Coat by Sydney-based fashion designer, Gemma Anastasiou.
Fashion Camille Leon is the blog of Melbourne-based fashion journalist Camille Gower. She was kind enough to attend The Ethics of Style's opening a few weeks ago and has been a wonderful support of my work. She asked me a few questions for this post on her blog, and I thought I'd upload the full interview here on Colour Me Red.
What message would you like to convey about the importance of promoting sustainability in fashion design?
If we want people to embrace sustainability in fashion design, we need to offer them design that doesn’t sacrifice anything in order to be sustainable. It needs to be made well; it needs to be beautiful; it needs to be affordable; it needs to tick all the boxes. No one - particularly those who appreciate fashion - is going to embrace sustainability unless it is blended with good design and good craftsmanship.
There are designers in Australia doing amazing things with recycled materials and approaching sustainability in really interesting ways – we just need to give them a platform to get their stuff noticed. I feel like we’re slowly getting there, but there’s still this stigma attached to the term ‘sustainable fashion’ and so people avoid engaging with it. Unfortunately, some labels are only reinforcing this stigma by producing (in my opinion) ugly sustainable garments!
I would also like to add that there is more to sustainability than just creating and promoting garments made from organic or recycled materials etc. It is also about valuing good workmanship and respecting the clothing in your wardrobe. The responsibility does not just lie with fashion labels and designers – consumers need to be conscious of only buying things that they actually need / will use, and also of taking care of their purchases so that they last longer. The longevity of a garment is really important in reducing unsustainable consumption rates, so we need to start appreciating the clothes that we wear and learn to make do with fewer, better quality items. I hope that the fashion displayed in The Ethics of Style exhibition prompts people to begin living by that old saying, ‘quality over quantity.’
What prompted you to put this exhibition together?
The Director of The Light Factory Gallery, Margot Tasca, approached me back in October 2012 re. guest curating. She knew she wanted to do something relating to sustainable fashion, but she wasn’t too sure how to approach it – so she asked whether I’d like to spearhead the exhibition. I jumped at the chance, because I felt I could offer a fresh point of view and I was really thrilled to be entrusted with so much responsibility.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to prove to people (and myself) that sustainable fashion could engage in creativity while also being functional, stylish and aesthetically pleasing. I was adamant on finding fashion designers that were approaching sustainability in unique ways and I wanted to complement their designs by also showcasing beautiful fashion illustration. Another reason for including fashion illustration in the exhibition was to appeal to a broader audience – I wanted to reach people who wouldn’t necessarily visit an exhibition showcasing only sustainable fashion design.
The response has been really positive; a lot of people have expressed their surprise at the quality of the clothing on display and how it doesn’t look ‘sustainable.’ This has been really great to hear, because that was one of my main objectives – to show people that clothing can be beautiful and ethical, and that it needn’t scream, “I’m sustainable!”
What are your thoughts on the current Australian fashion landscape, with regard to the sustainable design sector?
The thing is - being a small industry - I often find that the Australian fashion industry (particularly the sustainable design sector) reuses and celebrates the same names and doesn’t embrace new, innovative talent. It is a bit ‘safe’ here if that makes sense, and we often see the same types of things over and over again. The problem with this is that it tells consumers that there isn’t an array of better, more interesting alternatives to fast cheap fashion. Major fashion publications, designers and industry bodies need to embrace sustainable fashion so that it moves away from being an ‘alternative’ and becomes the best option for consumers. For this to be possible, we need to encourage emerging designers to explore sustainable techniques - in my opinion, every fashion design school / course should have a strong focus on sustainability so that Australia’s future designers are familiar with the opportunities and challenges surrounding this type of fashion design.
If we embrace sustainable fashion labels that have a code of ethics and that provide stylish designs, we will eventually encourage people to reject mass production and to stop supporting the cheap fashion labels that offer short-lived garments destined for landfill. I think we have a long way to go though – the fact that Swiss chain retailer H&M is rumoured to replace various smaller, local fashion labels in Melbourne’s GPO building is testament to this. People are still stuck in this ‘hungry for a bargain’ mindset – which is interesting, because often buying poor quality garments results in you having to replace them soon after their purchase. People need to contemplate whether they’re actually saving money at all by shopping at these large, cheap chain stores!
How do you think we can promote further sustainable and ethical design within the local industry?
Well, firstly, I think we need to understand that good quality garments have much more potential than we give them credit for. Designers that have the talent to create beautiful clothing should start playing with old garments/materials and attempt to find news ways to refashion them into more modern and attractive pieces.
The exciting thing is, there are so many different ways to approach sustainable fashion design – the three designers showcased at The Ethics of Style for example, highlight various alternative dyeing techniques and methods of incorporating second-hand garments into their designs.
I actually think using recycled materials is a great opportunity for emerging designers with small budgets to make the most of the minimal funds they have. Sydney-based designer Rachael Cassar has found gorgeous old materials and garments from antique auctions and deceased estate auctions… Melbourne-based designer Joseph Jang has made amazing avant-garde pieces from second-hand jeans found in local op shops… The only real limitation is one’s imagination!
I also think it’s important for designers to think less about producing seasonal collections that have a use-by date, and place more emphasis on producing trans-seasonal collections that appeal to people for longer periods. Of course summer and winter seasons demand different kinds of clothing, but designers need to start producing clothing that can be worn year after year. Instead of just emulating the styles of times past, designers and fashion labels should also emulate the high quality of those items, so that their wearers can get more use out of them.
All these elements help slow down our fashion industry and help promote more sustainable and ethical design.
Since the Rana Plaza (garment factory) disaster occurred in Bangladesh earlier this year, I’ve noticed a greater - and much needed - focus on the ills of fast fashion in public dialogue and the media. I hope this fuels greater discussion within the Australian fashion industry going forward and ultimately sways people to embrace ethical practices.
The important thing to remember is that fashion designers and labels need to cater to consumers’ needs and desires in order to succeed – so if consumers start demanding ethical alternatives to fast fashion, designers and labels will then need to step up and provide these options. So to tap into a major cliché, it is up to us to steer the future of the Australian fashion industry into a more ethical direction.