Towards Better Practices & Sustainability in Fashion
Alerted to the environmental impact of fast fashion, PhD candidate Josephine McKenzie is researching how Australian brands are engaging with gender equity and sustainability in fashion. Key to her research is identifying barriers that prevent the industry from doing better. Hopefully, from being able to understand what works well, her research will lead to suggestions, solutions and improvements in the fashion industry.
Josephine defines fast fashion as the large quantities of poor quality clothing being produced by many clothing brands. “Normally these companies are also characterised by a lack of regard for the environment in their sourcing and manufacturing, as well as poor working conditions for their garment workers.”
On the other hand, sustainability in fashion, or slow fashion is where an apparel company produces clothing in low quantities but of high quality, while also being transparent and ethical in their sourcing, manufacturing and distributing.
Perhaps because you can’t “unsee” once you’ve become aware of the negative impact of fast fashion on our planet, consumers are increasingly moving towards “fashion with a conscience.”
“I think social media played a big role for me” says Josephine, about how she first became aware of the impact of fast fashion. “I was seeing a lot of activists on Twitter and Instagram talk about the destruction that the fashion industry was causing. I’ve always been passionate about environmental issues as well as human rights. The fashion industry has lots of issues with both, so it just made sense to pursue research in those areas.”
“Despite it being important to shine a light on irresponsible practices…some organisations just need a bit more guidance, especially when they’re…small…”
While the global fashion industry is awash with fast fashion, rather than naming and shaming the worst offenders, Josephine believes it’s more important to support companies that don’t get it right. “Despite it being important to shine a light on irresponsible practices in the fashion industry, some organisations just need a bit more guidance, especially when they’re a small brand.”
“Country Road, who are actively investing in sustainable sourcing and production, as well as certifications are moving in the right direction. Also, SIR the Label, an awesome smaller brand, is really working hard on ensuring their product is high quality and their production is responsible.”
“I think Australia is definitely trailing behind when it comes to sustainable practice. Countries like the UK and the US have an abundance of brands engaging with sustainability and gender equity extremely effectively. That’s the nature of the global fashion industry – the UK and the US are always a little ahead of everyone else. I can’t really explain why Australia isn’t doing as well as other countries, I can only be hopeful for the promising innovations and practices that are now being incorporated in the Australian industry.”
Although only 15% of clothing is manufactured in Australia, Josephine is adamant that it is still useful to talk about the impact the Australian fashion industry has on carbon emissions, waste and sustainability. “Australia is the second highest consumer of textiles per person in the world. That still makes us a huge contributor to carbon emissions and waste.”
Some of the local brands acting responsibly when it comes to ethical supply chains and environmental sustainability are still producing products with low impact but good quality that will last. “Sunset Lover is a beautiful luxury brand with a commitment to responsible practices and Solomon Street creates some gorgeous sustainable activewear.”
According to Josephine, part of the problem has to do with the size of a fashion business. It’s much easier for small fashion brands to control their carbon footprint and good corporate citizenship with regard to gender equity and supply chains.
“It definitely is easier to engage with these issues when you don’t already have a long history of doing things a certain way. I think you can be more flexible when you have a smaller number of employees and infrastructure. But if you look at huge brands like Country Road who are using their power and resources to switch to more responsible practices you cannot argue that it’s impossible for big brands to engage with these issues.”
So, who are the good corporate citizens of the Australian fashion industry? When it comes to environmental sustainability and the ethical treatment of workers, some of those brands doing it well, according to Josephine, are Outland Denim, Citizen Wolf and Boody.
As for her personal preferences, Josephine mostly shops second hand. “However, I really like Patagonia, they have had responsibility in their DNA from very early in their inception and the quality of their product is awesome. They also offer free repairs if anything does go wrong.
Learn more fascinating insights about sustainability in fashion and shopping sustainably, at A Day in Fashion, when Josephine joins with Erin Skinner and Kyla Raby “In Conversation With…”, a free event. Tickets essential.