who stated, “Hemp is of the first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.”*

A closer look at the crop explains why this was considered a ‘wonder-plant’. As indicated in the below graphic this one plant can provide “food, feed, fiber and fuel”**

It can be used to create fabric, of course, but also paper, ropes, building supplies, plastic-substitutes, and when eaten is an ideal source of omega-6 and omega-3. In addition, it’s incredibly healthy for the soil, as compared to cotton, corn, and other nutrient-depleting crops.

Image c/o

Despite the crop’s low concentrations of THC, which essentially eliminates the psychoactive potential of the plants, industrial hemp was included in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 because of its relation to cannabis. Some states have allowed growth of the crop in recent years, and some states have legalized marijuana, but many farmers remain reluctant to grow industrial hemp because of lingering resistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

There is debate about whether it was the Controlled Substances Act or the onslaught of cheap synthetic materials that numbered industrial hemp’s days, however. Polyester and other fabrics were becoming widely available at that time in history, and they now make up approximately half of all textiles produced in the world. However, there is no doubt that hemp will play an important role in the shift to sustainable fashion. Already we’re seeing beautiful hemp-silk blends from the likes of KitX, and the durability of the fiber makes it ideal for denim, as seen with the Hemp Blue label (not to mention many products by Patagonia).

KitX Crushed Silk Hemp corset dress, Hemp Blue men's dark denim.

I’d urge you to watch this lovely film and sign the petition that will be presented to Congress on the 4th of July urging the federal legalisation of the cultivation of industrial hemp. 

It’s an ideal opportunity for US farmers and manufacturers to participate in the growing green economy, but also an important step toward thinking holistically about issues of sustainability and what it means to create opportunities for our fellow Americans that give back to, rather than take from, the earth.

As spoken by Mike Lewis of Growing Warriors:
In the end, there’s more than just fiber that tears and fades when you use cheap goods to hold things together.
U.S. veteran and Growing Warriors director Michael Lewis
with his hand-made hemp processing machine.
Photo credit: Donnie Hedden

* * * *

*I suspect that to some of you the use of the flag in this way could be construed as insincere or overly saccharine, but I must admit I was moved when listening to the story.

I also want to acknowledge that the colonisation and subsequent American Revolution were conducted at the heavy expense of America's First People, and as such am also weary of romanticising any non-indigenous groups of Americans when referring to American history. In addition, both Washington and Jefferson were known slave owners. It's a troubled history and I don't mean to gloss over it with this harkening back in time. I merely wish to suggest that the possibilities of this crop were relied upon by those who were establishing new settlements because it provided so much in one plant.

**As spoken by Michael Bowman, Chairman of the US National Hemp Association.