AUSSIE FASHION ECO–CRUSADERS
The global garment industry has spun itself into a tangled yarn of modern moral dilemmas in recent years. On the upside, awareness about the true cost of ‘fast fashion’ is rapidly growing and long gone are the days when ethical consumer choices revolved around hemp concoctions spruiked by stoners at local markets. There’s never been a better time to reconcile your style with a sense of social and environmental responsibility.
But getting customers to convert commercially is still a challenge. We’re embracing the pre-loved seconds market to swoop upon vintage and designer labels offered at more democratic prices, in turn giving clothing and accessories longer lifespans, but we need to brush up on ethical brands and start supporting them whole-heartedly.
Sustainability in fashion is a mighty broad term. The fashion-industry supply chain is so complex – from seed to fibre (beyond organic materials, should all designers concede to the Stella McCartney model: no leather, no fur, no feathers and no animal skins?), to factory (and the fair wages battle), to retail floors (can you create an entirely eco-friendly fit-out?). So it’s difficult for a fashion label to be absolutely perfect in every way and produce 100% ethically made clothing.
Instead of getting caught up in the infinite details, pick your priorities. For example, start with the materials. It's a myth that ‘natural’ fibres are ‘sustainable’ fibres. Natural fibres just mean that they originated from cellulose or plants, but often the growing of it, or process required to turn it into an actual fabric is riddled with chemicals and nasty non-environmentally friendly practices. So look out for organic fibres, recycled fibres or fabrics produced using a closed loop system. Just as you do in the supermarket aisle, start reading swing tags and research your labels online. Many brands now have a web page dedicated to their ethical practices.
My go-to resource is Clare Press, the presenter of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast and Australian Vogue's Sustainability Editor-at-Large. Her second book, Wardrobe Crisis, How We Went From Sunday Best To Fast Fashion, is currently sitting on my bedside table. It explores the history and ethics behind what we wear. Press examines the entire fashion eco-system, from sweatshops to haute couture, unearthing the roots of today’s buy-and-discard culture, albeit with sassy banter, insider goss, sprinklings of humour and pressing facts (no pun intended).
Below are three Aussie businesses that get my ethical tick, offering clothing I WANT to wear:
01 . Well Made Clothes
Well Made Clothes is an online platform stocking a mix of small and large brands from Australia, New Zealand and beyond. Labels include: Veja, Limb, Elk, Dress Up, Nobody Denim, Penny Sage, Kowtow, Levi’s and Fillipa K, amongst others.
You can hop onto their Values page and tick what core principles appeal to you when it comes to making a smart purchase: handcrafted, vegan, transparent, local, minimal waste, gender equality, fair and sustainable (click-on’s even allow you to learn what each of these terms actually mean). Instantly, a customised page appears with labels that adhere to your selected ideals and it’s time to shop. Alternatively, you can search by designer.
My casual picks for Summer:
02 . kitx
KITX was founded by Kit Willow, an industry legend who’s passionate about ethically sourced materials, developing eco-fabrics and treating workers fairly. Since Willow launched KITX as an ethical and sustainable designer brand in 2015, it has garnered stockists including Selfridges and Browns in London, David Jones in Australia and the luxury e-tailers Moda Operandi and Farfetch.
Willow’s fluid, often slinky modern goddess designs are created from certified organic, renewable natural and recycled ‘man-made’ fibres, as well as non-hazardous working materials to ensure they’re not damaging the environment. You can even find zips made from recycled bottles, buttons from vegetable ivory and recycled bullet casings and corsetry Lycra made from plastic rubbish extracted from the ocean on her designs. But let’s not digress from the end finishes: macramé lace, handkerchief hems, nubby linens, silk dyed via the ancient Indian bandhani method and bold colour choices like golden saffron and deep sea teal.
My party season picks:
03 . ginger and smart
Cult favourite, Ginger and Smart, is proof alone that ethical clothing can be commercially successful. It designs for spirited women whose distinctive style is an expression of their individuality. A sense of cool confidence and discovery underpins the brand’s playful yet polished aesthetic where prints (both floral and geometric) and bold monochromatic shades enliven their offering.
The label strives to create beautifully considered timeless pieces that are designed to be worn many times with the aim to mix and match separates from seasons past with the present. Accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, the label sources eco-friendly textiles such as organic cotton, silk, wool and modal and is dedicated to socially responsible production. Where possible, it sources fabrics that are recyclable and biodegradable and minimises the use of harmful chemicals and excessive water usage and waste in the production of its garments and milling of its fabrications. Their website’s shop pages also describe the eco-friendly attributes of very listed separate. Bravo!
My ‘forever’ picks: