On Saturday 16 June, I attended an Ethical Fashion Table organised by the founder of ethical clothing label Pure Pod, Kelli Donovan. Kelli has spent twenty-eight years working in the fashion industry, with eleven of those running her own ethical fashion label. She is a passionate advocate for the Australian fashion industry, particularly the sustainable fashion movement. In creating this event, Kelli sought to bring like minds together to not only support one another but to openly discuss and suggest solutions for the environmental and social issues associated with the global world of fashion.
Over a delicious meal, organised by Global Sisters and prepared by White Nile, we discussed fashion, sustainability and the power of conscious consumerism. I was privileged to speak alongside two other inspirational women, Megan O’Malley and Summer Edwards. Megan gave insight into her journey walking 3500km through South East Asia as part of her project Walk Sew Good, while Summer discussed her research and writing on ethical fashion and her blog Tortoise and Lady Grey.
You can watch all the action right here.
I took the time to prepare this little speech but on the evening I decided to go completely off the cuff. You can watch the video above to hear what I really said or read below to find out what I intended to say:
Hi my name is Emma. For those who don’t know me I am the founder and editor of Leiden Magazine, an online publication publishing content on fashion, beauty, health and culture. We take an ethical and sustainable approach in what we write and in November last year we published a book called ‘How to build a conscious wardrobe’ which provides easy to follow information on how to style, buy, care and dispose of your clothes in a more conscious way. It also features profiles on ethical and sustainable designers including some of those here tonight.
In addition to running Leiden magazine I also work full time. I split my week working for an ethical research house called CAER and a shareholder activist called ACCR. Both of these organisations look at the ethical and sustainable behavior of listed companies.
The big things we look at involve more acronyms, RI and ESG. RI stands for responsible investment and describes the process of investing money in stocks, shares, property etc. that are in alignment with your personal values and that will have a positive impact.
The other thing we focus on is a company’s ESG, that is environmental, social and governance performance. This means we evaluate how a company operates in terms of the environmental impact of its operations, its social impact both in terms of its employees and the community, and also its governance, as in the policies, procedures and grievance mechanisms it has in place.
Earlier in the year I attended a conference that brought both of these worlds together, the first Australian Circular Fashion Conference which took place in Sydney. It was organised by Camille Reed, who is a sustainable fashion consultant and textile designer and was attended by designers, buyers, investors, suppliers, researchers and media.
Tonight I just want to share with you a few of the things that happened at the conference. The day began with an address from deputy lord Mayor of Sydney Jess Miller followed by nine key note speakers. After morning tea, we enjoyed an interactive session with UTS students and then after lunch we took part in a series of interactive round tables.
Key note speakers
Patrick Duffy – Global Fashion Exchange
Dean Jones – Glam Corner Co Founder
Wendy Cameron – General Pants supply chain expert
Chris Nunn – AMP Capital Head of Sustainability
Dr Clara Vuletich – Consultancy Expert
Andrew Sellick – Australia Post head of environment and sustainability
Gordon Renouf – Good on You Co founder
Yianni Giovangolou – WSGN Trend specialist
Craig Reucassal – War on waste
I found each of these sessions really interesting and engaging. It was particularly inspiring to hear about the different ways people are taking the issue of sustainability into consideration across different aspects of the industry.
This session was lead by UTS Bachelor of Innovation students and involved us working together with those people on our table to address a particular person in the industry. This involved butchers paper and plenty of coloured pens and followed a format the students used to tackle large scale problems. Each table identified a different problem in the fashion industry and set about trying to address it. At the end of the session we had a whole map for fixing the industry.
The most interesting thing for me that came out of this session was that transforming the industry from a linear model into a circular one isn’t about just creating one circle. There actually needs to be lots of other circles and loops at each of these stages in order for us to make a truly sustainable cycle.
This was the most frustrating sections of the day because there were too many good sessions to choose from. In the end I went with:
- Wendy Cameron – the new normal, shifts in consumer spending and crafting a new retail landscape. This was a really good back and forth where we discussed the current retail landscape, how it is shifting and how small businesses can scale.
- Jodie Bricout – Slowing down fast fashion, how to increase and utilize product without undermining profitability. This wasn’t really the subject we ended up talking about but it was nonetheless a very good session. Jodie spoke more about her work in France and Italy and the way clothes are recycled there.
- Mans Carlsson-Sweeny – investor perspectives on labour rights in the supply chain and the rise of the ethical consumer. With an Australian modern slavery act on the way, Australian companies and businesses will be forced to consider human rights violations in their supply chains if they aren’t already.
The best thing about the conference was that it brought together so many like-minded people working across different sectors within the industry and included practical components. The conference is set to become an annual event and will next year likely take place in Melbourne. There has also been talk about the formation of a peak body for the Australian ethical and sustainable fashion industry which will support those working within it as well as advocate for sustainable practices in fashion.
I think it so important to have something like the conference that brings us together nationally in addition to the events such as the incredible ones Kelli puts together that bring together our local community. We are each making an impact in our own separate practices but it will be our collective power that really drives change.
I have been overseas recently and I spent time in both London and Paris. While I was in London I saw another example of something that will hopefully drive large-scale change among the every day consumer. My favourite museum in the entire world is the Victoria and Albert museum, which is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the decorative arts. Their fashion and textile department is amazing and each year they put on a blockbuster exhibition.
This year to coincide with fashion revolution week, the V&A opened Fashioned from Nature, the first UK exhibition to explore the complex relationship between fashion and nature from 1600 to the present day. The exhibition was split into two parts. Downstairs were clothes presented alongside natural history specimens explaining how they were created and from what. Upstairs were innovative new fabrics and dyeing processes.
What was really exciting was to see an exhibition taking sustainability to a broad audience. Visitors were invited to think about the materials of fashion and the sources of their clothes. So often I think when we talk about ethical and sustainable fashion we are preaching to the converted. But looking around at the sorts of people walking through Fashioned from Nature, men and women of all different ages, I felt heartened that, finally, these sorts of issues are going mainstream.
Photography: Polished Photography